Review: Ted Byrnes – Double Negative (Absurd Exposition, Mar 3)

As I sit down to write about Ted Byrnes’ new tape Double Negative, I realize that there is really nothing I could bring up or praise that Sam McKinlay hasn’t already acknowledged in his beautiful piece about the album. So instead I will reprint it below (full credit to Mr. McKinlay, who makes his own music as The Rita and with Byrnes as CACKLE CAR, and the Absurd Exposition page) and do my best to continue the discussion.

Byrnes performing at the Warp Weft release event

“One of the most interesting aspects of Ted Byrnes’ C16 work Double Negative is the fact that it is presented by Absurd Exposition, which is very much an analogue electronics based label that is most commonly concerned with ‘harsh noise’ and ‘power electronics’. The exciting aspect of Ted’s percussive work versus the electronics is its incredibly common means to an end. After years and years of my delving into the world of silicon and germanium fuzz circuits with various colleagues, contemplating the electronic processing of source into rough textures can really make someone question the various apparatuses conceptually, especially when you experience raw comparable sound via internal combustion, or in Ted’s case – percussion. ‘Striking something’ for a conceptualized sound acts as a pinnacle of deconstructed sound technique, especially when making a career out of creating seemingly percussive rough textures via electronics, can make the artist doubt their practice and its analogue gear avenues that may simply be (in extreme terms) a ‘waste of time’ when compared to straight well conceived percussion. Again, presented within the world of harsh noise specifics, Ted Byrnes’ rapid fire washes, lines and layers of shifting percussively created textures very much converse in the language of harsh noise with a vicious truth that analogue electronics may never be able to replicate.
Every year I think about ditching my electronic gear and just having some ‘percussive’ setup like strips of aluminum that are lined up to make ‘slapping / snapping / crack’ noises, but then I’m constantly reminded of Ted’s work and the fact that I’m just purely jealous and should just stick to what I know.” 

As McKinlay says, improvised music and especially abstract percussion shares a great deal of qualities with ‘noise,’ an observation immediately apparent from the squealing abrasions and endlessly pummeling walls employed on Double Negative. It’s a, if not the, culmination of Byrnes’ visceral approach that he’s taken on recent releases such as Materialism and Source, and leads me to question the often ambiguous dividing lines between noise and other abstract musics. It’s easy to fall into a bottomless pit of semantic runarounds in discussions of genre, but in this case it comes down to what definition we give ‘noise’; while an archetypal artist in this area would use tabletop electronics such as effects pedals and contact microphones, if the sound produced is viewed as an isolated entity, the breadth of ‘noise’ grows tenfold. I by no means intend to completely abandon the attachment of methodology to the sound it creates, because the actions behind the sound and the relationship between the two are often just as important. Instead, with this hypothetical redefinition, I argue for a less restrictive view of noise music, one that doesn’t exclude atypical approaches. This ultimately allows me to articulate what is so magnetic about Double Negative: that it doesn’t hide its direct physicality behind curtains of effects and manipulation, yet still fills the same void as more conventional harsh noise works do, a dual identity that cannot, and should not, be ignored. So when McKinlay resolves to “stick to what [he] know[s],” I couldn’t agree more; the best noise is made when the artist uses the arsenal with which they are familiar, reaching that clamorous catharsis in entirely their own way—which, certainly, is what Byrnes accomplishes with Double Negative.

Review: Alex Cunningham – Knell (Fort Evil Fruit, Feb 28)

Violinist and collage artist Alex Cunningham’s Fiddle, a short tape that came out last year on Personal Archives, is one of the highlights of modern solo improvisation. Cunningham attacks, slices, hits, blows into his instrument, using an approach unrestricted by formal conventions to explore the full breadth of its sonic capabilities, much in the same way Polly Bradfield did on her sole LP Solo Violin ImprovisationsBut whereas in Bradfield’s music, the violin and its sharp, grating timbres were very much placed in silence and space, Cunningham’s visceral exploitations are extremely loud and uncomfortably close, even on the more patient pieces that comprise Knell, his newest release. By the time the ersatz, percussive textures of “The River Took Your Child” emerge, an instrument so closely associated with conventional beauty has been abused, ripped apart, deconstructed before our very eyes, its battered body yielding bow slurs that twist and turn like winding back-country roads, forceful scrapes in which you can almost smell the resin flaking off onto the strings, mysterious rustling textures that don’t seem to be produced by a violin at all… and that’s the third track! Of all the more adventurous experiments on Knell, “Piece for F-Hole and Breath” is perhaps the most unique, paying tribute to the extended breath techniques used by musicians such as Greg Kelley and Bhob Rainey, and introduces an area that Cunningham states he plans to work with further. In my opinion this is worth grabbing for the cover art alone (made, as with all of his other releases, by Cunningham himself), but you also get to hear some of the most singular contemporary music being made with a standard instrument.

Review: Savannah Conley – Twenty-Twenty (Elektra, Mar 1)

If I hear one more person misextrapolate their hatred for the “modern country that’s on the radio” to the entire genre, I’m going to explode. The industry, even with all of its firm roots in good ol’ traditional Americanism and Western grit, is giving a voice to many a new artist with plenty to say. Savannah Conley is a newcomer from Nashville, releasing her first three songs on the 7″ EP Twenty-Twenty, a melancholic but gorgeous iteration of the dream pop infused brand of Americana that I fell so deeply in love with last year with Kacey Musgraves’ wonderful Golden Hour. Conley is barely in her early twenties, but her commanding vocals reach far above the juvenile angst all those damn cynics would be quick to assume, crooning out the sparse narration of an existential crisis on “Same Old Eyes” and meditations on the messy battleground of young love that hover somewhere between sardonic self-awareness and naïve idealism on “All I Wanted”—the latter of which, even on this superb three-song punch of a record, is easily one of the strongest and most enthralling tracks I’ve heard this year. “Never Be Ourselves” ends things with some more energy, but the heartbreaking wistfulness doesn’t quite escape Conley’s words, as she repeats the titular phrase and her vocalizations melt into the airy ambience of shimmering cymbals and reverb-heavy strums. Twenty-Twenty is a concise and fantastic debut effort that is sure to put this new artist on the map (and is also sure to be a vehicle for my endless crusade against the rampant, blind disdain for country music).

Review: Velo Misere – Retrospectiva de la Fatalidad (Death Kvlt, Mar 1)

Retrospectiva de la Fatalidad (which translates to “Retrospective of the Fatality,” for us non-Spanish speakers, though you probably could have figured that out on your own) is a compilation comprised of the first two releases by Spanish raw black metal outfit Velo Misere. This is exactly the kind of stuff that hits the spot on a gloomy Saturday morning. The first four tracks, which come from the 2017 demo tape Compendio de Trágicos Presagios, pair an oppressive, nocturnal ambience with some truly superb songwriting. Breakneck blasting sections collapse under their own weight into more structured riffs, conjuring elemental images of howling winds and gathering clouds as agonized shrieks tear across the soundscape. While Velo Misere focus heavily on atmosphere, meandering riff repetition or extended ambient interludes aren’t something they bother with, instead devoting every second to the driving, even invigorating sense of momentum that reveals a glimmer of hope amidst the chaos. The tracks from Genealogía del Eterno Desasosiego, the band’s more recent release, delve even more deeply into the blanketing, droning auras that were only hinted at on Compendio, filtering even more well-composed songs through a shroud of dirt and darkness. Restrospectiva both delivers a wealth of superb black metal and documents the ruthlessly climbing trajectory of a very promising group of musicians, from whom I can’t wait to hear more.

Review: Filalete – Supplication (Unknown Tone, Feb 27)

As a rule, I prefer ambient music to be earthy, grounded. I find that without some sort of tether, an ambient piece can float away from my attention, pigeonholing itself as purely background music rather than something to which I can listen attentively. But sometimes you do just need to drift away, and when those celestial billows of sound are constructed just right, I’m able to do just that. I wouldn’t be able to classify Supplication into either of those categories though, because, miraculously, it fills both niches, imbued with a sense of gravity by the field recordings and other tangible textures Filalete (also known as Irakli Bakuradze) uses but is also pulled upward by gorgeous washes of soft, flowing synth melodies and reverb. The title track, which also opens the album, is the most restrained of the eight in regards to atmosphere; though it’s just as calming and sublime, it’s based around a droning Gregorian chant rather than the delicate, wispy ambience that pervades the rest of the album, and provides a fitting introduction. By the time we reach the end—having glided through the pitter-pattering rain of “Spiritism,” the rushing waves of “DiaFragmic,” the meditative physicality of “Ambient Polarisation”—the concluding “Wave Waves” carries us into the sky on a cloud of perhaps the album’s most beautiful sounds. Supplication is a meticulously crafted journey through both the concrete and the insubstantial.

Review: Dim Thickets – Dim Thickets (Anticausal Systems, Feb 21)

Dim Thickets is the newly formed duo of New York improvisers Jason Nazary and Carlo Costa, both of whom enter into this pairing with heaps of experience in various group settings; the former with trail-blazing bands such as Little Women and the Chris Pitsiokos Unit, and the latter with various quartet configurations and groups such as Earth Tongues. Though the four instrumental conversations on Dim Thickets pit Nazary’s electronics against Costa’s drumming, both are seasoned percussionists, and the distinct sensibility that role entails is palpable in both members contributions (even in moments as abstract as the stutter-step glitches and bowed cymbals that begin “Palpitations”). This self-titled debut tape is “a document of their first meeting,” and finds itself in a balance between the exciting wealth of possibility in a new musical encounter with the firm sense that these two artists were meant to play together. They command motion and dynamics with astonishing prowess, Nazary often forming the firmest base with his sustained delay-clock manipulations while Costa expands and contracts through his restless rattles, unique textures, and Prévost-esque metallic resonance. The result is a colorful release that marries spontaneity and patient development to sublime effect.

Review: Kuebiko – 10,000 Torii Gates (Outsider Art, Feb 22)

On what is apparently his debut on the cassette medium, Nottingham noise artist Kuebiko conjures hulking industrial soundscapes that growl and rumble with intimidating force. With a tape as (criminally!) short as 10,000 Torii Gates, an artist can’t afford to waste time, and Kuebiko certainly doesn’t; while the opening piece “Un Ah,” the longer of the two, expands much more slowly and organically than some of the more erratic cut-up artists we know and love, it doesn’t compromise in volume or abrasiveness, instead allowing for the thought-cleansing catharsis of harsh noise to emerge through the gradual unfurling of distorted static textures and overwhelming, bass-filled reverberations. “Jizos in the Moss” expands further into the sharp-edged chunkiness hinted at by the previous track, framing a lush sound environment of jagged drones with crackling, kinetic rings of distortion. The way this second piece expands to its conclusion is even more natural than “Un Ah,” seeming to crack and crumble under its own massive weight before dissipating into that pregnant silence that exists only in the aftermath of the loudest, most ear-bloodying noise sets. I really do wish it was longer though. A thirteen-minute run time is just unfair for something this good!