Farmers Market, "Surfin' U.S.S.R."

Norwegians crossing surf guitar with Bulgarian folk traditions to poke fun at failed Marxist ideology could make for compelling cross-cultural musical commentary but instead comes across like one long-winded joke that simply isn't funny. While there are a few good songs, the majority of them are blandly similar and unexceptional.
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  9617 Hits

Sawako, "Madoromi"

Madoromi is a Japanese idiom that describes the state between waking and dreaming. It is a perfect description for the album's placid sound and languid pacing. Unfortunately, it's also good description for my response as a listener. 

 

Anticipate

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  8620 Hits

A Place To Bury Strangers, "Keep Slipping Away"

An obvious choice for a single, "Keep Slipping Away" is one of A Place to Bury Stranger's most immediate and gratifying songs. Live, it provides a little relief from the Strangers' onslaught, but keeps things upbeat and, maybe more importantly, provides an easily remembered hook. On 7" it's the A-Side to "Hit the Ground," a killer punk-rock/surf-rock hybrid that probably deserved a place on Exploding Head.
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  10969 Hits

Stefan Goldmann/Leif Elggren/The Tongues of Mount Meru/Autodigest

While still a fairly new label, London’s The Tapeworm has quickly established itself as one of the most prominent and unique exponents of the underground’s current cassette renaissance.  Obviously, much of the credit for this is due to the surprisingly well-known artists (Stephen O’Malley, Phillip Jeck, Geir Jenssen, etc.) that they’ve enlisted, but a significant part is also due to their bold attempt to bridge the oft-disparate worlds of high art and the DIY ethos.  This latest batch of tapes documents the collision of these two worlds with varying degrees of success.
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  7637 Hits

Porter Ricks

cover imageNewly reissued with different artwork, Porter Ricks' second album is a fitfully compelling and somewhat perplexing mixed bag that I somehow managed to never hear until now. My befuddlement is largely due to the fact that the first Porter Ricks album (Biokinetics) is an all-time dub techno classic, so I would have expected Andy Mellwig and Thomas Köner to expand further upon the formula that they had perfected to great acclaim. Instead, the duo took a more stylistically fluid approach, occasionally returning to Biokinetics-style dub, but also dabbling in dark ambient and some unexpectedly funky strains of house music. That said, it is probably wrong to view Biokinetics and this album as intentional statements or clearly delineated phases of a linear artistic evolution, as both releases are compilations of singles and EPs and Biokinetics got all the great Chain Reaction ones from 1996. This one collects all the Force Inc. EPs from the following year, so these pieces could be anything from Chain Reaction-era outtakes to stylistic experiments to a stab at greater accessibility (though that is hard to imagine, given the cold bleakness of Köner's solo work). In any case, there are still enough strong pieces to make this an enjoyable album, but anyone hoping for the focus and distinctive vision of Biokinetics will probably want to moderate their expectations a bit before diving into this one.

Mille Plateaux/Force Inc.

This uneven and eclectic collection of songs makes a lot more sense if one considers how they were originally released, as the album is essentially four stand-alone singles and their flipsides. And in classic dub fashion, the B-sides tend to be variations of the raw material from the A-side, so there are basically four separate thematically unified clusters of songs here. There is one notable exception, however, and it is the album's longest and strongest piece: "Scuba Lounge." I do not believe it ever surfaced on a single before appearing on this full length (the Trident EP featured a different "Scuba" piece), but it definitely sounds like it should have been on Biokinetics. It opens in deceptively formless fashion, elegantly blurring together burbling scuba sounds and ominous industrial ambiance, but soon coheres into a killer menacing groove of gurgling bass and seething, slow-motion crunch. The other pieces closest to the Biokinetics vein are "Redundance" series from the Vol 1 and Vol 2 EPs. My favorite of the lot is "Redundance 3," which combines the relentless forward motion of its shuffling beat with an impressively gelatinous and gnarled sounding synth motif. The remaining four "Redundance" pieces are a surprisingly varied lot, taking roughly the same themes in very different directions, as Köner and Mellwig alternately veer into hissing, coldly futuristic ambient ("Redundance (Version)"), a sensually kitschy vintage burlesque show groove ("Redundance 5"), and—weirdest of all—a Bo Diddly beat ("Redundance 6"). Similarly wrongfooting are the pieces from Explore/Exposed and Spoil/Spoiled. For example, "Explore" sounds like a New Jack Swing groove augmented with a very insistent wah-wah guitar theme, which the flip resembles guitars from The Church mashed together with a hypercaffeinated, percussion-heavy, and out-of-control strain of synth pop. That said, "Spoil" is inarguably the biggest shock of the album, as an unrelenting house thump barrels along with a very in-your-face funk bass line and some jangly guitars. It sounds far more like a purposely ham-fisted house remix of an A Certain Ratio single than anything I would expect from Porter Ricks. The smeared, hallucinatory, and submerged-sounding flipside ("Spoiled") is right up my alley though, approximating a building-shaking rave as heard from a neighboring alley. While I wish I loved more than a handful of songs here, I am delighted that this reissue called my attention to a few old classics that were new to me, as Porter Ricks has a tragically lean discography for an influential project that has now spanned a quarter century.

Samples can be found here.

  1443 Hits

Sarah Davachi, "Antiphonals"

cover imageIn my review of Cantus Figures Laurus last month, I half-jokingly noted that Sarah Davachi's creative arc seems unavoidably headed towards composing a full-on Mellotron-driven prog rock opus. While she has not quite reached that dubious culminating achievement yet, Antiphonals is arguably another significant step in that direction, as it is very Mellotron-centric and the vinyl release features a sticker comparing it to a prog album with everything removed except the keyboard parts. For the most part, however, the change in instrumentation did not inspire any particularly dramatic stylistic transformations, as Antiphonals mostly picks up right where Cantus, Descant left off, which is somewhere best described as "like a blurred, stretched, and deconstructed organ mass." In keeping with that theme, both an electric organ and a pipe organ are featured (along with plenty of other instruments), yet the resemblance to an organ mass is more spiritual than overt this time around. In more concrete terms, that means that Davachi's sound palette has broadened a bit from Cantus, but she is still very much focused on somberly meditative moods, glacial melodies, bleary drones, and subtle harmonic transformations.

Late Music

As was previously the case with Cantus, Descant, Antiphonals' title plainly states the compositional theme of the album. The term is usually applied to liturgical or traditional choral music and roughly means that two choirs are singing different themes that interact with each other. While there are not any choirs here, the album’s overarching aesthetic seems to be sketchlike compositions in which Davachi brings together two simple motifs to rub up against one another in interesting ways. I say "sketchlike" because she does not seem particularly interested in crafting strong melodies or complete compositional arcs for most of these pieces, opting to instead zoom in closely on harmonies and textures that tend to come to an abrupt end when a piece has run its course. That said, the album does feature one (somewhat) fully formed and melodic centerpiece ("Gradual of Image") that combines minor key acoustic arpeggios, a quietly gorgeous organ melody, and fluttering, dreamy layers of Mellotron. That is Davachi's most "prog" moment and it executed beautifully. For me, however, the album’s zenith is the ghostly drone of "Magdalena," which sounds like a spectral brass ensemble conjuring slow motion waves of aching melancholy. It is a masterful slow burn, gradually revealing shifting patterns and warm harmonies. In fact, it may be one of the most perfect pieces that Davachi has composed to date, so the album's primary allure is "one killer drone piece and a very promising prog detour," but a couple of the remaining pieces are compelling as well. For example, "Border of Mind" initially sounds like a murky tape of a small string ensemble trying their damnedest to acoustically replicate Sunn O)))'s gnarled and blown-out drones, but it quickly dissolves into a hallucinatory coda of smeared flutes and uneasily dissonant harmonies. Elsewhere, "Rushes Recede" takes the opposite route, as bleary flute-like Mellotron drones gradually blossom into something resembling a sublime organ mass. For me, "Rushes Recede" feels like the third and final highlight of the album, yet fans who are more enamored with Davachi's recent indulgently minimal "ancient cathedral" direction will likely find Antiphonals to be a worthy successor to Cantus, Descant. While this is admittedly not my favorite side of her work, I can still very much appreciate the way she is slowing down and burrowing deeper, as though she is tenaciously peeling away layer after layer of craft to get to the pure essence of her vision.

Samples can be found here.

  1182 Hits

Lawrence English, "Observation of Breath"

cover imageOne of the many surprises of the last few years has been the current pipe organ renaissance unfolding in the experimental music world (your days are numbered, modular synths!). Thankfully, we still seem to be in the honeymoon phase of that phenomenon, as the vanguard of Kali Malone, Sarah Davachi, and Lawrence English are all fairly consistent in exclusively releasing strong and/or interesting albums. This latest release is English's second (after last year's Lassitude) to focus entirely upon pieces composed on an 19th century organ housed in Brisbane's The Old Museum. This is a very different album than its predecessor, however, as Lassitude was comprised of homages to Éliane Radigue and Phill Niblock. On Observation of Breath, English instead derives conceptual inspiration from Charlemagne Palestine's "maximal minimalism" as well as the mechanics of breathing (quite relevant when pipe organs are involved). There is one more favorable similarity to Lassitude, however, as this album also features one stone-cold masterpiece that spans an entire side of vinyl.

Hallow Ground

As English amusingly notes in his album description, Observation of Breath was composed and recording during a soft lockdown in which he "spent many days playing to an empty concert hall." He also states that he considers these four pieces a collaboration between himself and the pipe organ, which is not intended a mere nicety, as he viewed their interaction similarly to the mind/body dialogue of breathing (hence the album's title). In essence, English was consciously "breathing" for the pipe organ, as he strove to achieve a compelling balance of power (exhalations stacked in unison) and "elegant uncertainty" (the moments when breath becomes unsteady and fading). Knowing all of that failed to fully prepare me for the harrowing "The Torso" though, as English unleashes deep bass drones augmented with plenty of hiss, industrial ambiance, and nightmarish whine (I especially enjoyed the parts that sounded like a seasick air raid siren). The following "A Binding" is considerably less radical, lying somewhere between "textbook drone done well" and "multiple drones with differing oscillation patterns ingeniously intertwined." To my ears, it is the least strong piece on the album, but I still like it. And I love “And A Twist,” as it feels like a hallucinatory organ mass that keeps tying itself into murky knots of dissonance. Sadly, it clocks in under three minutes, but is easy to imagine an extended version rivaling Catherine Christer Hennix’s The Electric Harpsichord for the crown of "best album that sounds like a vampire on hallucinogens blasting out a sinister solo in his lonely mountaintop castle."

Fortunately, the closing title piece makes a great consolation prize for that missed opportunity. "Observation Of Breath" initially sounds like a viscous fog of dread oozing across a deep sustained drone, but English gradually enhances that with more harmonic color as the piece glacially unfolds. The truly inspired part comes when English begins to "explore the sonic qualities of different frequency spectra," however, as the piece blossoms into an all-enveloping and seismic drone juggernaut that feels like it is tuned to the resonant frequency of the earth (or at least of my apartment walls). As such, the primary appeal of this release for me is that it contains one of the greatest drone pieces ever recorded, but it is a damn strong album as a whole too. English is in peak form here.

Samples may be found here.

  1273 Hits

Hoor-paar-Kraat, "Ship of the Desert"

cover imageWhat initially drew me to Anthony Mangicapra’s work was his reminiscence to classic Nurse With Wound and irr. app. (ext.) pieces and over the last few years his own style has become more distinct, his own artistic voice becoming a firm command to listen. On this cassette, the sound he has been developing appears to have undergone another shift and both sides of the tape reveal new facets of his approach to sound.
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  7232 Hits

Jason Crumer, "A Personal Hell"

cover imageOn this combination CDR and 7" single, Crumer continues to demonstrate why he’s so highly regarded in the noise scene.  The 7” channels the best elements of the junk metal and maxed out overdrive pedal style, while the CD takes a slow, droning direction to nicely contrast the cut up harsh stuff.
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  9079 Hits

Robert Piotrowicz, "Rurokura and Eastern European Folk Music Research Volume 2"

cover imageThe latest release from this up and coming Polish sound artist steps away from his usual preference for walls of digital noise and instead plunders through tapes of traditional folk music for source material, leaving enough evidence of its pedigree there, but taking it to far off realms of sound.
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  11139 Hits

White Rainbow, "Prism of Eternal Now"

After years of work with other bands, and consistent but low profile solo-work, Prism Of Eternal Now will certainly be Adam Forkner's most visible release yet. White Rainbow might not be his most recognizable moniker, but those acquainted with his past work will find something familiar.

 

Kranky

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  5770 Hits

Gang Gang Dance, "RAWWAR"

Continuing the small trickle of releases since God's Money, this EP demonstrates the diversity of Gang Gang Dance's sound, even though most of the constituent songs aren't among the band's best.

 

The Social Registry

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  8158 Hits

Puerto Rico Flowers, "4"

cover imageWhile comparisons to Cold Cave are going to be somewhat inevitable in this day and age, this four track EP from Clockcleaner vocalist/guitarist John Sharkey III embraces the new wave nostalgia to some extent, but the result is closer to early '80s death rock than the more synth heavy projects, owing far more to the likes of Christian Death than New Order.
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  12183 Hits

Harpoon/Locrian

At first blush, I thought this was an odd paring, given that Harpoon does competent grindcore punk/metal stuff while Locrian is known more for drone and experimental with just a hint of post-punk sensibility.  However, Locrian’s contribution to this 7" (plus digital) release is by far their most "conventional", and is not as an odd of a paring as I had expected.
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  8392 Hits

Scuba, "SCUBA003"

His third installment in Hotflush's numbered series, Paul Rose's SCUBA003 proves that he is one of the most innovative producers in the constantly mutating dubstep genre. 
 
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  6769 Hits

Blue Sabbath Black Cheer & irr. app. (ext.), "Skeletal Imposition"

cover imageThis is nothing short of perfect mood music for breaching the walls of reality. This is music for that dark hallway you have to walk down from time to time, every step an uncomfortable one. Feelings of unease and vague fear permeate both sides of this cassette. Sounds fall, trip up and collapse in on each other. Nothing is what it seems to be; everything changes in the darkness into the unfamiliar and alien.
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  11527 Hits

Naam, "Kingdom"

cover imageWhen I first threw this 12" EP on the turntable I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The cover art gave me twinges of pretentious freak folk, while something in my gut said it was going to be another stagnant piece of guitar drone.  However, it is neither, and I was quite happily surprised by the unabashed noisy sludge rock that followed.
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  9235 Hits

Sissy Spacek, "Epistasis"

cover imageOne look at the sleeve of this 7" gives a good indication of what to expect.  Being a 45rpm disc with 17 tracks total, it’s a good bet that the song list is really irrelevant.  Upon listening, it is pretty much impossible (and unnecessary) to know where the tracks begin and end.  But one thing is sure, it is a metallic grindcore blastbeat noise assault.
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  12163 Hits

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, "Au Clair de la Lune"

cover imageLast year, the earliest known recording of the human voice was discovered to have been made in France in the mid-19th century. This limited edition is beautifully packaged but seems superfluous; the brief recording is not exactly catchy and is available easily across the net as it is. I can only assume that there are more recordings made in the same way and it would make more sense to package them up together. Yet evidently only this one recording is interesting enough to be singled out for release.
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  9548 Hits

Horseback, "MILH IHVH"

cover imageFollowing his brilliant stoner rock by way of minimalist compositions album The Invisible Mountain, Horseback’s Jenks Miller has delivered another release of carefully calculated minimalism in the old school vein, but here with a bit more of a noise and shoegaze sense.
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  12324 Hits