Review: Maria Chavez – Plays (Macro, Sep 20)

The minimal graphic on the cover of Plays, established abstract turntablist Maria Chavez’s interpretation of Stefan Goldmann’s Ghost Hemiola, reminds us that on the surface of the seeming flat discs we place on record players every day have rolling peaks and valleys, towering landscapes too tiny for us to see or even notice (apart from the sounds they encode). Chavez is well-known for her experiments with and unconventional presentations of the vinyl medium, from solo improvised performances to educational workshops to ambitious interactive installations, but Plays, her first full-length release since 2004, is something else entirely. Contained within its 60 minutes and 27 seconds are those same peaks and valleys and landscapes, this time in the form of heavily processed sound objects sourced from the customizable lockgrooves of Ghost Hemiola’s pair of prepared blank records. Chavez cited the curious concept of “something from nothing” when describing the work, an idea that many artists have explored, but none have delved into this particular—and highly unusual—knotted paradox of mediums. We know that “digitization liberated content from its physical carrier. [Then], Ghost Hemiola liberate[d] the physical carrier from its content.” And now, Plays hovers its spectral, synthetic form somewhere within that elusive neutral space; the sounds are audible but irreconcilable, only existing because of the sounds that are made when emptiness is lifted from the object that contains it, or when that now noisy emptiness is translated into the digital space. Amidst the meticulous excursions into stretched sonics, pseudo-industrial rumble, alien electronic pulse, and stretches of careful reductionism or even silence exist fundamental questions about the relationship between audible sound and physical media, questions that Chavez has been asking and attempting to answer for quite a while now—but no work, hers or anyone else’s, has dealt with the massive array of intrigue and uncertainty that Plays opens up.

Review: King Princess – Cheap Queen (Zelig / Columbia, Oct 25)

Every once in a while, there’s a major label pop album that I just need to write about (incidentally, a year ago today Poppy’s masterpiece Am I a Girl? was released; I hope this occasion inspires you to revisit it). I know these huge record conglomerates don’t need any more business than they already get, but the appreciation for the artist themselves outweighs this (for me at least). I’ve been awaiting the debut LP from New York artist Mikaela Straus, known by her doubly royal moniker King Princess, for quite some time now. Her rich voice graced the pillowy instrumentals of last year’s Make My Bed EP and the “Pussy Is God” single, both of which sidled somewhere between infectious contemporary pop and smooth, silky R&B—I immediately fell in love. On Cheap Queen, Straus’s often achingly bare vocals continue their earnest explorations into and meditations on love, love that for the artist often comes fraught with hardship and oppression as she navigates romantic relationships with women. We already witnessed the pain Straus feels when she has to hide who she is on “1950,” and Cheap Queen doesn’t hold back on her inner turmoil and heartbreak, whether she’s distant from the person she loves (“Ain’t Together”) or being secretly intimate with a friend (“Homegirl”). The latter track is one of the record’s most gorgeous tracks, the production beautifully languid and even subtly orchestral as Straus’s vocals somehow soar despite their quiet delivery. Remarkably, King Princess’s career is still young (and so is she—I’m only four months younger than her!); the struggles, emotions, and personal growth she conveys on these carefully crafted songs is communicated with an amazing wisdom.

Review: Oliver the 2nd – R+ Vol. 1 (self-released, Oct 24)

Fontana-based MC and producer Joseph Perry, better known as his alias Oliver the 2nd, comes out of the gate swinging on R+ Vol. 1, his first self-released solo effort since 2013’s The Kill Off. Other than that and Rawhyde, his wonderful collaboration with Jeremiah Jae that also came out in 2013, Perry hasn’t released anything else until now. Hopefully the “Vol. 1” subheading implies that there will be more soon, but for now this short EP is an enrapturing and entertaining slice of abstract hip-hop. Perry’s position as both beatmaker and rapper on this release makes for an interesting dichotomy between the two elements—or, rather, a lack thereof. The lush lo-fi patchworks of samples of everything from jazz to funk are more than just beats for Perry to rhyme over. Instead, the vocals often blend with the instrumentals until they are largely indistinguishable from each other; both the effects placed on Perry’s earnest flows and the various approaches he utilizes imitate the atmosphere and sonic qualities of the production, creating an entirely unified flow of rhythm and lyrics on each track. “noideashi,” as I mentioned previously, is a sudden and instantly magnetic introduction to the EP, the delirious collage of pulsing bass lines and snare cracks very much in line with the loose, fluid sampling technique popularized by artists like Earl Sweatshirt and MIKE. Perry is far from just an imitator, however; the rest of the eclectic proceedings clearly demonstrate his unique ear for unconventional structure. “slowdwn” is one of the more fascinating tracks, sticking with a sparse arrangement of jazzy walking bass and piano meanderings while a pitch-altered voice croons in its midst for the majority of its duration before Perry’s rapping even appears. And thought-provoking density aside, many of the tunes here are just fun. Songs like “imtheshtbtch” and “GodofRp” are groovy as hell and make me excited for what Perry puts out next—and I really hope we won’t have to wait another six years.

Review: Foresteppe – Karaul (Klammklang, Oct 22)

Releases like last year’s Mæta, 2016’s ШАΛАШ collaborations Seven Sleepers with You C and Around with Bisamråtta, and 2015’s Diafilms have cemented Egor Klochikhin’s solo project Foresteppe as a remarkably consistent source of gorgeous folk-ambient with the woozy warbles of tape music and plenty of textural environmental recordings. When I saw that a new release from Klochikhin I immediately bookmarked it without reading the detailed abstract, excited to hear what I imagined would be an expansion on the approach he so masterfully utilized to produce Mæta. Had I taken the time to pore over the introduction, however, it would have been made clear that Karaul is a very different work from anything the artist has released before (apart from maybe Kosichkin Tapes, a collage he made using tape recordings made by his family throughout his childhood).

According to the summary, “the word ‘karaul’ designates both a kind of pompous sentry, mundane army guarding duty, and bitterly humorous call for help in horrific cases along,” a definition that closely aligns with the new tape’s central themes. Karaul is shaky and uncertain, but in a much less comforting manner than past works; this is clear from the very beginning of “Boundary,” the first track, when an abrupt and startling tape reel rewind signals that what lies ahead may be no picnic. “Almaz // Radian” delivers on this promise, adding some quiet but searing noise textures to the carefully constructed collages, as well as allowing a muffled martial drum sample to cut through. The ranges of not only sounds but also emotions and atmospheres that Klochikhin flits between on Karaul are staggering: just take “3Z,” the longest piece on the album and arguably its centerpiece, which slowly but purposefully evolves from buzzing electric drones through a sublime, hypnotic keyboard loop and finally a disarming stretch of fragmented beat music which culminates in field recordings of a jackhammer and a beeping printer or copier—and somehow never feels disjointed or overstuffed. In fact, it’s just the opposite; everything on Karaul, despite its ceaseless eclecticism, is impossibly cohesive and well-paced; it makes its hour-plus run time feel like half that. Klochikhin is by no means abandoning his roots here, either. The way in which the compositions drift and flow within and between each other is recognizably Foresteppe-esque, and the title track wouldn’t even be out of place on many of the releases I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Karaul is one of the most immediately impressive and enthralling albums I’ve heard in 2019, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it gain traction with a much wider audience than ever before.

Review: Torba – Musique Inconcrète (Fragment Factory, Oct 20)

Many of the sounds on Musique Inconcrète are thin, threadlike, fibrous, like amplified insect legs or the metallic rustle of uncut guitar strings. Usually such a description would apply to an album with much more sound processing and alteration involved in its construction, not a work that relies as heavily on mostly unmanipulated field recordings as this does, but the singular vision that audio collage maestro Mauro Diciocia (a.k.a. Torba) has adopted for Musique Inconcrète is unconcerned with “usually.” The six tracks on the LP are true sonic sketches, a structure he borrows from the Alterazioni Video collective’s tradition of Incompiuto—the incomplete. Diciocia warmly embraces a state of unfinishedness, fully content to explore acoustic settings and movements with qualities that might often be cited as weaknesses: insubstantiality, choppiness, frailty. He uses the aforementioned field recordings—most of which were captured in southern Italy—as fragile canvases for his sketches, their beautifully mundane soundscapes both contributing their own unique textures to the music as well as serving as a base for quiet interjections of buzzing static; occasional and very choice musical samples; and other oddities. The recordings themselves are often shaky and unstable, an effect that’s achieved via either subtle processing or the recording medium itself; Diciocia chose to use basic electronics like small tape recorders and mobile phones to evoke “the domestic feeling of an abandoned opera.” Such careful efforts to fully adopt an intentional lack of polish or seamlessness make Musique Inconcrète not only a fascinating and thought-provoking release but also more lush and well-realized than one could ever think possible.

Review: Various Artists – Sound Maps for the Dreamer III (Sono Space, Oct 18)

On Sono Space’s third volume of Sound Maps for the Dreamer, their ambitious ongoing series that collects sound documents and phonography from artists all around the world, there’s once again a host of unfamiliar names contributing beautiful, immersive, and fascinating soundscapes that evoke place, geography, or ecology in their own unique ways. One name, however, isn’t so unfamiliar to me: Abby Lee Tee, the creative alias of Austrian musician Fabian Holzinger (whose work has undergone a remarkable evolution since the noisy, rhythmic electronica of early releases) provides the collection’s cover artwork along with two short sound pieces, “Yläkuru” and “Saarma.” The first few tracks here—and, to varying extents, all of them—explore textures and structural approaches very much in line with Abby Lee Tee releases such as Imaginary Friends I and Herbert’s Archive, with very physical embodiments of sounds both organic and invasive whose organization evokes a strangely natural artifice. Yulia Glukhova provides the first and longest piece in the volume, as well as perhaps the year’s greatest title with “Ci(r)cadian Rhythm,” a languid series of ebb and flow that utilizes the sustained chirping of cicadas to create a hypnotic, dreamlike, cyclical meditation, while Moltamole’s much shorter “Tobacco Caye” is a restless rumble of creaks, bubbles, and rustles. Other highlights include “Bang, Zilch, Whistle, Hummer, Crackle” by Daphne X, a disarmingly sterile object symphony; Tiago Tobias’s sublimely harmonic weaves of voice, clatter, and drone in “Rua Do Bonfirm”; and Shane Davis’s “Swarm of Wasps,” which is a lot more nuanced than you might expect.

Each piece has a corresponding map that can be viewed under the Sound Map section of Sono Space’s website.

Mix: Noise Rock

Artists whose music resides within the well loved tradition of “noise rock,” but in this case with heavy emphasis on the “noise.” Buzzsaw guitars, torturous wails and nonsensical jabbering, lumbering rhythm sections that often aren’t concerned with much rhythm at all. What’s not to love?

The Hospitals

00:00. White Suns – “Priest in the Laboratory” from Totem (Flenser, 2014)

04:52. Dan’l Boone – “Paper Tree Alley” from Dan’l Boone (Drag City, 2014)

09:41. Horse Gives Birth to Fly – “Rubbish Drunk on the Sand” from Horse Gives Birth to Fly (self-released, 2009)

14:00. The Hospitals – “Hairdryer Peace” from Hairdryer Peace (Meds, 2009)

17:28. Staer – “I Roll With Creflo” from Staer (Discorporate, 2012)

23:51. Guttersnipe – “Ophid Spy Cramp” from Demo (self-released, 2015)

29:56. Big Neck Police – “Street” from Don’t Eat My Friends (Ramp Local, 2016)

33:55. Drunkdriver & Mattin – Side B of A List of Profound Insecurities (Badmaster, 2009)