Review: Phanes – Phanes (2035, Jul 5)

Information about the relatively new Paris-based label 2035 Records is sparse, but their small yet formidable catalog speaks for itself. Static-jazz freakout session 18 Luglio was already among my favorites of the year, and now I’ve been introduced to Phanes, a duo whose approach to collaborative improvisation on their debut self-titled release is even more unexpected and uncompromising than that of Where Is Mr. R?. “00000001” (all of the track titles are binary values) is the longest track by far and takes the “metronomic” descriptor to a new level; throughout the six-minute track, electronics operator Luca Ventimiglia and drummer Augustin Bette play what sounds like a game of sci-fi racquetball, any complexities only emerging within the confines of the obstinate tempo. It turns out that each piece is produced with some variation of that adherence to repetition, and piece by piece more of the character of each musician’s contributions is revealed in fleeting snippets, every section a taut, unique cell of volatile incessance. Even in the most mechanical of moments, when it more closely resembles a recording inside a futuristic clock store or a painfully slow copier spitting out pages, there is enough innate imperfection and flexibility to the music that it’s unlikely one would ever mistake them for anything other than a human creation. One could place Phanes somewhere in an complex stylistic family tree, that would imply their sound is a combination of things, and it actually feels more like a distillation than anything: the outermost membranes of electronic and improvised music boiled out, reconstituted, and delicately reshaped.

Review: Gemengung – The Indifference of Nature (Black Artifact, Jul 2)

I already reviewed a Gemengung tape on Black Artifact this year (January’s E.O.T.F., a brutally dissective reimagining of Suffocation’s Effigy for the Forgotten), but the promising new project deserves all the attention it can get, especially for The Indifference of Nature, a shorter and perhaps less intimidating follow-up to the debut. The information on sound sourcing is more scarce for this one, but I’d wager based on the music being “inspired by Nature’s bestial violence” (a wording I’m not sure I’m on board with) that at least some of the crunch ‘n churn has been distilled from outdoor field recordings. Though Kjostad is an obvious comparison based on such an approach, Gemengung takes a route that’s less cracked frost and feedback screech and more catastrophic forest landslide, and in fact stuff like Laurel Noose ends up being a more apt stylistic connection to make—much to my delight. Most of the A side tracks seem to fly by too quickly after the fact, and yet within each the cocoon of restless distortion seems to sustain forever, crumbling with structural imperfections that are quickly patched with shifting sonic platelets, quivering on the edge of piercing chaos. They all contain some sort of movement, which is most likely what enables their paradoxical pace, but that changes with “Autolytic Debridement,” the sole cut on side B and a much more stagnant, sluggish, suffocating slab than the ones preceding it, which makes me excited for the prospect of a future release from Gemengung exploring static noise with their already distinctive focus on shredded, splintered harsh textures.

Review: Pascal Battus & Magali Sanheira – Froid Solaire (Entrefer, Jul 3)

Froid Solaire feels at once intimate and massive, as if microscopic sound events like carefully calculated reactions on a laboratory counter are amplified and empowered tenfold (Anton Mobin immediately comes to mind, of course). And yet in that magnification, the arsenal of manual materials harnessed by the freshly formulated duo of Pascal Battus and Magali Sanheira—pickups, objects, devices, effects, and more—gain a hulking industrial character, with subterranean groans and gnashing machinations tracing the dark recesses of a forgotten factory. Squealing feedback begins to sound more like a terrible impending malfunction or a burst steam valve; small percussive hits are rendered as monstrous, ground-quaking gestures; and contact mic–captured sheet metal skitters become the ear-splitting screech of some gigantic mechano-leviathan scraping its oversized scales across a cracked concrete floor. And as if the atmosphere weren’t already paranoia-inducing enough, the ambient live recording, which no doubt contributes a great deal to the profound size this stuff conveys, also captures the small, near-hallucinatory noises of a restless audience: crying children, shifting seats, the occasional cough (all of which had me constantly removing my earbuds and whirling my head around like an idiot). This release would hardly be what it is without such an approach, however, so the fleeting distractions are worth it—and, to look on the bright side, a comforting and perhaps essential reminder that this is music made by people, not machinery.

Review: The Ɔrinkles Muttenjunk Bubble Floorshow – Frazzledrip Sump (self-released, Jul 1)

If you haven’t heard of the Ɔrinkles, you’re missing out on something huge—huge, steaming, fouler-smelling than a pile of elephant shit with an entire colony of dead lemurs inside of it, et cetera et cetera, but huge nonetheless. Partially intersecting with other suppliers of surreal salubrity such as Sugar Pills Bone, Smogma, and the rest of the eccentric Buttersound clan (though if a rotten tooth–gnashing family power struggle were to take place, it’s clear our courageous Ɔrinkles would come out on top; who else promises “pandering Christian noise and other kinky aural sex innovations”?) this motley, enigmatic unit of sonic charlatans takes a different name for each release a la Caroliner and reshapes their sound to match. As the Slimane Oracle Bones Hospital they performed onslaughts of unstable filth improv and maxi-collage on par with the mighty micro_penis for Bored Bats Don’t Wrap Bones, embark on a twisted revue of cinema pour l’oreille on Bamblingozzorlutodrome! as the Sapling Flapjack Submarine, and now they turn to the reel-to-reels Joseph Hammer– and/or Yeast Culture–style for Frazzledrip Sump, an extended spurt of finely piped liquid audio-sewage. “Who would want to swim in that?” you might ask, and perhaps total-body submersion in putrid waste isn’t an ideal or sustainable form of musical consumption, but imagery of frothing, rotten runoff are unavoidable, because every drop of the source material used here seems to have come—or, rather, been discarded—from somewhere else. The only kinesis in the currents of flimsy electronic wobbles, macerated pop songs, and radio ramble is that of obstinately flowing water, rushing ever forward with gelatinous waves of magnetic tape tremble… just like “dolly ramen in the chocolate river.” The surge never stops until it reaches the bottom of the sump, and by then you’re fucked, because—as much as I hate to break it to, friend—the real frazzledrip is the slime you accidentally swallowed on the way.

Review: Bardo Fields – Night Concert for Two Restless (self-released, Jun 27)

The first of Night Concert for Two Restless’s “notes” begins with the soothing noises of unadulterated nature, but before even the midpoint of the track it’s clear that the familiar sounds of the outdoors will play an adjunct role rather than its usual superior one, for the first appearance of added electronics tears apart the very fabric of the piece up to that point. Yet the following segment proves it’s not quite that simple either; in fact, throughout the entirety of this digital debut from newly minted Belgorod project Bardo Fields, bird calls, rustling leaves, and the unmistakable limitlessness of open air act as both workable sound material and a strong physical setting, entirely distorting the tired dichotomy of in/out. The “musical” intrusions take many forms, and are certainly much more eclectic than the modest description of “guitar snatches and pedal drone” would imply: seismic low-end feedback rumble, tactile thump-loops like stumbling footsteps, meandering solo guitar primitivism, sounds of wood cracking and popping that could either be the result of manual breakage or a tactically placed bonfire. Rough-hewn, homegrown, earthy… these are all adjectives that come to mind when listening to Night Concert, because for all of its odd, volatile abstractions there’s a central element of personality, an undeniable amount of soul that shines through just as brightly during the textural mishmashes and spatial subversions as the conventional guitar playing.

Review: L&M – Recordings 11.1.2020 – 2.1.2021 (self-released, Jun 29)

Though—unless I’m just way behind on the times, which is far from unheard of—Liam Herb and Milo Moyer-Battick may be unfamiliar names to many readers, their ambitious debut release as L&M has the density and surety of something that would be produced by musicians decades into their careers or seasoned collaborators already perfectly in tune with one another. I don’t know how long the Berkeley dwellers have been working together (presumably at least as far back as November), but Recordings 11.1.2020 – 2.1.2021, a self-described “two-part musical revue exploring themes of youth, the passage of time, everyday sounds, and play [not the Derrida kind—the fun kind],” is somehow at once wide-eyed, charismatically clumsy premiere and skillful, meticulous opus… the various freeform jams that seep throughout the two sides, performed with various items from the “selected list of instruments” and beyond, are often quite aimless-sounding in their polymorphic meditations, and yet they still always seem to be going somewhere, bolstered along by both external forces—a burp, a whispered instruction, a munched apple, the swelling wash of waves on the beach—and some mysterious, innate kinetic energy. Also peppered atop and between the improvised excursions are some vivid sonic nodes of humanity, which range from a cautionary “hey, watch that beer” to rambunctious children singing and reciting obscure jokes and fixations ad nauseam. They are often fleeting, transitory, or even artificial elements within the music, stuffed where they don’t really fit and subject to warping, mutation, etc., as when the aforementioned warning repeats or the unnamed young person’s rendition of “God Bless America” becomes a time-dilated monstrosity. Even more vibrant and colorful than its packaging, Recordings is a phenomenal first effort from this exciting new duo. It feels fitting to post this on the exact anniversary of the date noted by the final track, “7.5.2020”—although I wish the fireworks last night could have been similarly muffled.

Mix: Ecstatic Electronics

For the third and perhaps final installment in my series of electronic music mixes (preceded by Unruly Electronics and Lifeless Electronics), I’ve focused on tracks with such boundless, infectious energy that one feels as though they’re about to burst if they don’t start moving to the music. There’s plenty of peace and joy here, but there’s also intensity, surreality, intoxication, hedonism—everything that seems to blur into a single, seamless mass of life when many become one on a sweat-soaked dance floor.


00:00. Faxada – “Month” from Paraa (Darling, 2018)

01:57. Nonturn – “Evidence” from Territory (Audiobulb, 2018)

06:15. Fuck Buttons – “Phantom Limb” from Tarot Sport (ATP, 2009)

11:04. RXM Reality – “Climateric” from Advent (Orange Milk, 2021)

15:07. Paszka – “Terakota” from Gluon (Noumenal Loom, 2020)

18:11. Arca – “Mequetrefe” from KiCk i (XL, 2020)

20:33. Black Dice – “Glazin” from Repo (Paw Tracks, 2009)

24:24. Stab Something – “French Love” from Stab Something (self-released, 2012)

27:02. John Object – “RPG” [excerpt] from Pre-Heat (Bio Future Laboratory, 2018)

29:42. Exploited Body – “Threnody” [feat. APEAK] from Threnody (self-released, 2019)

33:17. Herbarium – “Herbalife (Gem Tree Recycle)” from Свежесть (Eco Futurism Corporation, 2018)

35:18. Dan Deacon – “Never Do That (Mars)” from Meetle Mice (Standard Oil, 2004)

Review: Human Empathy Machine – Eating Out of the Trough (self-released, Jun 26)

You’d think the debut release from a solo hardcore project wouldn’t have this much oomph, but London multi-instrumentalist Gabe Jones comes through with the manic, thousand-horsepower energy of a full band. Part of what makes that possible on Eating Out of the Trough is how concise each and every track is, the intricate riff changes and miniaturized structures streamlined to maximum-efficiency savagery. Songs like “Coward” and “Meat” are great examples, blasting past even the possibility of a dull moment with breakneck speed, riding the climactic breakdown codas for just enough time to resolve them in the most satisfying way (5–6 listens deep and I still lose my shit at the shifting drum meter at the end of the latter). And as if the music itself wasn’t good enough on its own, Jones also selectively incorporates some of the best sample interludes I’ve encountered in a very long time; in between incessant, abrasive onslaughts of ruthlessly technical aggression we get doses of bleak hilarity in the form of a motivational appeal to aborted “children,” a rather strict and quite morbid requirement for potential friends, and an incensed request that whoever is listening “shut your fuck up.” Coupled with the dissonant, unrelenting angularity of it all (some tracks, like “Dumb Guy Zen,” have just as many spider-fingered arpeggio gymnastics and noodle-chugs as they do thick, downtuned chords), the auxiliary bits are a perfect counterpoint—contrastive texturally but consistent thematically. Would love to see a full-length LP from this guy, but if he just keeps making sub-10-minute blast buffets, I’m fine with that too.

Review: Giovanni Lami / Hannibal Chew III / Bardo Todol – Stories from the Dotted Indian Whale (Discrepant, Jun 25)

A three-part hallucinatory storybook journey through lush, colorful locales that simultaneously do and do not exist, Stories from the Dotted Indian Whale is a sprawling, ambitious release that fully delivers on its lofty promises. The description of magnetic tape maestro Giovanni Lami’s composition (“Soap Wolf”) as “a collection of ghost recordings” is a good overarching description for all three artists’ material, for each vignette-square in the sequence of sonic tapestries is its own audio-painting of a place or environment with its roots in reality but its leaves and branches extend to the boundless skies of fiction that recontextualization makes possible. That’s not to say that the contributors don’t take their own distinct approaches to their respective sections, because that is certainly not the case: Lami goes a “distorted realism” sort of route, applying his trademark tactile manipulations and analog glitches to extended outdoor deep-listening excursions with a more sparing sensibility than usual; Hannibal Chew III (a.k.a. Gonçalo F Cardoso) operates as more of a large-scale quilter and layerer, injecting threads of musicality via synth, vocals, and strings throughout languid collages of fleeting yet vivid scenes; and Bardo Todol (Pablo Picco), the aptly introduced “noise prankster,” delivers a stilted, jarringly fragmented stumble across murky swamplands of decaying tape gurgle and voyeuristic sound documentations. Despite the stylistic diversity found across all three parts—and even within the individual parts themselves—Stories from the Dotted Indian Whale as a whole is cohesive in the most elusive way, a multifarious masterpiece of abstract narrative and aural evocation.

List: Top Ten for the First Half of 2021

Collage

In a format identical to previous lists (2020, 2019, 2018), here are my ten favorite albums that have been released during the first half of 2021. As always, the order is of little importance.


fievelFievel Is Glauque – God’s Trashmen Sent to Right the Mess (la Loi, Jan 1)

This irresistibly charismatic little tape came out literally right at the beginning of the year, so I don’t blame anyone who missed it, but luckily it seems to have been getting the attention it deserves. The newest and best work from eccentric songwriter Zach Phillips, the various ensembles of talented musicians bring to life some of the purest and most earnest pop music you’ll ever hear.
 

Album cover of Journal 2020 by Wind TideWind Tide – Journal 2020 (self-released, Mar 14)

It’s always a great feeling when less than a minute into an album you already know it’s just what you need. Journal 2020 has been my go-to outdoor reading and walking music this year; its subtle yet always ragged and rough-hewn augmentations of nature are in turn a perfect over-layer for any other environment. Ever wonder what it sounds like inside a tree? Original review
 

vollmacht

Michael Barthel – Vollmacht (Regional Bears, Jan 13)

Every single one of Michael Barthel’s audio works defy verbal description in some way, but that is especially the case for Vollmacht. Described as “an acoustic and poetic inquiry into authority and power in human relationships,” the ten-part suite is a harrowing, abstractly narrative experience bolstered by the poet’s  trademark ferocity in both vocal delivery and musical performance.
 

crookeddoppler

Bryan Day & Seymour Glass – Crooked Doppler (tanzprocesz, May 27)

Two well-established virtuosos of collage, cobblecore, and clutter-clobber come together for this delightful tape full of tactile toybox sound-worlds, warbling electronic transmissions, and surreal environmental invasions. The combination of Day’s audio-mechanical sensibilities and invented instrument arsenal with Glass’s idiosyncratic ear and insatiable bent for the bizarre is one for the ages.
 

a2628284613_10Cities Aviv – The Crashing Sound of How It Goes (Total Works, Apr 16)

Words like “sprawling” and “ambitious” aren’t unique to The Crashing Sound of How It Goes when discussing Cities Aviv’s discography, but this newest album does feel like a sort of culmination of the Memphis visionary’s distinct sound. It’s not perfect, but that imperfection is a large part of what makes it beautiful… and perhaps it’s off set, because whatever “Higher Up There” is, it might be something more than perfect.
 

a2142576628_10Daniel Iván Bruno – Brazo (TVL, Mar 5)

In the process of fully deconstructing the sonic profile of the harmonica, Daniel Iván Bruno also discovers some of the most piercing, strident sonic frequencies ever recorded. Sounding like a passive AI-generated grotesquery, a strikingly adept pedal-chain assault, and a shrieking mass of dying circuit boards all at once, Brazo is an unmissable ordeal. Original review
 

monnierMonnier – Monnier (Hardcore Detonation, Jun 6)

For those of us who fell in love with extreme music via the heavyweight technicality of Chang, Marton, Witte, and co., Japanese–Belgian project Monnier may be the second coming. Featuring the vocal talents of Makiko (of Flagitious Idiosyncrasy fame) and multi-instrumentalist Jasper Swerts covering everything else, this collection of two stellar EPs presents what is by far the best grind to come out in the last five years.
 

sourcesandmethodsAll Ords – Sources and Methods (Index Clean, Feb 14)

With an impressive list of research citations and an ambitious conceptual basis, the first recording by Mark Groves and Joanna Nilson’s All Ords duo is a multifarious indictment of humanity’s current trajectory. Sources and Methods steps carefully through a shadowy garden of societal contexts, imposing its critical voyeurism on manifestations of patriarchy, public surveillance, decaying domesticity, and other salient signs of our distant but no less inevitable doom. “I spent years learning to speak with my mouth closed.”
 

oliviaOlivia Rodrigo – SOUR (Geffen, May 21)

A delicate balance between escapism and relatability is often the name of the game in pop songwriting, and what makes SOUR so amazing is that it offers both without even seeming to try. Formidable newcomer Olivia Rodrigo discards subtlety so markedly that it’s not even a factor anymore, and invites listeners along for her rollercoaster ride of disillusionment and heartbreak over some truly stellar production.
 

a1465669829_10IT IT – Two Squirrels Fighting Each Other at the End of the World (self-released, Feb 19)

Even some of the most primitive experimental music remains timeless because of the palpable, wide-eyed curiosity with which it was approached. With their eclectic sample-scapes and intricate instrumental arrangements, enigmatic Pittsburgh ensemble IT IT exude that aura more profoundly than the overwhelming majority of their contemporaries. Two Squirrels… is a fitting new entry in their quickly expanding canon of creativity. Original review