Saturday, December 31, 2011

Review: Köhn - Stay Away From the Towers (Sloow Tapes, 2011)

            One thing I was wrong about when reviewing M. Geddes Gengras’ massive The Empty Space was the assumption that the whole lot was recorded during one or two live performances. It was not, and as Ged Gengras himself jokingly noted on his Facebook, if that cassette was a documentary of one performance, he probably wouldn’t have left the venue alive. The case is different with Belgium’s synthesist Jurgen de Blonge, who’s been crafting electronic soundscapes since the 1990’s. Stay Away From the Towers is a documentary of two live performances conducted in clubs in Belgium and the Netherlands. No edits, no overdubs, no post-production. Final destination.
            The comparison between MGG and Kohn is not accidental: both tapes are equally massive and stunning – both clock at around 90 minutes and both take quite liberal cues at the previous eras of electronic music. While for Ged Gengras it was the raw, glitchy electronics of Morton Subotnick, Fifty Foot Hose (minus the psych rock element) or even Karlheinz Stockhausen, Jurgen de Blonde looks at the Berlin School era and progressive electronic masters of the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Each side of the red, unlabeled tape is a lengthy, ever-changing jam of rhythmic electronics and snakelike melodies treated with a pinch of outsider synth weirdness. De Blonde crafts intense cosmic voyages of the best kind: the ones in which the listener gets truly lost and loses the track of time, where seconds stretch into hours and hours into seconds, where the change in the ever-flowing rhythm or melody can be noticed only after several minutes, where one gets zoned out even with deeply focused listening. Once one gets over the slightly abrasive drones that de Blonde likes to put in certain places of the recordings, the world of emotions, images and scenes unfolds as a reward.
            One of the best elements of this cassette (apart from its head-spinning length) is the perfect balance de Blonde keeps between the Berlin School worship and the more abrasive, abstract experimentation. The melodic, progressive parts and the reverbed hiss, crackles and drones are kept in equal proportions, serving as interludes or, in a great prog fashion, “movements” of one track. I can almost imagine a projection screen behind Jurgen while giving performances with various animations as he enters different phases: abstract, psychedelic animations of non-defined shapes or oscilloscope going haywire during the non-melodic sonic bricolage and fragments of films like “Fantastic Planet” or “The Holy Mountain” during the melodic, proggy parts. A great record of two great performances by a somewhat overlooked European synth wizard.

Review: Tharpa Jigme - Nada Tarangini (Rocket Machine, 2011)

Until lately, Netherlands’ Robert Kroos has been more known to the noise aficionados for his “bleak ultra noise” project Torture Corpse, which served as a creative output for bone-shredding outbursts of sonic energy. This extreme and brutal music, however, is just one side of Robert’s work as a musician. Tharpa Jigme is his another project, where he goes into the exactly opposite side of the spectrum, replacing nihilist noise with blissful, meditative synthesizer drones. Those are not your simple synth drones, however. What sets Tharpa Jigme apart from the countless other “floaty ambient” projects is his fascination with classical Indian (Hindustani) music and traditional Indian instruments. On the j-card of the cassette Robert lists Nada Tarangini, Sitar and Swarmandal and his voice apart from the usual suspects (synthesizers).
Side A’s “Nada Tarangini (Outward)” is the more extroverted side, layering one exhilarating drone upon another while the sacred sitar strums tirelessly throughout the entire length of the track, resulting in a sort of droning mass of light reminiscent of Sitaar Tah! or the less looping moments of Kawabata Makoto. While the opening drone seems impossibly heavy, it manages to get even heavier and more intense as the track progresses, becoming an immense monolith which somehow manages to stay incredibly light and meditative instead of crushing with its heaviness. Towards the end of the side, the massive, massive theme gradually fades out, marking the end of the more ecstatic, louder meditation and preparing the listener for the more introspective, quieter side B, “Nada Tarangini (Inward)”. The second track hits the darker, more mysterious areas. The energy and intensity of side A is gone, being replaced instead with sparse sitar strumming and almost dark ambient synthesizer swells, exploring the deeper, often more sinister sides of the psyche, the ones we prefer to keep well hidden, pushed as far back as possible. And while the “Outward” side was loud and seemingly designed for listening through loudspeakers at highest possible volume – so that the sound can come out freely to bounce between the walls and even to stream outside, through the open window and into the world; the quiet ambience of “Inward” is a specifically headphone listening, especially the very last part of the cassette, where the music becomes a barely audible drone fadeout.
Nada Tarangini is yet another indication that the musicians are looking for more genres and inspirations to add to the basic drone. The classical Indian instruments are a wonderful addition, and even if their presence on side B is not very noticeable, they CREATE the sound of side A, without which maybe it wouldn’t be half as impressive. We can only hope for more sitar-infused immersive drones in the future. Great job, Robert Kroos.

No Mind Meditation - Malaise 1 & 2

Two soothing ambient soundscapes from No Mind Meditation, the entity behind the Chicago label Goldtimers Tapes. 20 minutes of layered, psychedelicized droning experimentation, which can work as a soundtrack to forming new year's resolution or simply as a cure for new year's hangover.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


East-Ra are a self-proclaimed "psychedelic lo-fi rock" band from Croatia. Usually straying away from the "free form freak-out" territory to the more song-oriented, briefer format, the band creates rather toned down, quiet form of psych heavily inspired by 60's and early 70's songwriters such as Nick Drake or Syd Barrett, musical dadaists such as Captain Beefheart of free-flowing commune spirit of Germany's krautrockers like Amon Düül II or Agitation Free. The band retains a lovely garage/basement quality to their tracks, somewhat enhancing the authenticity of their music and intimacy with the listener. Two of their albums, Cold Summer and Substitute 3 are sung in English, while Sutra is written entirely in a local dialect. Recommended!

Good Amount - Power

Now that the Christmass laziness is officially over, it's about time to get back to posting. The first album after the break is Power, a cassette by Holy Page Records founder Christiano Filardo using the moniker Good Amount. I think the term "good amount" might mean the good amount of creative energy, because what we get here is quite a healthy, not-so-short collection of semi-lo-fi synthesizer dreamscapes created entirely during meditation. Might need a few repeated listens to finally click, but once it clicks, you just can't get enough. Reminds me of Lee Noble's early dusted drones, but without his penchant for downer atmospheres and melancholy and with a more New Age-y worldview. Also, totally digging the somewhat kitschy, rainbowy computer gfx aesthetic Holy Page have for many of their cassettes, including this one.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review: Nicoffeine - Lighthealer Stalking Flashplayer (bluNoise, 2011)

Lighthealer Stalking Flashplayer, the newest LP from the German noise rock trio Nicoffeine is a disorienting, amphetamine-fueled black mass followed by the world’s hardest coming down. Any sort of gentle introduction is an alien concept to these guys. There is no quiet guitar part, no gradual intensification or at least a fade-in. The very first track, “Holy Hell of a Himmel” throws the listener into the ultra-distorted, breakdown-filled mental breakdown of highest order, changing pitches and shifts with mathematical precision, obscuring the guitar tones to the point it becomes a thunderous bass propelled, sludgy shoegaze. Free noise units such as Gravitar, Heavy Winged or pre-Boss era Magik Markers might be used as points of reference, but while for most of the time there were elements of post-rock, free improv or straight-down psychedelic beauty hidden under walls of feedback and distortion those bands so abundantly use (or used), there is none of that in Nicoffeine’s music. The Germans’ music is infused with a sort of nihilist, hardcore punk or maybe even grindcore negativity, which they cleverly deconstruct and re-shape for their needs.
            It takes a few listens to notice that most of the tracks are actually constructed and well thought out compositions and not just carnage for the sake of carnage. Once we get over the incredibly overdriven, high-pitched guitar destruction, one can notice how tight the bass is with the brutal, fast notes and the seemingly anarchist drumming isn’t all that anarchist after all and the only thing keeping the album from becoming a possible noise punk gem is the length of the tracks and the lack of vocals. The shorter, 3-4 minute tracks share space with three monsters, each well over 10 minutes long, with the very last track, the 16-minute noise/drone behemoth “I Always Shine When You Say Nein” devolving into a monstrous, cavernous amplifier hangover not far away from The Dead C’s “Bury (Refutatio Omnium Haeresium)” off their Trapdoor Fucking Exit.
            The brutal and chaotic music of Nicoffeine is accompanied with a simple, yet effective packaging: what you see above is not the actual LP cover, but rather one of two inserts  containing information about the tracks, the record label and a few photos of the band. The cover itself is black on both sides, with a white vinyl inside. The pure blackness of the cover reflects the pure blackness of the sound and the white vinyl signifies the amphetamine craze of the music on the format, echoing Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat, which indeed was a hymn to the white powder. The possible VU inspirations are further reflected by the track titles, which often allude to the darker/more twisted sides of the human sexual psyche, cleverly referencing fetishes (“Milf & Honey”, “Handjobs & Runaways”, or “Motocrossdress” off their Admiring Those Artholes LP). Nicoffeine is something to be watched and heard – the ferocity of their sound really puts them somewhere above most of their contemporaries in a scene where it’s hard to be harsher, louder and noisier.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Miles Dyson Spheres - Cosmic Schmuck Entries

A MASSIVE collection of six-string madness by Paul Stella, proprietor of the Obsidian Obelisk blog. 19 compositions, with some reaching over 20 minutes. Endlessly soloing, soaring fuzzed-out electric guitar over maniacally looping, droning basslines. Reaching a point when psychedelic rock becomes ambient. Sublime. And by the way - I love the guy's moniker - Miles Dyson, one of the creators of SkyNet in Terminator 2 and Dyson Sphere, a hypothetical megastructure with solar power satellites encompassing a star in order to gain energy from it. There is also another album in the works, entitled Formless Forms, which will be just as massive and which will be available for download in February. So far it can only be streamed on Bandcamp.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Old Age - This Land Stays With Me

If you think Connor Waldman's Old Age project is yet another drifting, dreamy ambient project like many others, think again. While the first track stays tightly within the ambient territory with a sound between the artists of Sunshine Ltd. label and the massive drones of early Emeralds, the second track abrubtly cuts the heavenly drone zones with a steady, bassy, folktronica beat with female vocals. The sound is brooding and full of light at the same time. The songs on the album are an amalgam of trip hop beats, surupy krautrock aesthetics at times and echoed vocals adding to the synthesizer background ambience with glitched-out electronics on top. The sound of Old Age is difficult to categorize, costantly shifting between introverted folk and vast ambient mindscapes, reflecting the changing moods of the artist during the creative process. Sometimes melancholic, sometimes uplifting. Also make sure to check out Connor's earlier release, Minnesota and David Lynch inspired ambient trip Lutsen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thug Entrancer

If I wasn't so much in the minimal/techno/dance zone right now, I would've probably ignored this guy, but as I am devouring almost everything with a steady beat right now, this guy fell just into the right place. Inspired heavily by juke dance tradition, analog synthesizers, noise, musique concrete and southern rap, Chicago-based Ryan McRyhew (originally 1/2 of Denver duo Hideous Men) cranks out zonked-out club killerz. Leave your floaty drone tapes for a moment and go dance a little. It will do you good.

Nocow - Ruins Tape

Brilliant tape released by Russian UK garage apostle Alexey Nikitin, a.k.a. Nocow through Gimme5 Tapes together with Sweat Lodge Guru, with which move they [SLG] managed to smuggle some future garage/dubstep beats to the unexpecting drone/psych head crowd (some of whom [including me until not long ago] perceiving "dubstep", or anything related to dubstep as in-your-face brutal bass boosts by brostep hacks like Skrillex). 12 tracks of ambient-inflused bliss balancing between deep, focused headphone listening and after-hours dancefloor meditations. On a side note, I really need to get into this scene more.

Range Rover - All is Bliss

I first heard about the San Diego unit Range Rover (consisting of Austin Caesar, John Warlick & Cody de la Vara) when reading about the new batch of cassettes from Sweat Lodge Guru (their most diverse batch to date, including the Russian future garage explorer Nocow, about whom I'm gonna write in a moment). Not paying much attention to it, I just passed by it mistaking it for just another woozy, hazy drone cassette, like many others. How surprised I was when some time I later I discovered Range Rover on Bandcamp! It's still woozy and hazy, yes, but it's really far away from the narcoleptic, soothing trappings of drone. In fact, what we're getting here is hypnotic, lo-fi ambient/dub techno not very far from the dark forest soundscapes of Gas, the dreamy zones of beat-driven Loscil or the minimalism of Plastikman. Sprawling, nocturnal bass lines and toned down beats for the night drivers. Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Review: Preslav Literary School - La Réflexion Du Tir (Full of Nothing, 2011)

Preslav Literary School is the artistic pseudonym of UK’s Adam Thomas, who specialized in making sprawling and boundless ambient music with the usage of cassettes, which he manipulates and processes to the point where the original source of sound is almost unrecognizable and instead replaced with sometimes haunting, often dreamy wall of sound which is meant to completely envelope the listener. La Reflexion Du Tir, released on Russian up-and-coming label Full of Nothing, collects two of those lengthy collages, giving us one of the most soothing tapes of the year.
I always like to pay attention to the relation between the album’s artwork and the music contained on the cassette, the vinyl or the CD. La Reflection Du Tir does the job: the front cover show the cutaway of a gothic cathedral, including the spaces right below the roof. Preslav Literary School’s music is a bit like exploring the space right under the roof of an old cathedral: it’s dark, mysterious and somewhat “abandoned”, in a way that it occupies an area very few dare to explore, just like very few would dare to explore the forgotten space between the nave and the church roof.
Just like many abstract/experimental cassette releases, La Reflexion Du Tir has two tracks which occupy the entire sides of the cassette. Side A’s “Francis Servain Mirkovic” begins with warped loops of what appears to be faint remnants of what once could be a rock tape – the snippets of electric guitar soon dissolve into a massive, heavenly drone which could only be compared to the side A of Bee Mask’s Hyperborean Trenchtown, minus the bells. This is ambient at its most minimal, changing texture at a glacial pace, with the listener barely noticing the shifts in real time. Skip the tape or the mp3 a few times – one can notice the changes. Listen to it in real time – no way. Like the tapes erased and smoothened in the process of creating new tracks, the music listens like a record of memories erased in transformed to make way for new memories.
Side B’s track, entitled “Yvan Deroy”, follows the similar path, but somehow achieves at being even more minimal and haunting, reaching almost dark ambient areas with smeared, distant moans (or at least synthesizer/processed tape that sounds like moaning) and deep bass rumble, which occasionally dies away to give way for more soothing, calmer ambience. The whole track is a constant struggle between the relaxation and meditation and an unsettling, pulsing soundscape, changing places at a glacial place and falling into each other without much notice – like on side A, it takes a few minutes to notice that the deep bass rumble is finally gone.
Or maybe it’s never really gone? The premise of Preslav Literary School’s music is precisely this: distorting the lines between the haunting and the beatific, confusing the listener about the nature of his music, the intentions behind the lengthy sounds contained within the cassette, the deconstruction of the line between the benevolent and the malevolent. Preslav Literary School makes music to get lost in, and he wants the listener to get lost in both universes at once; in an almost fetishistic way he wants the listener to be blissful about his sonic discomfort. Brilliant.

Review: Christopher Merritt - Crown Heights (Digitalis Ltd., 2010)

Christopher Merritt’s Crown Heights, despite falling under the general “ambient” category, cannot be regarded as being merely “wallpaper music” that exists somewhere in the background without distracting the listener much while he/she is doing something else. In terms of composition and density, his music falls closer to the likes of Sean McCann (at his least drifty and most “busy”) and maybe even Tim Hecker, in a way (not as much digitalized maybe, but still somewhat heavy in terms of sound alone).
Crown Heights, being his debut release, sets the stakes high: it is 25 minutes of intense, almost disorienting sound collages which combine thick layers of strings and violins, processed found sounds and shimmering, pulsing electronics in the vein of Sunroof! or beatless Astral Social Club. Two side-long compositions start and end abruptly, often changing into a whole different mindset with a violent shift, going in a second from full-blast noisy psychedelic bliss into barely audible remnants of melodies. The sound is bombast, heavy and flat out abrasive at times, yet it has nothing to do with noise music or its ideals – instead of cutting itself from any possibility of dialogue and providing sonic distress, Christopher Merritt sculpts demanding and slightly chaotic, yet rewarding and peaceful music, like an ADHD take on tape ambient music, using a dozen sources of sound at once, blending minimalist traditions of string-driven drone a’la Tony Conrad, processed and impossible-to-locate field recordings of Loren Chasse and Chris Watson and glitchy laptop folk of Greg Davis (pre New New Age era) and Christian Fennesz.
Christopher Merritt is a man to be watched. Digitalis Ltd. understood that we might be dealing with an unpolished diamond, a raw talent that only waits to be harnessed and trained and put into more constrained categories. Crown Heights is a document of raw ideas that might be a gateway to something grand if correctly applied and directed.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Review: Plankton Wat / Super Minerals - Split (Stunned, 2011)

It turns out that the Portland based Stunned Records still had one last surprise up their sleeves before they ceased to function; some “save it for the final moment” material that just waited to be released into the public. The ultimate Stunned release is the split between the Portland’s own Dewey Mahood (who also shreds in caveman kraut unit Eternal Tapestry), known as Plankton Wat and Magic Lantern’s own William Giacchi and Phil French, a.k.a. Super Minerals, this time backed up by Caitlin C. Mitchell and M. Geddes Gengras himself. The split between the two projects may be read as a psychedelic tribute to the West Coast, with Plankton Wat side recorded in Portland and the Super Minerals side recorded in Los Angeles.
Side A, despite Plankton Wat’s more northern origins, presents the warmer, sunnier side of psychedelia in a series of shimmering, relaxing guitar meditations ranging from shamanic folk, where the phased wordless moans sound like the ultimate deconstruction of the singer/songwriter format (“The Path Obscured”) to beach head dubby reverbations in the vein of his Edibles project (“Borneo Canopy”) with stealthy wah-wahed guitar barely, yet noticeably making presence within the abstract, non-rhythmic drumming. Mahood goes for a shorter, song-oriented format which sounds almost poppy compared to the flipside’s lengthy, cavernous explorations. Despite making some more experiments, his trademark style of instrumental, bassy guitar strumming stays – “Dark Temple” and “Still Lake Reflects” are the example of this, being the mystical invocations much in the vein of this year’s In Magical Light, released on a UK label Reverb Worship (highly recommended, both the label and the album itself).
Super Minerals’ side consists of only 2 tracks, which are more abstract and slightly darker, while exploring more “oriental” areas. Gone is the lo-fi musique concrete of The Hoax and Contacteer. Super Minerals redefine themselves once again, this time going for complex, multi-layered psychedelic folk compositions with a touch of sustained guitar dark ambience from The Pelagics and the liberal use of heavy, bassy moans. The cascading, aquatic guitars and the chaotic pipes and flutes sound like the calmer moments of Magic Lantern, devoid of much structure and stretched out in time to create a thick, psychedelic ambient soup which sounds like a more-cohesive, hi-fi descendant of the ultra-weirdos The Skaters. Additional drumming by MGG and Caitlin C. Mitchell provides a ritualistic, rhythmical atmosphere and further adds to the rich sonic tapestry of Super Minerals’ side.
Stunned Records ended their career with a bang; both parties present their own, unique take on the vast and multi-faceted genre of psychedelic folk. Plankton Wat is the more conservative side, with distinctive guitar tones and relatively simple style, putting focus on melody and an easy flow. Super Minerals go in the opposite, much more liberal direction, often blurring the line between traditional instruments and electronics, rising confusion about the source of sound, blending everything into an abstract, mapless and shapeless jam without dissolving into unnecessary chaos. What also makes Super Minerals one of the most exciting bands on the psychedelic scene right now is their ability to effortlessly change their sound and ideology on each album. One can only wait what new ideas and styles the future brings for the Minerals (who I hope will last longer than the gone-too-soon tropical psych rock outfit Magic Lantern).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sugarm - Songs About Guns

One day, I received a mysterious package in the mail. In the great DIY fashion it was an ordinary looking CD wrapped in an ordinary sheet of paper containing an excerpt from a book (or a lenghty essay) on communism, capitalism and insurrection ("Depose autorities at a local level", the header of one of the paragraphs says). The sheet of paper is inscribed only with the name of the album, the track list and the e-mail address for contact purposes. A bit of an Internet research has led me to gain some scarce information about Sugarm: his real name is mike, and he's a 21-yr old New Yorker who makes drone and ambient music for (self)therapeutic purposes. I was absolutely shocked to find out that he's not using any guitars in recordings, only keyboards and samples. Because the opening 11-minute monolith "Two-Winged Dove" will make you think of the loop-and-delay guitar masters with its sustained, ominous notes much in the vein of Super Minerals' "Hadal". There are more influences to be heard on this bedroom masterpiece, like the multi-layered, noisy ambient of "Cockfighter" and "Belt Pkwy Mama", which sound like b-sides from Tim Hecker's Radio Amor or the fluctuating minimalism of "Leaving the Sandbox", channeling Christian Fennesz and his Venice. Music like Sugarm's Songs About Guns makes me love my "job" as a blogger more and more, because not only I get to hear some amazing music I wouldn't have known otherwise, but also share it with others. Great, great ambient music, not as "wallpaper music", but more as a deep, focused listening.

EDIT: Actually, Mark contacted me after I've published this post and corrected me about the guitars - in fact, they're all over this album. Sorry for the confusion, everyone and thanks for correcting me, Sugarm! Enjoy the album!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Kurws - Dziura w Getcie

Debut album from the Wrocław-based quartet The Kurws (which can be roughly translated as "The Whors"), which apparently formed in "May of 2008 as a spontaneous consequence of a ping-pong session" (from the band's own website). Somehow I'm not surprised, considering the nature of their music. Dziura w Getcie ("A Hole in the Ghetto") documents the band's development of their own brand of spastic, energetic math post-punk spanning the Shellac-worshipping guitar and bass interplay, relentless drumming and occasional presence of aggressive, free improv inspired saxophone. The Kurws became the true masters at "controlled chaos", with all their compositions sounding as if they were about to fall apart and become a free-form, enveloping mess, Magik Markers-style, yet are kept within very tight constraints by hard bass slaps and robotic, krautrockish percussion. My favorite Polish act right now. Highly recommended!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Merkabah - Lyonesse

Are you afraid of the avant-garde? I hope not, because this Polish avant-prog-jazz-psych-noise-math unit is sure to fill all your needs regarding lenghty, tightly-composed and complex compositions. On three tracks, ranging from 7 to 11 minutes, the boys show a wide spectrum of influences and inpsirations, ranging from John Zorn (probably the most prominent influence on the album, with ominous sax snaking its way through heavy prog), King Crimson, Grails, Acid Mothers Temple, Secret Chiefs 3 and Psychic Paramount... The Lyonesse EP is just the prelude to the band's debut studio album, which hopefully will soon find the right label to be released on. This EP has been released on a small, yet always reliable independent Polish label Assonance Records in a hand-made, elegant carboard packaging in three color versions. Download the album first and support the label (and the guys from Merkabah, too) and buy the album, if you enjoy it!

Storm Shelter - Storm Shelter

Debut minuscule EP (or maybe even a cassingle?) from an all-female psychedelic garage rock (or, as Monofonus Press website describes their sound, "sludge pop") quartet Storm Shelter. Judging from the cover, featuring all members standing topless wearing jeans next to a pig head on a stick, their main inspirations might be the funeral folk imagery of Belgian weirdos Silvester Anfang and William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Three lo-fi, fuzzy songs with thumping, propulsive, somewhat doomy feel which fuse stonery guitar noodling with gently rising and falling vocals (often more than one at once), which sound like a twisted, shamanized take on 1960's pop hooks and ultra-catchy choruses. You'll find yourself stomping your feet and nodding your head to almost 3-minute long "Crones" in no time. Bleak and poppy at the same time. I really, REALLY hope these girls release more stuff soon. Highly recommended. Buy the cassette version for $5 only at Monofonus Press.