Review: Sterile Garden – Events Without Reference (Powder Recordings, Apr 25)

Events Without Reference is restless and impatient in a very similar manner to many spastic harsh noise records, but the sounds that Jacob Deraadt, who releases music as Sterile Garden, makes use of are not nearly as brash or abrasive. Up until the final two, the tracks feel like disjointed sketches of decaying textures, the disconcerting sonorities of crumbling caves and abandoned factories carefully scraped off the walls and glued onto woozy tape loops and synth piddles. This scattered structure is not a weakness for Events Without Reference; the skittering vignettes construct a palpable atmosphere without staying in the same place for too long or avoiding new sounds in order to expand upon a certain combination. As a result, the tape has a presence far beyond its muffled, fuzzy, diminutive sounds, tracing the ghostly outline of a sound-world that’s fragile but formidable. And when “Crisis of Belief,” the longest track at seven minutes, hits, its much more lethargic progression is a welcome detour, slowly scraping and skulking along a concrete floor and dragging any debris it collects along with it. Deraadt’s delicate, dusty sonic palette is often one of frailty and weakness, full of sounds that feel like they could fall apart at any moment, but as exemplified by “Cynics Prayer,” those often result in some really beautiful moments.

Review: Government Alpha – Vandalism (Humanhood Recordings, Apr 25)

True to form, Government Alpha’s newest release Vandalism is screechingly intense from the get-go. Yasutoshi Yoshida’s long-running harsh noise project continues be refreshing and mercilessly abrasive as ever, even following a body of work that spans nearly 25 years. The crushing blast of noise that begins “Ash of Virtue” sounds like it’s been waiting an eternity to escape, and after a fleeting bubble of feedback the waves of distortion come flying from their prison with full force. The dense, formidable walls that Yoshida constructs are lush and enrapturing enough not to disappoint with stagnancy, but regardless they are constantly in motion, seemingly rocketing forward at high speed yet surrounding and enclosing with an ever-tightening grip. The tension is kept up until near the end, when some cathartic breaks from the cacophony blast high-pitched feedback tones before the distortion returns. “Corruption of Decoration” is a less restless piece, and Yoshida opts to work with heavier, crunchier textures, whipping them up into deafening C.C.C.C.-esque whirlwinds of jagged, psychedelic howls. Spanning not even twenty minutes, Vandalism is an exhausting, visceral journey, and my new favorite of Government Alpha’s recent tape output.

Review: Territorial Gobbing – Stud Mechanism (Cadmus Tape, Apr 11)

“Gob” has to be the grossest word in the English language. Just ask John Updike—it features prominently in a particularly revolting passage from In the Beauty of the Lilies that I never, ever want to read again. I think it’s so powerfully disgusting a word because it sounds so much like the thing to which it refers, some viscous, bulbous drop of a gelatinous substance. On Stud Mechanism, Leeds-based musician Territorial Gobbing (also a member of Thank, whose 2017 EP Sexghost Hellscape is one of the great modern no wave releases) crafts irreverent tape collages that are fittingly mud-soaked and sticky, the artist wrangling blasts of screeching feedback, pop radio excerpts, and uncomfortably amplified mouth sounds into intense, schizophrenic amalgams. No sound ever sticks around long enough to build a consistent atmosphere, but there’s a disorienting, visceral presence to these hodgepodges that is much more patient than the artist themselves, and when the contortions cut off into silence on “Hey Judas Priest” you find yourself begging them to come back. I think it’s more than appropriate that Territorial Gobbing, instead of the conventional “music,” to refer to their work as “wiggly pleasure air.”

“You can lead a horse to water, you can make it drink, you can do anything you want, I’m so proud of you.”

Review: Manja Ristić – Alice & the Smoke Castles of Paris (self-released, Apr 23)

Alice & the Smoke Castles of Paris is Manja Ristić’s heartfelt tribute to fellow Serbian artist Alisa Simonović, an oil painter whose work has been lost to time, though it played a significant role in Ristić’s life. She grew up with a few of Simonović’s paintings, and was especially partial to a mural that hung in the home of the artist’s mother that has since been lost. This work takes the form of one of the most personal and impactful ventures an artist can take on: that of a homage to a respected fellow artist, especially one who has been underappreciated. On Alice & the Smoke Castles of Paris, Ristić structures her expectedly astute use of field recordings and abstract textures around the somber notes of an old piano in Simonović’s family home, an element than even absent of context instills an ineffable sense of emotion and reverence. According to Ristić, the compositions feature “spontaneous interventions or unresolved movements,” a statement that might imply that the album feels disjointed or difficult, but that couldn’t be further from the truth; instead, the way the sounds are placed, anchored by the plinks of the piano yet creating an immersive and spacious environment, makes for music that flows seamlessly from the creator’s thoughts. The final piece, “Lament for Alisa,” features unaccompanied piano with sublime use of the instrument’s broken foot pedal, a fulfilling end to a work steeped in feeling. Another masterpiece from one of the most talented sound artists out there right now: surprise, surprise.

Review: Diurnal Burdens – Cancelled Tangents (Falt, Apr 15)

The A side of Cancelled Tangents, “Cessation,” made it onto the Insubstantial Magnetics mix I posted a week or so ago, and since then I’ve been unable to stop thinking about it. Ross Scott-Buccleuch, who performs with Craig Johnson as Liminal Haze and solo as Diurnal Burdens, makes absence the loudest it’s ever been as he molds blank tape playback, no-input mixing board manipulation, empty Walkmans, and low fidelity field recordings into stretches of beautifully marred ambience. “Cessation” is an intimate odyssey through hisses and clicks, slowly building a singular atmosphere despite its segmented structure. To me, there are few sounds more meditative than the amplified silence of a room, which seems to be what concludes the first side: all slightly tonal hum and distant rumbles, together with the soothing texture of boosted tape hiss creating something truly gorgeous and hypnotic. “Slight Tyranny,” in contrast to the previous half, unfolds its equally contemplative sonic palette in a more restrained, reticent manner, slowly but deliberately progressing through episodes of buzzing feedback loops and dictaphone recordings.

In the words of a beloved TV character, sometimes you need to “make quiet things heard.”

Review: Isambard Khroustaliov – This Is My Private Beach, This Is My Jetsam (Not Applicable, Apr 19)

Sam Britton, who makes music under the alias Isambard Khroustaliov, commands electronics the way a painter wields their brush. Regardless of whether This Is My Private Beach, This Is My Jetsam is meticulously composed, skillfully improvised, or some equally masterful combination of both, it transposes textures and sounds one might associate with cold artificiality to something wonderfully organic. “Psychic Zero,” the longest track on the disc, is based around an experimental synthesis engine Britton constructed with colleague Patrick Bergel, and forms an endless stream of digital buzzes, granular drones, and restless glitches into fluid, flowing currents. The final moments are nothing short of enrapturing, as the crackling electric clouds that have spent the last twenty-odd minutes shifting into various shapes almost completely break down into a sparse pitter-patter of tactile clicks. The next two pieces expand on the lifelike quality of Britton’s sonic sculptures in a more direct way, utilizing processed samples of his son Kip’s voice to engage in very abstract conversation with quirky synth cells and plasticky electronic contortions. Much like its cover, This Is My Private Beach becomes a beautifully scattered display of color despite its abiotic origins, like the spilling consciousness of a dying android.

Mix: Outside the Outside

When AMM brought the subversive practice of freely improvised music to the public eye, it wasn’t exactly accompanied by a championing of accessibility. With their extensive backgrounds in jazz, arcane philosophies, and overall air of impenetrable mystique, they embodied the truly unlimited potential of improvisation on the end of the perceivers, but not so much the other wondrous aspect: the fact that this form of music all but eliminated the need for any formal training or experience whatsoever. This is not to say that the performers of this curious “outsider improv” lack musical talent, but instead that the only thing of importance is the textures, sounds, and the harmonies between them that are created. This mix collects my favorite instances of the amazing results that can come from these elusive, mysterious, singular collectives and artists.

It also acts as an homage to Davey Williams, who died earlier this month. Williams performs on the first track as part of Trans-Idio.

The No-Neck Blues Band

00:00. Trans-Idio – “Cretaceous Insect Festival” from Alchemical Rowdies (Trans Museq, 1981)

05:31. The No-Neck Blues Band – “Seven Spaces of Empty Place” from Letter from the Earth (SER, 1996)

10:40. Horaflora – excerpt of “Live on KALX Berkeley” from split LP with Secret Boyfriend (Hot Releases, 2010)

15:21. Fossils – “Four” from A Common Confusion (Bug Incision, 2009)

20:02. Dog Lady – Part 1 of A Desperate Bath (Boudoir, 2018)

22:27. The Sperm – “Jazz Jazz” from Shh! Heinäsirkat (O, 1970)

31:08. Morphogenesis – “Improvisation 1.9.88” from Prochronisms (Pogus Productions, 1989)

36:26. Parlours – “Estragon Rows the Viscous Night” from Who Will Listen to Aches That Everyone Has (Penultimate Press, 2018)