Music Reviews

Artist: Brutter
Title: Reveal And Rise
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hubro Music
Established Norwegian jazz siblings Christian and Fredrik Wallumrød’s “Reveal And Rise” is an exploration of rhythms, and also of the absence of rhythms. Being singularly focussed on drums and adopting a sonic palette that mixes 1980’s style proto-techno with the analogue electronic avantgarde tones of a generation earlier, but wrapping them up with a sprinkle of modern dubby production, gives everything a very small-scale, insular vibe, like listening to the most complicated headache you’ve ever had (and then some)- but instead of techno’s regular thumping, this seems to be a piece of music where the space between the beats is more important than the beats themselves. It’s spaced out, in the literal sense- super-slow and consequently rather dark.

The real meat of this very short album is the two tracks “Mi Tek No” and “Your House”, both deep adventures into delay, punchy subbass and echo. “Mi Tek No” is surprisingly foot-tapping-friendly and a great entry point- “Your House” is deeper and more sparse.

After that, the remaining pieces are shorter and have a more unfinished experimental tone to them. “Stand To Downfalls” is a simple playing with mixing reversed and unreversed kick drums, while “Fallfinish” takes body-fall style effects and loops their tails indefinitely. “Push Push” sparingly adds Pierre Henry-esque electronic squeaks while “Hide And Sink” has a slow slightly swaggering groove to it and stands out by sounding more like ‘normal music’.

As a 34-minute exercise in thumping beat complexities, this album grabs your attention and keeps it. It’s a standout bit of experimental work.
Artist: STAUB Quartet
Title: House Full of Colors
Format: CD
Label: JACC records (@)
Rated: *****
As you can easily guess, this multicoloured musical house got occupied by four tenants from the lively Portuguese improv music scene: the brilliant violinist Carlos "Zingaro", the skilled guitarist Marcelo dos Reis (we already introduced some of his outputs in the recent past), bassist Hernani Faustino and cellist Miguel Mira. The title is not really related to what is known as 'chromatic scale' in music (as in improv music, variations on standard scales, wherever they get followed, almost belongs to the 'rule' of the game), but the variety of varnishes is more stylistic or I'd rather say emotional or even spiritual, if we consider the attached introductory words by Sergio Piccirilli: "the approach offered in this debut album of this quartet of distinguished musicians finds its inspirational epicentre in the concepts of light and colour. [...] So claimed Paul Cezanne, "Light is not something that can be reproduced, but something that should be represented using something else". The artistic testimony amalgamated by STAUB Quartet in House Full of Colors, the means used for that representation, are sounds and music". The initial "Quiet Arcs" is just apparently quiet as it includes seeds of a vehemence, that will explode later on and sounds more like a warm-up, where the relatively slow tempo got led by Faustino's double bass. The sound acquires the inflammatory tones of Mediterranean folk music traditions in the following "Red Curtains", where Marcelo dos Reis seems to mirror some sonorities by Django Reinhardt in the swirling tonal vapours and first flashing fires by other instruments. The longest piece of this release "Opacity Rings" sounds almost meditative and the more exotic to my ears, due to the bizarre intersection of lulling guitar melodies that could vaguely resemble some Far East tradition, easily perceivable counterpoints and a general progression from darker overtones and aptly dumb atmospheres to a lighter and almost soothing one, a temporary tonal harmony that got dissolved by the following "Knots of Light". All the instrument sounds overheated and the incandescent setting gets mirrored by the fast-paced playing by Carlos on his violin. Following such a furious parenthesis, the players seems to look for cooler places in their house, where the light and the heat cannot reach them, but the sliding through the shadows projected by a closed window or by the open door of some cabinet is not exempt from a certain sorrow in "Resonant Shades"...the strange disharmony they render in the second part is simply awesome like the way Marcelo quiets the tonal instrumental contrasts in the final "Discrete Auroras".
Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Monika Werkstatt
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Monika Enterprise (@)
Legend of German underground music Gudrun Gut’s ambitious collaborative project takes a core of new and original mellow electronic dreampop material and shares it around among more than a dozen musicians who each spin things off in different directions, before the separate threads are re-woven together into a double LP that is somehow both an original album and a remix album at the same time.

The result is an accessible and gentle group of super-soft pop electronica. “Grow”, with B. Morgenstern, has hints of Goldfrapp at their most plaintive. “Green Rain”, including Gudrun Gut herself, has a slightly more driving electro beat that keeps things moving determinedly forward but also has echoes of 80’s new wave in its vocal refrains. “M.B.T.” is a deep techno number with lovely acid squelches melding into its ambience, the only disappointment of which is when it stops abruptly after three and a half minutes when it sounds like it’s warming up into a ten-minute deep techno classic.

Other sections are darker and less radio-friendly, although all the pieces tend to stay short. “Feuerland”, with Beate Bartel, is a beatless layering of whispers and breathing voices over subtle organ sounds with a ghostly effect. “Desert Fruit” is a sinister dream poem packed with distant bass tones and approaching alienating clicks. Longest piece “Witchcraft”, with Sonae, as a familiar but effective mellow glitched soundscape of sparking electrics and long cold synth chords.

More out-there offerings include the very 90’s-flavoured pop-dub of “Ikarus” with Danielle De Picciotto- a must-listen for fans of early 90’s The Orb. The surprisingly autotune-heavy “Repetition” is more playful, almost bordering on silly, while the squelchy funk sound of “Who’s Afraid Of Justin Biber” [sic] is great fun and very Spotify-friendly, while “Ninjaness” with AGF revels in awkward 8-bit processing.

Across the two LP’s you get 87 minutes of music, but with the single CD you’re shortchanged slightly with only 66 minutes of that, losing out on the fourth LP side that has mostly original non-collaborative material credited to Werkstatt as a whole. CD listeners miss out on some of the shorter and arguably less fully-formed techno pieces, such as the ominous “join us” vocal refrain of “Workshop” with Greie Gut Fraktion, the rumbling subbasses of “Schrei” and harsh electro sounds of “555minimal”. “Invisible” has a hint of Ursula Rucker’s style about it.

While all of the musicians involved under the Monika Werkstatt umbrella are female, that really isn’t important; this is not in any way a politically feminist work. At times it could be described as feminine, but then, so can a lot of gentle electronica with soft strung-out female vocals- without having the concept explained, you definitely wouldn’t listen to it and think “that’s a women-only album”, and that, I assume, is the point.

Overall it’s a big bag of really interesting cutting-edge electronica with a broad menu. It’s a really strong collection and while not every track’s a classic, and while some of the tracks feel underbaked or at the least simply too short, there are enough strong ideas in here to make it absolutely worth checking out.
Artist: Archivist
Title: Chutes And Ladders
Format: 12"
Label: Medical Records
Seattle-based Archivist’s “Chutes And Ladders” EP is a 4-track collection of DJ-friendly dark evolving instrumental techno with a steady pounding groove over which synths twist and develop gradually and with expert control. It’s that classic techno vibe from the 90’s that never gets old, worked with some subtle modern production touches that are only slight clues to show the release isn’t twenty years old.

The echoing clap pattern of the title track and the squeals have a particularly classic flavour. Second track “Language” is a little heavier but follows the same formula. “Octopus” is initially more stripped-back with a slightly more industrial sound that makes more of the gradual introduction of layers over several minutes, getting more optimistic as it gets busier. Final track “Polygony” is perhaps the most compelling, a darker affair with echoing toms, glitchy wind tones and clicks under one sustained droning chord.

Pitched more as “DJ tools” than home listening, these aren’t the most attention-grabbing of cuts in their own right, but they’re well structured and keep everything moving steadily. As part of a techno set, or doubling up as music to concentrate to, this is polished stuff.
Artist: Alessandra Novaga (@)
Title: Fassbinder Wunderkammer
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Setola Di Maiale
Alessandra Novaga's "Fassbinder Wunderkammer" is "a record about Rainer Werner Fassbinder and his cinema" and a love letter to Peer Raben, Fassbinder's chosen composer for all his films, according to the the press sheet. I consider myself a big film guy, but Fassbinder is one on my list I haven't gotten to, so most of this review will be coming from an uninformed position regarding the core concept. I don't know Raben any better than I know Fassbinder, so I find myself comparing him to the classic '70s guys I'm familiar with...Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schifrin, Bruno Nicolai. Like Nicolai, he tends to take strange turns, from gloomy to playful and vice versa. Novaga uses three different guitars on the album, and the "un-tunable Framus from 1940" is heard on the second track, "Frankfurter Out of Tune (Mutter Kuster Fahrt zum Himmel)". With this foreknowledge, I wasn't freaked out by the pitch problems of the piece. For reference, I checked out the actual score from the film (Mutter Kuster Fahrt zum Himmel). Novaga's stark interpretation is quite a jump from the lushly layered Raben piece, but her version could have fit perfectly in the movie as a cue in a quieter scene. The slightly out-of-tune and plunking hesitation adds not-unwelcome character, and gives it a reason for existence besides just a fan's self-indulgence.

Novaga's approach with the Gibson 339 reminds me of a bit of Loren Mazzacane Connors, with chords left to hang in the air and wash in the overdrive as the next seems to be painfully dragged out from behind the curtain. The jumpy, bright sections of "Der Amerikanische Soldate" illustrate more of Raben's whiplash fetish, and A lovely behind-the-nut starshower closes out "L;M". For "Serenade", I again compare Novaga's to the original score. Her atonal, improvised lead that runs ragged over the conclusion actualizes the chaos clearly hinted at throughout Raben's anxious piece. Her work here again succeeds more as an alternate cue than a useless, duplicating cover version.

Noisy sample processing opens up side B with "Lola"...what I'm assuming to be a clip from the film forced through gating and distortion effects. I applaud her inclusion of this more experimental would have been easy, and not as interesting, to just rely on the straight-laced classical renditions. This noisy detour is another personal touch that contributes to this project's justification for existence, to be followed by the tenderly delivered, beautiful "Goetter der Pest", lest anyone forget they are dealing with a capable musician who is interested in representing Raben on all fronts.

For "Berlin Alexanderplatz", Novaga brilliantly employs tasteful volume swells to imitate the chilling flute work in the original score. Since I first heard "To Live Is To Die" by Metallica as a child, I've been a sucker for volume swells. Her work here reminds me of some of my favorite uses of this technique in works by Nels Cline, especially with lovely chords mingling uncomfortably with more dissonant cousins, creating the uneasy atmosphere Cline excels at and Raben seems to find necessary for scoring Fassbinder's moments. To imitate the dramatic, swelling finale, Novaga uses distortion and wailing feedback tones to wrap things up Hendrix style, with her solo appropriately simulating the effect Raben used an orchestra to accomplish. Comparing these two moments, hers and Raben's, probably sealed the deal for me that this is an important and effectively executed project.

"Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves", which is already a brutal, perfect title, is an aptly haunting conclusion to this album. Novaga transmits her own voice through a cassette Walkman into her guitar amp, which is then overdubbed and manipulated using a loop station, employing reversed passages and speed variations to end the album on an uneasy note, building to a whirling, murmuring wall before breaking down to whining feedback around her vocal sample and a final fade out.

I look forward to revisiting this album once I've become more familiar with Fassbinder's filmography. Despite the unfamiliarity, I've still enjoyed this album, and I can't imagine any Fassbinder fan being able to pass on adding it to their collection, or simply fans of moody, sparse, solo guitar work seasoned with experimental moments. The vinyl comes in a matte, pink jacket with typewritten text, beautifully complementing the delicate contents, an insert, and a download code. I had no issues with the vinyl, it seems like a great pressing, limited to 300 pieces.
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