Music Reviews



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Artist: Himukalt
Title: Conditions of Acrimony
Format: Tape
Label: Helen Scarsdale Agency (@)
Rated: *****
Himukalt is the work of Nevada-based artist Ester KÄrkkÄinen, who also does interesting visual work with Xerox machines. With a title like “Conditions of Acrimony,” it sounds like we’re in for a whole lot of love songs. Or not. The label describes this as “exhaustive, claustrophobic, and cryptic, these lacerated (de)compositions address collapsed psychological states that dislocate the body, the self, and the spirit into horror, fear, doubt, hostility. Such have marked the acme for the most virulent strains of power electronics and industrial decay (e.g. Puce Mary, Anenzephalia, Maurizio Bianchi, Maria Zerfall, etc.).” Let’s see if it lives up to the hype. We open up with pulsating noise and extremely distorted voice. Indeed, you could put this in the same ballpark as Genocide Organ, with its heavy static and overdriven bass. Next up, we have staccato voice snippets with pounding percussion and grinding noise. Himukalt definitely comes from the slow-moving school of power electronics and there is a good mix of high pitched whine and low bass rumble. “Without Laughter” closes out the side with a much more subdued track. This is like listening to a noise concert from outside the venue with short moments of louder sound. The overall feel is that of standing outside a power plant, with a menacing hum alerting you to the dangers inside as a helicopter circles around and over you repeatedly, closer and closer each time. This builds in intensity until you think that it is going to completely turn loose. But as quickly as it arrives, it is gone, with only the sounds of distant voices as evidence that it was even there. If I had to describe this track in one word, I would be “tension.” Seriously, not a lot of artists know how to pull this off, and this track alone is worth the price of admission. Flipping the tape over, we get pulsing drone with what sounds like a processed impact wrench sample. This gives way to ominous drone with digital tones and line hum just beneath the surface. All of this is punctuated by very short noise bursts until it becomes noisier over time. This is a nice balance of atmosphere and noise. Next up, we have rumbling bass with a man repeatedly saying “who cares? And other less intelligible things over a boiling analogue stew. The tape closes with the plea, “Please don’t call for an ambulance.” If you like noise and power electronics, this is definitely one to pick up. Bonus props for not taking the easy way out. With a title like Conditions of Acrimony, one might expect the standard violent imagery that has become almost cliché in power electronics circles, but this tape manages to portray a sense of ominousness that is more Amanita Phalloides mushroom and less serial killer. Well done. This tape is limited to 100 copies.
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Artist: Mario Grönnert and Commonsen5e (@)
Title: Nightmares and Dreamscapes: Silhouettes of Urbia
Format: CD
Label: Audiokult Music Group (@)
Rated: *****
This is a collaboration between German musician Mario Grönnert and Mason Metcalf, a Portland based artist who records under the name Commonsen5e. I was unfamiliar with both of these artists, had no press sheet, and the website seemed to have trouble, so let’s just put the CD on and see what happens. “Breathing in the Ash” starts us off with spacey ambient with a mournful feel that gets increasingly intense as it progresses. At around 10 minutes in, it adds a clavier and tectonic shifts of bass rumbling with slow moving synth drone and bits of static to break it all up. “Sky Full of Crows” is an exercise in contrast with brooding bass rumbles and high pitched synth work. “Station 17” is a short track of dreamy drone with factory noise built into the composition. “Journeys Calling” is a peaceful, simple piano composition reminiscent of Harold Budd with some low end rumbling that simmers just beneath the surface before coming to the foreground toward the end. “Through Midnight Fallen Lands” is a dreamy soundscape that would be quite at home as backing music for a Cocteau Twins song; “A Radiance” is similar, but with more of a piano and dreamscape vide. Finally, “The world Rewinded” is dancier, noisier, and more ominous, while keeping the piano as contrast. Well done. This album weighs in at around 53 minutes.
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Artist: St. Francis Duo (@)
Title: Peacemaker Assembly
Format: CD
Label: Trost Records (@)
Rated: *****
St. Francis Duo is a collaboration between Stephen O’Malley (best known as the guitarist of SUNN O)))) and UK drummer Steve Noble. The press sheet doesn’t give a whole lot of info on the release, but when the only instruments credited are drums, percussion, guitars, and amplifiers, you have some sense of where this is headed. This album consists of two untitled tracks, so let’s jump right in. I’m a drummer, so I enjoyed the opening, which amounts to a long drum solo over sustained guitar drone. After about 5 minutes, the drumming becomes less frantic, but no less interesting. Although the guitar seems to play only one note, it shifts over time and toward the end takes a more active role in the composition. Well done. The second track takes a similar approach in style while retaining its own identity. Guitar and drums vie for attention while never seeming in competition. This is a good illustration of how sometimes less truly is more. Well worth picking up. This album weighs in at around 38 minutes.
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Artist: Reutoff (@)
Title: No One's Lullabies
Format: CD
Label: Zhelezobeton (@)
Rated: *****
Reutoff is a trio of WoWa [BT], Arnold pR, and Mitya N, who all hail from a small suburb of Moscow called Reutov and decided to get together to make industrial music in 1998. For them, the town is inspiration. According to the band, they think that “there are plenty of unique, really magic places in the town and around, that forms a united sacral space which is able to stimulate creative activity like nothing else can.” So let’s see what the town inspired them to do. The album opens with “New World Disorder,” and absolutely gorgeous composition of complex, dark, droning synth melodies and percussion. There are a lot of layers here woven together into a beautiful tapestry of sound. Seriously, this track is worth the price of admission even if the rest of the album sucked (which, thankfully, it doesn’t). “Slumber Song” is, ironically, a bit noisier, but no less interesting. Next up, we have “Edge of Oblivion,” which reminds me a lot of Autopsia’s “Secret Christmas History,” with its minor key and plodding beat, but if there were some unintelligible buried Laibach vocals sampled for good measure. Dulcimer and bells combine with wind tunnel synth in “Dead Templar's Groove Manuscript,” and actually has a lullaby feel to it, although one that is meant to inspire dread rather than sleep – sort of how Grimm’s fairy tales were not just for children. “Ice in my Liver” is a jazzy number, with a good beat and a hallucinatory soundscape swirling around it. “Nameless Tune with No Fate” is more heavy, oppressive soundscape that has a claustrophobic feel to it. “Requiem for Android” is an otherworldly soundscape with a beat and synth lines that sound, at times, like the passage of time. “Stille Leuchtet in dem Dunkel” is a cinematic piece that sounds like the soundtrack to the showdown between the protagonist and antagonist with a beat practically designed for the trailer. No explosions though; they’re implied. Finally, “About the Stars (live in Heaven)” closes out the disc with a track that is a bit more raw than the others, which makes sense because it is live. The material on this album began life as a limited-edition tape of 80 copies on German label Sea State in 2014, then they added four more tracks to their Bandcamp page, before finally releasing it on CD with a live track added for good measure. I am glad that this material has received wider dissemination because it is excellent. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up. This is far and away the best thing I have heard from Zhelezobeton. This album weighs in at around 70 minutes.
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Artist: Collateral Nature (@)
Title: Smoky Backbone
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Beat Machine Records (@)
Rated: *****
I had not heard of this act before, but it is an Italian duo consisting of Claudio Vittori and Paolo Gozzetti, with some others thrown in for good measure. As the press sheet describes it, this album moves “through smooth jazzy vibes and gently electronic scenarios” and “ranges from trip hop remembrances to dance floor vibes passing through nu jazz perceptions and UK sound memories.” Fair enough. Let’s put it on the turntable. This is pretty straightforward jazzy lounge music with sultry female vocals. You can almost smell the cigarette smoke and cheap whisky as you picture the dive bar in which they are playing. Synth organ, drums, and vocals make for a pretty solid combination. Still, I found it to be well constructed but nothing that really blew me away. There didn’t feel like there was much experimentation, leaving the end result feeling a bit sterile. The high point on the album was the powerful vocals by Jaia Sowden on “Tribal Tattoo,” which closes the album on a high point. Next up, we have the remixes by Wandl, Werkha, H-SIK, and Yellowtail. Generally, remixes are too conservative for my taste and tend to stick too close to the original. Thankfully, this is not the case here. Each of these remixes are much more complex and interesting than the original. For example, H-SIK brings some glitch to the table and Yellowtail trades in the organ for guitar with the drums and vocals for a more frantic feel. Given the choice between the two, I would dump the originals and go with the remixes.
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