Music Reviews



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Artist: Wastelanders (@)
Title: Cosmic Despair
Format: CD
Label: Basses Frequences (@)
Rated: *****
When men stare at the ineffable sight of Milky Way in a conveniently dark point of observation from Planet Earth, they could be overwhelmed by that feeling of solipsistic littleness combined with that somewhat controversial astonishment or ecstatic ravishment. An insignificant creature who can even make a fool of itself in the frantic attempt of framing such an infinity through intellect, but who cannot close the doors of perception in spite of the awareness and the acknowledge of its limitations. This one seems to be the conceptual launching pad of this second act of Wastelanders, side-project by Dean Costello, member of Michel Spiegel's Chicago-based metal band Harpoon, who looks like suggesting cosmic wandering where the above-mentioned inevitable frustration collides the wonder of constant discovery and travel, which cannot be but powered by music. "Cosmic Despair" mainly rests on introspections and contemplations aided by dilutions of guitar loops and moulding of analogue synth organs, which could recall some similar stuff by Christian Fennesz, Sunn O))) or Oren Ambarchi. The first three tracks sound like a mental tuning, based on lingering drones and the title track, "Cosmic Despair", is the most remarkable of them for its inspirational and hypnotic hooks, while "Expanding Mental Universe" and "The Crossing" are more guitar-driven mystical journeys, the first focused on crystalline sparks evoking a mesmeric cosmic roaming, the latter - and my favorite track as well - sounds closer to an ambient (then getting more rhythmical) translation of Indian raga-inspired enlightment. "Cosmic Despair" is also available on digital format through Hewhocorrupts and on tape (!) through Space Idea (check spaceideatapes.bigcartel.com). Just keep on wandering!
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Artist: Florian Hecker
Title: 2/8 Bregman 4/8 Deutsch 7/8 Hecker 1/8 Holler
Format: 2 x 10" vinyl
Label: Presto!? (@)
Rated: *****
Some listeners who already approached stuff by Florian Hecker are aware about the fact that behind his baffling look which could fit a trade unionist coming from some guild of electrical engineers or a nerdy clerk who's too interested in developing circuits, getting through uncountable pieces of work or settling infinite matters to choose a new pair of sunglasses, there's a really skittish musician and this bizarre sound compilation on double 10", made with the contribution by Carsten Holler, whose funny title enlists its theoretical, sonic and conceptual ingredients, confirms such an attitude at late. At first blush, many unlearned people could think he's trying to cheat them by undergoing trials of sap sounds without understanding what he's able to cheat is mainly their auditory perception so that for instance you could have the illusion he's practicing some scale whereas he's just playing with pitch modulation or sound intensity or other gimmicks some sound engineers should know and in order to make his intentions clearer (no, he's not trying to use you as guinea-pig for elegant instruments of sonic torture, which can be purpose-built to exhaust or move away unsymphatetic neighbours...), he suggests some readings which could be useful to go into details of psychoacoustics and better appreciate such a release. If you don't have the time to consult Albert S.Bregman treatises on auditory scene analyses, Rudolf Arnheim's interviews, Brian C.J.Moore's lessons on the "Psychology of Hearing" and so on, consider them as pure auditory games - my favorite ones are those dealing with voices as they recalls similar experiments (check the bizarre "Sometimes behave so strangely" for instance!)by Diana Deutsch, a quite famous cognitive psychologist who made a plenty of researches on auditory illusions, mentioned in the title -.
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Artist: Sao Paulo Underground
Title: Tres Cabecas Loucuras
Format: CD
Label: Cuneiform (@)
Rated: *****
This new tropical fever arrived on my decks or, maybe I'better say it infected my body, just some days ago, but this sample of audio-viral engineering by one of the wittiest composer of our times, Rob Mazurek - most of readers will remember his name for his releases on Thrill Jockey or for his precious collaborations with Him, Calexico, Exploding Star Orchestra or Isotope 217 - doesn't appear like a wishy-washy t-shirt. The contagion of this new musical hybrid - worthy continuation of the incredible melange of their "The Principle Of Intrusive Relationships" issued by Aesthetics in 2008 -, played by Rob with his consolidated partners-in-art Mauricio Takara (adding the typical sound of cavaquinho to the line-up, a sort of small guitar, with an higher timbre), Guilhermo Granado and the fourth head, Richard Ribeiro, together with a number of guest musicians - ears open on Kiko Danucci, a very talented musician - could be instantaneous. Even if maybe its sonorities are less daring and experimental than the ones SPU gave to the listener on their previous release, "Tres Cabecas Loucuras" cherishes a fun crossover approach and many listeners could have the impression Mr Mazurek poured some of its most prominent musical insights into this tropical juice, flavoured with a palpable compositional joyfulness and wit. In order to give you an idea of the funny music Sao Paulo Underground wrapped, I could invite you to imagine what Jaga Jazzist or late Stereolab (it's not a mistery Rob's hand was there as well) would play if they were born in Brazil. Some similarities with that kind of psychedelic freeform, which was booming between 60ies and 70ies, are quite logical, but the fact this combo refreshes that spirit by winking at certain musical traditions is what makes it so attractive. Warmly recommended!
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Artist: Saltillo
Title: Monocyte
Format: CD
Label: Artoffact (@)
Rated: *****
The follow-up of the recently reissued debut album, Ganglion, is another strange mash-up of trip-hop, distorted violin, spoken word and is a concept album, a soundtrack to the comic book of the same name. The good news is this is vastly superior to the debut album in composition and production.
"ABEO" in the intro constructed upon some noises and the heavily distorted voice of the narrator. "Proxy" is the first proper track and is an uptempo based on the folky lines of the violin above the beat. "If Wishes were Catholics" is one of the few singed song with an, at least for the writer, unknown female vocalist and probably one of the singles due to the catchy lines. "The Right of Action" is another instrumental constructed with a violin melodic development upon an hip-hop beat. "They all do it the same" is reminiscent of, cited even in the linear notes, the work done by DJ Shadow in the definition of this genre. "Gate Keepers" features the return of the spoken words to describe the development of the plot and so "I Hate You" and "Forced Vision" continues upon this development track. "Hollow" is an instrumental track revealing the soundtrack project of this release. "Locus Priory" starts with a guitar lines suddenly replaced by a dialogue between cello and piano. "Veil" is the other singed track of the album and is reminiscent of all the metal bands doing some sort of crossover. "To Kill a King" close this release with an almost classic instrumental hip hop tunes that suggest an happy ending of the comic book.
This is an album without any truly original idea but so carefully constructed and well produced that it will find a place in any end of the year playlist of fans of the genre. Non only for the fans of the genre but also for any wanting to hear a pleasant release.
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Artist: LHZ + H (@)
Title: Scope
Format: CD
Label: Monotype Records (@)
Rated: *****
LHZ + H are Thomas Lehn - analogue synthesizer; Carl Ludwig Hubsch - tuba; Philip Zoubek - piano; and Franz Hautzinger - quartertone trumpet & delay, all from Germany. Lehn has an extensive academic background in recording engineering, classical and jazz piano, and electronic music, particularly modern composition and the avant-garde. In 1989 he initiated the chamber ensemble Trio Dario and four years later the Mengano Quartett, performing compositions of the contemporary avant-garde, in particular numerous first performances of commissioned works. Lehn has recorded with Marcus Schmickler, Keith Rowe, John Butcher, Phil Minton, Phil Durrant, Radu Malfatti, Axel Dorner, Cor Fuhler, Gerry Hemingway, Andy Moor of The Ex, and is a member of the electronic orchestra M.I.M.E.O. (Music In Movement Electronic Orchestra), as well as numerous other projects and collaborations. Carl Ludwig Hubsch grew up playing clarinet in the local brass band and drums in punk and rock bands, but around 1983 he exchanged the clarinet for a tuba. He also has an academic background in singing, music theory, drums, composition, and electronic music. Besides his own projects like Hubsch's Longrun Development of the Universe, Drift and Hubsch's Primordial Soup, he founded the ENSEMBLE X and co-leads the Multiple Joy[ce] Orchestra together with Matthias Schubert and Frank Gratkowski. Hubsch is part of many collective projects and ensembles and works as side man in various projects. Philip Zoubek studied jazz piano at the Viennese Conservatorium and the Musikhochschule in Cologne. He now plays in various jazz and improv ensembles in Cologne, Vienna, Zurich and Berlin, including Ensemble Creativ, Org, Cauldron, Camera Obscura, Ubik, James Choice Orchestra and Muche/Zoubek/Tang, and with the group Snaut, among other projects. At present Philip Zoubek is mainly occupied with his own ensemble Philz. Trumpeter Franz Hautzinger studied trumpet and composition at the Graz Academy of Music and the Performing Arts and at the Vienna Conservatory. He started on the Austrian jazz scene in the late '80s, recording a handful of albums for the Extraplatte label mostly as a member of the groups Muhlbacher usw., Nouvelle Cuisine, and Striped Roses. After a three-year recording hiatus from 1998 to 2000, during which time he extensively radicalized his sound, Hautzinger came back with the solo CD Gomberg (2000) and the debut by his group Dachte Musik (2001), both released by the then up-and-coming German label Grob. These, and his participation in the composers' ensemble Zeitkratzer brought his playing to the attention of an international avant-garde audience at the beginning of the 21st century. Whew! Those are extensive and impressive bios to be certain (and to a great degree, condensed), and I have to admit I'm a little intimidated in my capacity as a reviewer for this CD. Still, it all boils down to how the compositions actually sound, and you're about to find out.

'Scope' contains four tracks in about 45 minutes that makes good use of the combined talents and the collaborative instrumentation of the four participants. While Thomas Lehn seems to be the most active player overall, there is no jockeying to be heard, little in the way of stepping on toes (except when required), and the execution of a well-oiled 'weird machine' where everyone contributes just what is needed to give these pieces life and depth. The album opens with 'Zoom,' a piece a little over 12 minutes in length. It begins very low-key, and continues that way through most it with quiet tones from the horns, sparse piano sounds and subtle but ominous synth tones, drones, burblings and atmospherics. There is a palpable tension here threatening to burst forth into a cacophonous riot especially towards the end, but never does. Perhaps an exercise in restraint, 'Zoom' doesn't zoom, it more looms like a most uneasy soundscape. It ends seamlessly merging into the title track 'Scope,' the longest on the album at nearly 17 minutes. Here there are more percussive sounds provided by synth and piano; plinks, plunks, notes, noise and noises, scraping, rattling, bird-like sounds, ringing, etc., with soft moaning horn tones. Activity is intermittent, and little is constant with an impressive amount of variety. This is a fascinating sonic environment that sounds like it could have been a field recording in some electronic alternate universe. Business picks up more than halfway through the piece and there is a shift to louder dynamics and heightened activity. Sounds careen and collide; horns are emboldened staggering drunkenly; monstrous rumblings from the piano, and a variety of synthetic noises. It all subsides before the end into stray, sparse, brief sonic elements. 'Lense' (9:40) begins with sustained muted horn tones and occasional interjection of noises from Lehn's synthesizer. Except for the obvious, it is often difficult to tell what sonic element is being created by whom, and this feels like the most electronic piece on the album. Before it's over things get a bit frenzied and chaotic, like some mechanized junkyard sculpture coming alive despite the intent of its awestruck creator to remain static. 'Hal' is the shortest piece on 'Scope' and to me, is more typical of what might be expected in a collaboration of this sort, with nods to Berio, Cage, Stockhausen, Tudor, Varèse and Lamonte Young. There is quite a bit more activity and participation from the participants making this a very satisfying improvisation and fitting close to the album. There is no final resolution though; it just ends and you may hardly notice that it did.

For those who appreciate avant-garde music and/or unusual improvisation, 'Scope' is an intriguing prospect, and one that may have you coming back for more of its enigmatic flavor.
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