Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Review: Ophibre - Chronic Complications (No Kings, 2011)

There’s quite a big chance Ophibre’s Chronic Complications will peel your skin off. The whole concept behind the tape and the music on the cassette reminds me of a short story by J.G. Ballard called “Venus Smiles”. It tells the tale of the so-called “musical sculptures”, which emit pleasant, meditative drones for pedestrians and bystanders to enjoy. One of them, however, is not in tune – it keeps making atonal, dissonant noise, horrifying the listeners. The main character takes the sculpture and places it in his garden because no one else wants to listen to it. The sculpture begins to grow and expand, gradually overgrowing his whole garden and threatening to envelop his entire house. Chronic Complications is this sculpture.
            Two long tracks, one for each side. Side A’s “Untitled Performance for Hand Build Synthesizers” is a recording of a live performance by Rossingol documenting some of the rawest circuit abuse I’ve ever heard. The tape manages to convey the brutal physicality of the music, a series of rising and falling glacial drones which feel so powerful one can keep wondering how the amplifiers did NOT catch fire during that performance. The sounds resemble mating calls of futuristic animals, hybrids of discarded machines and flesh, something straight out of J.G. Ballard’s dystopian mind. Things get only harsher toward the end of the track, becoming a full-on sonic assault in the style of Hong Chulki. This is the sonic equivalent of brutalist architecture. No beauty, no smoothness, just the sound itself, stripped of all ornaments, exposing its ugly, reinforced concrete skeleton.
            “An Arbitrary Drone Destruct Patch”, despite its name, is not as brutal and destructive as side A. At least in the beginning – the initially solid, featureless and seemingly endless drone is gradually deconstructed and flooded with synth patches layering upon each other and attacking the initial drone with waves of glitches and high-pitched pulsing, smothering the sound under an acerbic wall of noise. Not harsh, purely anarchic noise of, say, Merzbow. At the very end of Ballard’s “Venus Smiles”, the hellish sculpture is finally cut into little pieces and melted in the foundry. The end of the track is exactly this – one entity being cut into microscopic outbursts of noise and ending abrubtly, as the very last atom is dissolved in chaos.
            Chronic Complications is one of the most brutal, unrelenting and cathartic sonic experiences I’ve come across – brutal as hell without retreating to the death/sex fetish/pornographic/genocide imagery most noise acts surround them with. Maybe it’s because Benjamin Rossignol is above any “ideology” – he’s an explorer of possibilities of electronic instruments and a purveyor of Drone, not a rebellious nihilist.

Review: Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier - Discovering Mathematics 2 (No Kings, 2011)

The sound and style of Belgium’s Felicia Atkinson may be eerily similar to the ethereal sound of America’s soft ambience primadonna, Rachel Evans (a.k.a. Motion Sickness of Time Travel). But it’s hard to tell who’s being inspired by who, considering Atkinson was born in 1981 and Evans was born in 1988. Perhaps all sorts of age/experience permutations should be discarded and the similarity of both styles are purely coincidental – both musicians could conjure up their trademark style with no knowledge of the other one whatsoever. Maybe the music of MSoTT and JSLPC is a blend of an artistic spirit and an innate female sensitivity and emotional intelligence most males either lack or just don’t possess in a level that equals women.
Listening to Discovering Mathematics 2 might be like watching clouds – they might move, pushed by the wind, but their shape doesn’t change. But when you look at them a few minutes later, you realize they look completely different. Such is the case with the tracks on the cassette: they appear to keep the same drone, to repeat the same pattern of sounds over and over again, but near the end you realize it’s a completely different sound. JSLPC’s sound unfolds and changes very slowly over time, relying on angelic, phased reverb and sparse, percussive sounds, like the looped high-pitched sample on “Radiant Cheeks”.
Like Rachel Evans, Felicia Atkinson also makes use of her voice, but in a different way – while for Evans her own voice is often the basis on which she builds her entire tracks, putting synth lines over the echoed moans and proto-singing, Atkinson prefers to tell a story, turning Discovering… into more performance-based, spoken word territory. “Dust Stadium Delusion”, a track beginning side B is an example of that. Processed moans pave the way for Atkinson telling a story (or reading poetry, perhaps her own) in French and English. The melody in the track is so dissolved it makes MSoTT’s music seem tightly constructed and raw. However, Atkinson can create not only blurry dream sequences, but also go into a more busy, almost noisy field – like on “Split Screen Lava Beds 2”, which features a dense cluster of distorted, densely layered guitar-like sound and dissonant drones. However, this turns out to be just a brief contact with sonic horror, as the closing “Teepee Sleep” provides a calm, hypnagogic vista.
Felicia Atkinson blends her music, visual art and writing into a seemingly unseparable unity – the music on Discovering Mathematics 2 could as well be a live recording of one of her performances, carried out in a gallery. Like a truly creative mind, she doesn’t need (or want) anyone else’s music to illustrate her visions. She creates her own worlds entirely by herself, both visually and musically.

Giant Claw - Tunnel Mind

Keith Rankin, the mastermind behind Giant Claw, constantly keeps blowing my mind. His prog electronics may be bombast and ornamental, almost baroque in style, but it's never tiring or pretentious - instead, it's always light-hearted and playful. Keith keeps winking his eye without parodying the genre. His music is simply FUN, standing in stark contrast to most artists in the scene which try to one-up each other by attempting to create more "serious" and "floating" pieces than anyone else. Tunnel Miind is a soundtrack to a non-existent oldschool video game without descending into any unnecessary 8-bit geek bullshit. To be soon released in a cassette form on Digitalis Limited.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: No Mind Meditation - Molecular Clock (GoldTimers Tapes, 2011)

The mysterious entity behind No Mind Meditation constantly refuses to be labeled and pigeonholed and sets itself apart from the rest of the tape drone scene by being way too varied and “littered” to be actually considered copy-pasting dreamy floaty stuff. A series of adventurous synth-driven sound collages, this monster of an album (double c57 housed in a box set) is sure to feed all your need for spaced out trippertonics.
            Just like the collages featured in the booklet blending ancient, religious and occult imagery with modern inventions, such as computer graphics, highways and skyscrapers, the music on the album is an amorphous, abstract cloud of classic New Age worship and more modern, colder (or rather, sharper) sounds. For No Mind Meditation the pastoral, analog ambience is the fertile ground from which he(she?they?) take(s) them further and ornaments  it with all sorts of seemingly accidental dissonances, random notes or outbursts of almost harsh noise. It is music for meditation without becoming music for sleep; the constant glitches, loops and synthesizer hiccups serve as sonic needles that prick you just as you’re trying to fall asleep.
            Most of the music in the album stays in the “corrupted dreamy ambience” territory and are pretty enormous in length, taking up entire sides of both cassettes – between 25 and 27 minutes each. The album becomes most interesting when it takes some serious paths into the area of deconstruction – like side A on the second tape, when the oneiric, soft droning jam is gradually munched and gnawed by acidic electronic – a treatment similar to the synth abuse of Sunroof! or Caboladies’ newest album, Renewable Destination.
            The ambient of No Mind Meditation is far removed from the largely featureless and smooth ambient of Sky Stadium or Stitched Vision. Rather, the creator behind this projects understand ambient and drone as “background music” and a mean to get to the weirder zones than an end in itself.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Review: Vas Deferens Organization & Brad Laner - Transcontinental Conspiracy (Niklas Records, 2011)

The reissue of the classic album by one of the most overlooked and underrated bands of the 1990’s on the Polish label Niklas Records brings not only the remastered material but also bonus tracks unheard on the original recording. In fact, every track on the album is so multi-styled, multi-layered and hard to describe it would take a paragraph for each track to even briefly describe the variety of sounds on the CD.
            The opening “First Plane Not to Plummet Seaward” stars with a bang: a bitchin’ old school hip-hop beat perfectly suited for a horrorcore rapper paves a way for the amphetamine tribal madness that comes after the distinctly “urban” intro. Everything in VDO’s music is soaked with a specific, surreal sense of humor – the distorted melody among the tribal madness seems to signify that it’s more of a parody of all the “tribal” psychedelic records than the actual “serious” ritualistic psychedelia. In case you didn’t realize the album was released in 1996, there are some mad jungle (or drum’n’bass, if you will) loops replacing the tribal drumming. After a short, quieter interlude the high point of the track (if not the whole album) comes: an electronic, glitchy madness set to a dancefloor-ready, post-punk beat, like the funkiest moments of late 70’s NYC scene meeting the dark experimentalism of This Heat.
            The nearly 4-minute “Monk Fish Liver Transplant Plate” might seem small and insignificant in contrast to the massive compositions before and after the track, but it’s still packing a nice punch of Oriental/synthesizer weirdness, seamlessly blending the tribal loops playing “normally” and reversed. The following 20-minute monster of “Last Few Days in a Land of Happy Dreams” summons surreal demons with distorted dreamy vocal loops somewhat in the style of Amon Tobin’s “Nightlife” (even though Amon Tobin’s Permutation will be released two years later). The explosions of low-frequency bass are set against almost unpenetrable walls of frying synthesizers, like the hyper-amplified sound of an egg frying or the sound of a tape completely melting from the endless sped-up processing on reel-to-reel. Again, the Amon Tobin implications appear (I wonder if Tobin ever heard Vas Deferens Organization?), with a looped jazz sample co-existing with bend glitches and bursts of noise. The jazzy interlude then reaches a low point, retiring to relative quiet with sparse drumming and finally it ends with a mangled and truly Dadaist sound collage of speech samples.
            Named simply “T”, the penultimate track on Transcontinental Conspiracy can be considered the “heaviest” track on the entire album, if by “heavy” we consider the sheer psychedelic power and ability to disorientate the listener. Beginning almost too “traditionally” to be considered Vas Deferens Organization material, the track unfolds like an extended psychedelic rock jam taking extensive cues from krautrock weirdness (I think I can hear a snippet of some kraut classic in the mix, possibly Guru Guru?), blending processed electric guitar carnage with field recordings (sounds of water pouring into a vessel) and towering, cavernous bass textures.
            The finishing bonus track “Scheming Foils” is almost “poppy” by Vas Deferens Organization standards: the vaguely oriental synth-driven jam goes into a whimsical transformation and finally becomes a soothing, ambientalized math rock jam featuring almost jazz fusion-like synth structures. The very end of the track is the last roar of the album, with a wild, distorted guitar solo piercing through the ambience.
            Transcontinental Conspiracy is a must-have for all fans of 1990’s experimentalism. Truly a band of open-headed professionals intended for truly open-headed listeners. The 2011 reissue gives a chance to open VDO for a new generation of listeners to whom the work of this Dallas (whose members are responsible for the mesmerizing Mutant Sounds blog) unit was completely unknown and whose music was, until now (hopefully?), known only to a close circle of hardcore weirdo psych enthusiasts.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Teen Dreams - Slow Jamz: Songs 4 Friends & Family

Don't be fooled by the name of this project, you will not find any chillwave/indie pop/whatevergaze here. Dylan Mulshine's release contains lo-fi electronics ranging from alien, pulsing innerspace explorations to personal droning ambient vignettes. "heavy drones, beeps and glitches, and rhythmic loops, warped and pulsating soundscapes... no vocals this time. for fans of stars of the lid, brother raven, red electric rainbow, rene hell, tangerine dream, sean mccan, lee noble, xiphiidae, etc. only a little bit less deeply reflective and a little more fun."

Oh, and by the way: I've reuploaded Discoverer's Build a Base. Get to listenin'!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tudo de Volta - Tudo de Volta EP

A nice little (mini)EP from Brazil featuring three shoegazey ambient shorties much in the style of Infinite Body or Stitched Vision. Find beauty under waves of bassy noise.

Haunted Leather - Desert Spells

Just in case you didn't have enough wah-wahed, slow fuzz desert heavy psych, here's another unit from Grand Rapids, MI more than happy to fill the void. Seven peyote ceremonies for any time for the day. Anyone who pays $5 or more on the Bandcamp page will receive a cassette!

Desert Spells (Mediafire / Bandcamp)

Earthdata:Crushstroyer - Technopriest

One of the best manifestations of the mysterious Tribes of Moonside collective, Technopriest by the lengthy-named Earthdata:Crushstroyer is a series of urban death-chants recorded somewhere in a dank basement usually used by the local punk bands. Tribalistic improvisations existing somewhere between drone, industrial and featuring totally awesome throat singing (seriously, why isn't there more throat singing in drone?), this album will be sure to guide you through some serious DIY mindscapes during your midnight T.H.C. sessions. Listen with headphones on!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pulse Emitter - The Palace of Love

Nice synthedelia from Portland's Daryl Groetsch. Retrofurutistic, cinematic, pulsing (duh) vintage electronix. Originally released as an EP on Ruralfaune Synth Series label.

Salamander - Jaws of the Vise

Primordial cozmik ooze from Perth, Australia. Digital ritual ambient? Rainforest glitch? Psychedelic inner space explorations? The sound of Salamander is hard to categorize - a multi-layered journey into the innermost mindscapes. Recommended for night listening with headphones on.

Jaws of the Vise (Mediafire / Bandcamp)

The Goat - Jesus Lives, the Goat is Dead

Soft, gentle morning tunes in the warm, analog kraut style from Will McCall. Think Zuckerzeit era Cluster or Brad Rose's Charlatan project. No extreme zoning out or noisy wall of sound here, just a set of poppish electronic tunes for the end of the summer. Recommended!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Review: Triptet - Imaginary Perspective (Engine Studios, 2011)

New York based label Engine Recordings specializes in free jazz and free improv records. They are the ones responsible for the ultra-energetic gem Ba by the Washington trio Matta Gawa. Imaginary Perspective, the newest offering by the Seattle ensemble Triptet is much more restrained, but at the same time much more atmospheric and evocative.
            Released in an eco-friendly cardboard digipak-imitation sleeve, the CD is pleasing to the eye with its simple, yet effective design (I don’t know if the upside-down text on the insert was planned or was it just a printing mistake). The 9 tracks on the disc range from nearly 4 to nearly 9 minutes, so we get quite some time for listening. The first track, “Autumn Sonar” sets the mood, which will permeat all the tracks for the rest of the album. A sort of chilling, almost cold, droning ambience with an improv twist with quiet, restrained freestyle drumming. Triptet create seemingly unfriendly, unwelcoming environments with a series of sparse, seemingly unplanned, yet carefully arranged soundscapes. The droning, monotonous saxophone parts are combined with almost industrial, distant electronics and slowly unfolding drums, following countless variations of a given basic rhythm.
The sound of Triptet echoes that of the less blown-out, more ambient-based Supersilent without ever delving into the maniacal maelstroms the Norwegians so love to create. The dark style of Tripet reaches its peak with “Echolocation Song”, where funeral brass band mourns over a distant, bell-like drumming?electronics? No one really knows. The tracks on the album often feel like a ritual ceremony gone wrong or missing an essential participant or element – always reaching a certain level of intensity without ever going really intense.

Stream the entire album and buy the CD version or the digital version on Triptet's Bandcamp page.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Review: Stag Hare - Spirit Canoes (Hands in the Dark / Inner Islands, 2011)

Someone once compared one of Stag Hare’s earlier albums to the work of the critics dearies Animal Collective. While in this comparison, the person probably had on mind their more electronic-oriented albums (i.e. Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavillion), the work of Stag Hare is somewhat similar to one track on Sung Tongs – namely, “Visiting Friends”. The track’s hypnotic quality stems from the almost stupefying repetition of simple guitar phrases with mangled, wordless vocals thrown into the mix, constituting one of the most psychedelic tracks in AnCo’s career. The music of Stag Hare expands those ideas and gives them further tribal and, at the same time, electronic twist, relying its power of hypnotizing of endless looping of a simple drum or melody phrase, an endless psych-folk sustain, like a more beat-oriented and monotonous permutation of Vibracathedral Orchestra.
            The newest album from the ambitious youngster, released simultaneously on CD by French label Hands in the Dark and on 12” vinyl by American label Inner Islands, presents the already defined sound of Stag Hare in four seemingly endless, trippy movements. Each one over 10 minutes long, the tracks set slow, enveloping vistas around relaxed and slowed-down vaguely tribal beats, which at times sound like deconstructed and tamed hip-hop beats (“Asha Moon Canoes”). The dense and carefully constructed textures are woven around the beats like a treehouse made of leaves is constructed around the main frame. The relaxing, soothing sounds never stray from the main path set by the never changing beat and there are no sudden changes in pitch, rhythm or general nature of the songs – Stag Hare intends his music to be not as much a focused listening as the background music, suitable for chilling on the outside or in the woods – in the great ambient fashion. In a way, Stag Hare can be seen as a spiritual ancestor not as much of psych folkers or New Age musicians as the German ambient techno minimalist Wolfgang Voigt, a.k.a. Gas, whose nebulous, repetitious tracks also evoked the feelings of a deep virgin forest while keeping the listener in a state of sustained auditory bliss.     
           Stag Hare channels both Gas and that one Animal Collective track. But while Animal Collective decided to go for the shorter, more varied psych pop format, Stag Hare decided to keep with the spirits of Gas and release a string of sustained, auditory bliss straight from the forestfloor. Stag Hare is the new Gas – new Gas for the new hippies.

Review: gkfoes vjgoaf - Nature Eternal Striving (Inner Islands, 2011)

Sean Conrad of the wonderfully unpronounceable gkfoes vjgoaf  has becarving his way through the cassette scene for the last few years with warm, lo-fi psychedelic folk ballads. With the “upgrade” to the vinyl format, his sound has been getting more refined and cleaner. On his second vinyl, which is also his newest album, Nature Eternal Striving, Sean’s taking his vision into more ambient-based territories without losing the original psych folk spirit. The solid double LP set offers an exhausting journey into the water based land- and soundscapes.
The opening 2-minute miniature “Wholeyness” is a warm, synth drone introduction in the style of Lunar Miasma or Red Electric Rainbow that seamlessly goes into the main course: the 17 minute jam of “River Friends”, which employs Mark McGuire-style delayed guitar playing with gentle tribal drumming and the intro drone still existing somewhere in the back, giving an air of spiritual ambience. The following 15-minute suite “Ecstatic Mist” follows the similar path, setting some of the gentlest and most relaxing guitar loops to slow, tribal-ish drums putting the album in the territory closer to the New Age classics than the organic folky freakouts of the New Weird America. The repetitive nature of the tracks give it a soothing, even hypnotizing quality. “Pink Dawn Ritual” brings back a bit of darkness, a mysterious chime-filled interlude with a truly ritualistic (as the name suggests) slant.
The second vinyl begins with “Clouds Glide Through Me”, which sees Sean go back to his guitar-based beginnings. The 10 minute long ambient journey blends oneiric guitar melody with angelic, wordless female vocals to create the floating, zoned out textures in the style Roy Montgomery minus the effect abuse. Conrad prefers simplicity over studio trickery – some slight delay and reverb does a great job. “Clear Night Shining” again goes into the purely synthesized ambient territory with forest based field recordings strongly reminiscent of Ariel Kalma’s ambient classic Osmose. The closing “The Temple in Snow” brings back the New Age styled drifting repetition, creating the perfect mental image of swimming through crystal clear water in a rainforest on a hot, sunny, summer day with sun shining through the canopy (somewhat contrary to its title, but then again, everyone imagines different things when listening to music).
Sean Conrad stands in opposition both to the drug-fueled excess of psychedelic rock and the cold, soulless synthesis of many modern lo-fi drone/ambient acts. He seeks retreat in the simple, spiritual legacy of New Age and crafts it for his ends. He may be using computers and synthesizers in his work, but does not let them to take control of his music, leaving the human, emotional factor many artists tend to lose in the process of making their “natural” albums.