Glasgow-based sound artist Mark Vernon’s newest work could be described as many things: an intervention, an examination, a document, even a dissection. But there really isn’t a single label that I can confidently apply to Ribbons of Rust, which draws its inspiration and source material from a remote, abandoned vacation resort in Thailand; Vernon doesn’t base his music around a specific technique or set of restrictions, instead utilizing a variety of methods to approach a comprehensive representation of this place that so notably resonated with him. Arguably central to the album’s construction are the worn, damaged tape fragments extracted from cassettes found on location, essentially the literal “ribbons of rust” that ground everything in a manner that’s both tangible (the distortion, crackles, and stutters that mar the tape playback) and abstract (the sampled music itself). Though there are a great deal of spacial field recordings and physical elements that evoke a strong sense of there-ness, Ribbons of Rust does much more than just reconstruct this mysterious environment. It presents a singular perception of a place, resulting in a work that is deeply personal and completely unique.
First off, I just want to say how much I love Canti Magnetici. The label’s been around for less than four years but has already built an amazing canon of wide-ranging experimental works, featuring releases from all sorts of burgeoning sound artists as well as by founders Andrea Penso and Gaspare Sammartano (Donato Epiro has not yet put anything out under the imprint). With dedication to both subversive, barely classifiable “non-music” as well as more developed fields such as field recording, sound poetry, and electroacoustic composition, it’s by far one of my favorite labels out there right now.
Walkman Jazz is the second release by Gaspare Sammartano on Canti Magnetici (preceded by 2017’s Rompighiaccio Destiny), once again a single piece presented on a one-sided cassette. This time, however, in tandem with the album’s dark dominion of murk and gunk, the music is dubbed onto recycled tapes, each housed in a black clamshell case. Sammartano’s vision for this work is a singular one, represented both by the track’s hallucinatory, lethargic collage structure and by the sense of uniqueness and discovery evoked by the packaging—it feels like something you’ve found. Walkman Jazz is a monument to forgotten remnants, to languid congealment, to disparate amalgams, an immersive journey through familiarity rendered almost completely unrecognizable (but I was pleasantly surprised to hear a brief appearance of Scarface’s “I Seen a Man Die,” especially because I was just listening to The Diary on the way home from work). Come witness this “funeral party on a ship that sails a radioactive sea towards a new promised land (that obviously doesn’t exist)”; you won’t regret it.
The Burden to Become Fact, New York art-hardcore quintet Detach the Islands’ debut studio release, is razor sharp. Seriously, there are parts of this album that are truly the sonic equivalent of jagged blades and gouging claws, many of the intricate arrangements coalescing into maelstroms of abrasive guitar stabs and throat-tearing vocals. The whiplash songwriting of “Who Holds My Head Down?”, the short instrumental that opens the album, is a fitting introduction to the band’s enrapturing musical chemistry; though almost always chaotic and disorienting, the five members move as one entity, every pound of the drums helping to drive home a particularly harsh chord or the desperate vocals seeming to pull everything upwards with their climbing insanity. Also present in Detach the Islands’ eclectic palette is a distinct emoviolence element, cropping up in the form of melodic interludes—exemplified by “Placebo”—and moments of cathartic, unfettered passion. Yes, there’s a lot going on in The Burden to Become Fact, something you could probably pick up on just reading this review, but this young band’s sense of pacing, transition, and dynamics are nothing short of incredible, and ambitious tracks like “Love Is the Miracle We Fabricate” and “Refugee Anatomy” are sure to become classics.
Little is known—or even can be known—about the obscure Belgian project Ivory Trade, whose modest discography is allegedly concluded by this latest release on A R C H I V E. The familiar elements are still at play on Atlas, a “grief settlement in familiar surroundings”: the muffled, fuzzy, marred bits of woozy keyboard ambience and field recordings are as sullenly detached yet beautiful as ever, trapped in languid enclosures of tape hiss and distortion. Most of Ivory Trade’s releases feature covers that frame a simple design with a pronounced white border, a visual representation of the profound claustrophobia evoked by the presence of the music. But it’s not always an unpleasant sense of compression or imprisonment; the more sublime tracks often seem to begin to drift beyond their bounds, faint beams of warm light slowly breaking through a shell of shadow. Atlas, though all in all a quite minimal affair, runs the emotional gamut, touching on murky uncertainty with the title track, bewilderment and queasiness with “Feinting Around the Furniture Like Dog Handlers,” and soothing comfort on “Crystal Dogs”… and that’s all within the first ten minutes of the tape. As it progresses, the music begins to reveal more and more pieces of humanity, and by the end Atlas presents a wonderful summary of Ivory Trade’s work.
Translating concrète music to a live environment is difficult, but even more difficult is the task of creating a means for fluid improvisation. Geniuses like Jérôme Noetinger or Jason Lescalleet make it look easy, coaxing the most abstract textures from unconventional sources like their tape machines are extensions of their bodies. And even if a piece is entirely improvised, on a recording it may end up sounding very composed. What I’m trying to say that it is not an easy thing to make this sort of music come across as naturally conjured as, say, a solo improvisation using guitar or saxophone. On 120-1380, enigmatic Japanese sound artist Harae Nagoshi’s latest independent tape release, delicate crinkles, clicks, and cycles flow into existence with palpable spontaneity, framed with well-placed silence—especially in the piece’s sublime beginning—and manual manipulations that reveal the presence of an active participant. Nagoshi’s typical palette of diminutive, tactile timbres is presented in a new light, and near the halfway point of the track the sounds are embroiled in a fragile but undeniably kinetic state of unrest that feels much more unpredictable and immediate than the artist’s previous releases.
This review is based on the digital version.
I still remember the first time I heard Sick With Bloom, Yellow Eyes’ 2015 atmospheric masterpiece. With lo-fi grit, a palpable love for nature that isn’t at all forced or cheesy, and constant, unbridled passion, it’s a crowning achievement of the stateside black metal scene. 2017’s Immersion Trench Reverie was a bit of a new direction for the band that I admittedly didn’t enjoy as much, the New York quartet experimenting with psychedelic elements and a new vocal direction, but the emotion and reverence is still there in spades. But even though it just came out, I’m inclined to say that Rare Field Ceiling might exceed the amazing heights of both of these great albums. The record shows the band soaring with a newfound freedom: every evocative, climbing tremolo riff, every hypnotic double bass pulse, every desperate shriek flows forth with spellbinding fervor, an undammed river of nocturnal beauty. I can barely even express how perfect the production is. The album is mixed so well but also shrouded in a slightly muffling, blanketing warmth that imbues the music with a consuming, meditative atmosphere, like it’s blasting from the yawning mouth of a forgotten cave. From the cathartic guitar ascensions of “No Dust” to the angular rhythmic interplay of the title track to the sublime, reserved closer “Maritime Flare,” Rare Field Ceiling is nothing short of magnificent, an enduring triumph.
The term “noisecore” is a case-in-point for the futility of genre specificity. Sometimes it refers to the harsh, spastic, often comedic blast miniatures of bands like The Gerogerigegege or Nikudorei, other times I’ve seen it applied to more structured noisegrind releases, and people even try to tack it on to records with a raucous, abrasive brand of hardcore punk… not exactly a well-defined moniker. But what the hell else am I supposed to call something like Insane, a razor-sharp release that (allegedly) blazes through 22 tracks in less than six minutes, all distorted explosions of electronic blast beats, fractured shrieks, and waves of screeching, chunky noise. Like some of my favorite albums in this musical grey area—Sissy Spacek, Unyoga, The Hermeneutics of Fear of God, etc.—Insane uses the warped, blurred grind segments as elements in a twisted collage, constructing a nightmarish sound environment that draws its formidable presence from the unnerving blends of speeds, palettes, and genres. Despite the release having 22 tracks, it’s essentially a single Instruments Disorder-esque maelstrom full of noise in every form. If I had to argue, this is what “noisecore” should really be.