Music Reviews



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Artist: Scheerling, Thaumaturgist (@)
Title: Vertoeven LVI / Mysteries Van De Droom
Format: Tape
Label: Oggy Records (@)
Rated: *****
Let's dig deeper in sonic world's underbelly that is often so 'under' that some of you could think weird things related to them (occultists, aliens, mad psychiatrists making experiments, ghosts or whatever omitted to get credited as producers...). Fans of the darkest side of drone-driven music and gloomy ambient will be maybe delighted by the listening of "Vertoeven LVI" on side A of this split tape release, filled by Dutch sound artist Bert van Beek aka Scheerling with four acousmatic drones (lasting five minutes each) - mostly driven by effected scorched guitars, but also featuring whisper-like sounds, whooshing noises that got often used by tape art and metallic hits -. The abrasive first track "Schemmer" sets the ground for the hypnotical "Guurn", where some of the above-listed aural entities have been immersed into a dilated reverberation, which makes them feel like coming from some parallel dimension. The third movement "De Danne" - my favourite one - is a combination of tricks of the first two ones, as both slightly scorched guitars and reverb-puffed bubbles got joined, and precedes the final "Tehoape", which sounds like a cathartic reprise of the initial "Schemmer". I read somewhere it got inspired by the translation of some poetry of Dennis Gaens, but it's a detail that doesn't help me in explaining nuances I didn't catch due to the fact I didn't find anything in English or other languages I understand, so that I can only say it's an entirely recommendable listening. Likewise absorbing the sound that Thaumaturgist spread over two 10-mins lasting tracks on "Mysteries Van De Droom": this guy used some briquettes and pellets of acid-house and Berlin techno to develop a seemingly lo-fi sound (more sedated and uplifted on this first part, slightly morbid and psychotic on the second one, landing on those fractured bleeps you can hear when some old Korg drum machine is close to tilting), that could vaguely surmise some industrial techno experiments of the late 80ies.
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Artist: Lawrence English (@)
Title: Cruel Optimism
Format: LP
Label: Room40
Rated: *****
This new impressive release by Lawrence English immediately barges into listeners' mind through a sort of thud and magnetic lapping on the initial "Hard Rain", rendering a magnetic and somehow urgent sense of pensive tragedy, which manages to push them in the meditative pool, inspiring the whole release. Named after the title of an essay by American theorist Lauren Berlant (it also inspired "Cruel Optimist", a song by Brooklyn-based melodic punk band Worriers, led by songwriter, singer and feminist Lauren Denitzio, but I preferred the sonic language chosen by Lawrence to a part of the content of that essay), the sparkle of the inspiration, enflaming "Cruel Optimism", was a reflection about the (consuming, augmenting and shaping) effects of power on two related aspects of human conditions, obsession and fragility. Unlike the screaming of liberation yelled by the above-mentioned punk band, which was almost concomitant to the publishing of that essay, the more concerned halo mantling the ten tracks of Lawrence's output sound more anchored to the somehow unexpected pronouncement of contemporary human history. The connection between the surrounding meditation behind this album and Berlant's essay got explained by the author as follows: "In Cruel Optimism, I found some critical readings around the issues that have fuelled so much of the music I have been making recently. Beyond her keen analysis of the relations of attachment as they pertain to conditions of possibility in the everyday, it was particularly her writing around trauma I found deeply affecting. It was a jumping off point from which a plague of unsettling impressions of suffering, intolerance and ignorance could be unpacked and utilised as fuel over and above pointless frustration.". Most of the ten flowing movements are drones built on elongated voice-like choirs, intensely fluttering single tones, subtle chimes, muffled thundering hits, reaching the apex on tracks where Lawrence dramatise the previously described sense of tragedy by banging hits such as "Hammering a Screw" or the majestic "Object of Projection". During the listening, your mind could land on some of the contemporary historical events and the subsequent thoughts related to them that partially inspired Lawrence himself - he mainly quoted the new wave of humanitarian and refugee crisis as well as the emblematic photo of that tiny body on the shore by Alan Kurdi, the striking drones in many parts of the planet, the black lives matter movement, the use of sonic weapòons against civilians, Us and Uk recent elections, the serpentine return of racism and sexism -, but "Cruel Optimism" is also "an encouragement to press forward towards more profound futures" in Lawrence's words. Someone could ask if such a kind of "functional" album are really necessary and maybe such a feedback could make sense. Decades ago. Nowadays the situation is so concerning that some ways (or sonic protests, if you prefer to consider in a different way) of escaping from the lobotomizing musical mainstream are somehow necessary.
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Artist: F.ormal L.ogic D.ecay
Title: Origamystical
Format: CD
Label: Beyond... Productions
Rated: *****
This new release form the Luigi Maria Mennella's project is not the proper follow up of "His Master's Void" but the reworking of a release which was completed but never published, so it sounds as a return to form in respect to the pop transgression of his predecessor. The album is inspired by the Japanese idea that the act of writing is a sort of ritual and it's mostly based on the relationship between words, which is what is written on the paper, and noise, which is the sound of the pencil.
After the first seconds of silence, but the headphones reveal that is a background noise perhaps obtained by a pen on a paper, the static fields of sounds of " - First Step" introduce a listener toward a soundscape, where small noises emerge as if part of the track was obtained with field recordings, which evolve, in " - Introspection", in a sort of drone introducing the second part of the track based on hypnotic lines of synth. The voice of " - Second Step" reveals the inspiration from the ancient rituals as, in a sort of contraposition with the noises in the background, it's harmonic in his development and in " - Contemplation", where it's on the background as it were recorded at a certain distance and has the repetitiveness of religious ceremonies, is used as an instrument rather as a mean to convey a message while in " - Third Step" there's a return to a spiritual message in the spoken words. The synths of " - Meditation" mark a return to territories closer to Kosmische Musik while " - Fourth Step" is the final part of the path taken so the voices are even more distant and reverberated so, in " - Abandonment", they were overwhelmed by the synth as if a fog obscures a voyager from a viewer's eye.
The main quality of this release is the ability to develop a personal language from a palette of sound where the author's influences are clearly audible, so this music sounds as a recording of a ritual rather to be a collection of sounds presented as a ritual. Recommended for fans of dark ambient or ritual music.
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Artist: Assemblage 23
Title: Endure
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Metropolis (@)
Rated: *****
The guessed cover artwork for the return (more than four years after the previous album "Bruise") could bee matched to one of those surprising discoveries of frozen ancestors of homo sapiens in the cave of some forgotten mountain. Well, imagine this situation projected in the future: maybe some snooty anthropologist could find the well-preserved corpse of Thom Shear, the lad behind Assemblage 23, together with mysterious objects like a floppy disk, a Korg MS-20 or a Roland SH-101 in the coffin, to classify it in some undefined area of the evolutionary ladder. I wonder how they would label it... maybe futurepopithecus? Most of the ten tracks orbit around that amalgamation of EBM-synth lines, a dense wave imprint and that touch of Balearic house, a somehow baffling mixture of recipes that it's a little bit like an imaginary meal (I would never be so brave) where you eat the raw ovary of a female peacock to show some disputable gastronomical courage and find a strawberry-flavoured chewing gum inside. All kidding aside, despite the retrofuturistic aftertaste and the above-mentioned baffling stylistic choices, there are many easy "danceable" and enjoyable tracks if you miss that kind of EBM, wisely deranged to future-pop sonorities: thumbs up - particularly for the editing - for tracks like "Barren", "Call The Dawn", "Bravery" and "Salt The Earth" as well as for some remixes included on the bonus CD, if you opt for the deluxe edition (particularly the one of "Bravery" by Solitary Experiments and the one of "Salt The Earth" by Angeltheory. Besides any distinctions and stylistic consideration, I think that the way your ear got trained in the 90ies or just your likings will let you think A23's enduring sonorities deserve to get thawed at room temperature or put it back in a place for protective hibernation.
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Artist: Mike Cooper
Title: Reluctant Swimmer / Virtual Surfer
Format: LP
Label: Discrepant (@)
Rated: *****
Saluted as 'the icon of post-everything' according to Lawrence English's words, Mike Cooper returns on excellent Discrepant catalogue by a sort of aural documentary, collecting the recording of a live set this creative artist made at the Controindicazioni Festival of Improvised Music in Rome in October 2003. Ideally divided into four movements, which can be considered as two as it seems that Mike (now living his sixties) slowly prepared the sonic soil in the first half of each set for the cover song he performed in the second one, they belong to a moment where the seed of that agonizing and reckless exoticism sometimes evoked by his recent experiments on lap steel guitar were still audible. It's pretty amazing to notice that some sonic strategies in the slowly processed movements could vaguely resemble the ones that contemporary artists like Fennesz are spreading in our days; such an approach, combining electric scorch marks on guitar-driven melodies, diluted frequencies that could be matched to the scientific tracking of the dream activity of a drunkard who fell asleep on yellow fluffy pillows, field recordings that sound like coming from "yellowing" printed pictures and other sonic freaks appearing like ghosts here and there over an impressive combination of real-time sampling, digitally processed sounds and minimal guitar loops, is particularly evident in "Virtual Surfer", gently merged with the endearing dejected hug of the lyrics of 60s folk singer Fred Neil's "The Dolphins", looking like an interplay due to the way the slightly changed medley ("I’ve been searching/For the dolphins in the sea/And sometimes I wonder/Do THEY ever think of me") fades into a feast that could be matched to the imitation of some more or less telepathic chat between the smart mammals quoted by the song. In order to give you an idea of what you could listen to "Reluctant Swimmer", the other half of this release, you could imagine an American-folk song inadvertently performed by a medieval automata or by clocks in the lab of a clockmaker, occasionally oiled by flanger effects and wooshing sounds, before the track fades out in the cover of the raconteurish caress of the ode "Movies is Magic" by Van Dyke Parks. The cover I'm using here refers to "Reluctant Swimmer" comes from the mind of collage artist by Evan Crankshaw, but the one related to "Virtual Surfer" is likewise beautiful.
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