Music Reviews

Artist: Sektor 304 (@)
Title: Subliminal Actions
Format: CD
Label: Malignant Records (@)
Distributor: Malignant Records
Rated: *****
This is my first experience with Sektor 304 and HOLY CRAP! Is this ever an INDUSTRIAL album, in the truest sense of the word. No this isn't dance-floor Industrial; no EBM, 16th note sequenced electronics, catchy choruses, etc.; it is much closer to the Test Dept., Crash Worship, early Einstürzende Neubauten, form of Industrial music. Sektor 304 hails from Portugal and the members are André Coelho, J, Filipe, Henriques Fernandes, and Gustavos Costa. Sektor 304's instrumentation includes Junk, Metal, Powertools, Noises, Ambience, Amplified Objects, etc. as well as the more conventional Percussion, Beats, Synths, Trombone (trombone??, yes trombone) and vocals, usually of the shouted variety. There is nothing conventional about this battery and its coterie though. From what I can tell Sektor 304 has been around since around 2008 with a couple of previous releases, but this one is likely to dwarf prior efforts.

Opening track, 'A Carving on Metal Skin' provides a descriptive title for the bombast that follows. It sounds like a huge dumptruck of junk, garbage and industrial waste is being emptied right on your doorstep. ('Back up the truck boys and put it right there!') 'A Vessel of Guilt' features pounding post-apocalyptic tribal rhythm and angry shouted vocals accented with the screaming of circular saws and other powertools, breaking glass, twisted metal, and other dark matter. This is maniacal to say the least. If 'A Carving on Metal Skin' is the soup, and 'A Vessel of Guilt' is the appetizer, 'By The Throat' is the main course where you're thrust into an arena of death, pain and destruction that makes Mad Max's Thunderdome seem like a wimpy version of 'Hunger Games'. Gotta love those staccato percussive accents and barked orc vocals that break up the tribal polyrhythm.

This is a very dark album, and I'd expect nothing less from a band on the Malignant label. This music is all about atmosphere; an atmosphere of oppression, malevolence, torture, violence, despair, decay, and corrosion. Effective use of noise squalls, keening electronics, doom bass, and primitive percussive elements (banging on metal drums?) and dark ambiences with growled shouted vocals makes 'Subliminal Actions' a listening experience to be reckoned with. What impresses me most about Sektor 304 is that they don't stick to the same formula on every track. I imagine that a good deal of this was improvised and just sort of came about, rather than being calculated. A track such as 'Friction' with its diverse sonic elements and muted percussive aspects could only have been planned in the most rudimentary way. The further you go into 'Subliminal Actions' the more it moves away from the tribal rhythms of the earlier tracks, and seems to descend into the bowels of the hellish sound engine that drives it. This is where the tortured souls of the damned dwell; Sisyphus-like in their futile tasks to keep it all running. But there's a lot more than that- in this thick, sludgy atmosphere of desolation, the ordeal is far from over. While 'Terminal Stage' gives an impression of a long unguided tour through the abyss, 'Concrete Islands' is a trip to a demonic factory that is making God-knows-what in its abominable lair. 'A.A.D.S.' provides a measure of some relief from that environment but has an ominous quality to it; even moreso when the mechanized percussion kicks in, accented by a light tribal rhythm until the whole thing spews out a dense squall of noise right in your face. Even this machine runs out of steam, as machines often do. Final track, 'The Prismatic Sun,' begins with a thick, low frequency feedbacky drone and a whispered recitation. An oscillating tone creeps up the frequency range disappearing into dog-hearing territory and you get the sense this thing is about to come alive. And come alive it does! The most definitive pounding rhythm yet erupts and dominates the proceedings. If there was a pep rally in honor of the great Cthulhu, this would be it. Okay, well there is no chanting of 'Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn'¦' but it wouldn't be out of place.

This album is so worthy as an example of what real 'Industrial' music should be that it seems hard to top. However, I'm reserving half-a-star out of a perfect rating just in case Sektor 304 does manage to do just that with their next release.
Artist: Autistici (@)
Title: Amplified Presence
Format: CD
Label: Home Normal (@)
Distributor: Home Normal
Rated: *****
Autistici is the project of David Newman from the U.K. and it appears that releases go back as far as 2003 with some on Audiobulb Records, Kesh Recordings, Hippocamp, and others. Autistici incorporates a wide range of sources including textural sound design, orchestration, space and fragments of found sound or field recordings. The idea behind the music of Autistici is to focus on representing details from both the natural and manmade world. Conceptually, this includes elements from the listener's own body (and also what's inside their head) becoming incorporated into the composition. A bit existential, but there's truth in it. So in a sense, it's interactive music. Lofty conceptualization aside, I'm sure you're wondering what it sounds like.

First, I have no basis of comparison to previous works by Autistici (never having heard any) so I come to the table with (sort of) fresh ears. My overall first impression of 'Amplified Presence' was one of sound sculptures; pieces of art conveying an impression, a significance and/or feeling in the environment they were listened to. My initial listing was in the closed environment of my car. There was a museum-like quality to the listening space, and I could envision light displays, water sculptures, statuary, abstract installations, etc. This impression was greatly altered on the second listening at my computer where I am writing the review. There are the sonic (and other) distractions of the noise of an electric air filter, the sound of water running in the bathroom, the tapping of keys on a keyboard, the squeak of a chair, etc. The sound system configuration is different here too. These factors may have contributed in some degree to giving a more active (or perhaps interactive) quality to what I was hearing.

Because every piece on 'Amplified Presence' is essentially different it would be a LOT of work to attempt to describe them all, but I can give you a few incidentals though that should give you a better impression to discern whether this album is something you'd enjoy. The opener, 'Automated Night Light' utilizes reverberated dream tones that melt together in clusters with subtle drone, whirring and zizzing sounds in the background. Before you know it, you're in a 'Bed of Powdered Glass,' which seems to bend space through panning sequenced noise elements, a manipulated warped bass tone, subtle clicking (akin to artifacts you can sometimes experience on a bad CD) and other incidental tones. I imagine that through headphones this could be quite mind expanding. I should point out that this is all rather subtle and low-key.

'Religion of Water and Air' at first juxtaposes a simple, stilted repetitive piano melody with key-tapping typewriter (and some gentle noise in the background) until the key-tapping works its way into a full blown rhythm with percussive elements and glitch electronics. It halts, then there is a bassy buildup and a more steady sequenced noise element, then squishy-squashy electronics as it lumbers along on another rhythmic track, with glitchy electronics again. The track ends similar to how it began. It's all very playful and would make a great soundtrack for an animated short. I'm skipping over 'Vocal Chords,' 'Attachment Type,' and 'Sixteenth,' not because I didn't like them but due to (my) time constraints. Besides, there should still be a little mystery for you to discover on your own, eh?

'Tower Location' has watery sonics in the background (for awhile), a sequenced processed electronic buzzing tone, some light melodic ambience, and a glitch rhythm kit (in march tempo) emerges with a bell-wash with incidental bits of electronic effluvia. 'Slow Rotary Sensor Loop' begins with a low drone and swirling electronic textures and a ringing tone interspersed with measured electronic tapping. I think I hear summer sounds like bird and cicadas too. It ends with small steam noise burst. 'Field' is like imagining yourself in one, but perhaps one altered by a chemically induced state. 'Slow Fluorescence' begins with some kind of winding (as in winding a reel, or clock rather than 'the wind') sounds, and introduces more active field recording sounds with mellow ambiences, guitar harmonics, whooshing, thumping and crackling sounds.

Overall, this is an intriguing set of sonic environments that defy the categories of ambient, glitch, and experimental, while incorporating them all to realize something completely different. Interactive sound sculptures would not be a bad description for this album, but in a sense, 'Amplified Presence' is more than that. Other listeners may perceive them completely differently than I did, focusing on elements that I've overlooked. In any case, there is little to not enjoy on 'Amplified Presence' and I think Autistici achieves its goal here remarkably well.

Artist: Olan Mill (@)
Title: Paths
Format: 12" vinyl + CD
Label: Facture (@)
Rated: *****
The placid symphonic trembling of virginal strings, luminous heavenly choirs and puffed pipe organ of "Blue Polar", that kind of stuff which can act as a soundtrack for slow motion sequences of those national geographic documentary film about some naturral wonder or for proper gestures or facial expressions (such as that kind of smile in a daze or that slow caress on lower abdomen) by a woman who receives a positive response by a pregnancy test (when pregnancy is wanted!), turns this graceful release by Olan Mill - a collaborative project by Alex Smalley, a music therapist living in the idyllic Hampshire countryside in UK, and Svitlana Samoylenko - on, before the entrance of the delicate piano melody in "The Square Is Porcelain", whose deep emotional charge has been emphasized by a gradually opening string pealing. The following track, "Amber Balanced", is the highest dramtic peak of the whole album (and in my opinion, the most interesting moment from a compositional viewpoint), where a sort of low-pitched drone gradually ascends through field recordings of water and tweets, livid tones and sonic hazes. B-side of the release starts with "Intestinal Flora", where a drone built on a whispering violin (so high-pitched that looks like a distant military tap) looks like breathing with the murmur of some dripping water, while the intense languidity of the following track "Eye's Closed (For Rube)" vividly recalls pastoral landscapes before the long-lasting track, "Stalled Boson", which sounds like the glorious accomplishment of an implied tale (arguably the one of the man "picking his nose on Rainbow Corner, shuffling down coffee, blowing film cyclonic; anticyclonic, being a ditch in shoes, having steam in his eyes,..." described in the booklet by Olan Mill and Alexander Ross Peterson), whose musical setting could be placed in musical field close to the ones, which have been plowed by Stard Of the Lid or Constance Demby.
Artist: The Caretaker
Title: Patience (After Sebold)
Format: CD
Label: History Always Favors The Winners
Distributor: Forced Exposure
Rated: *****
Leyland Kirby is interested in memories; in an interview for the Headphone Commute, in 2011, he described the fascination: "We are our memories and the saddest thing and big fear we all have is of losing our ability to remember as then really we are nothing only a shell and it's tragic for those around us to witness this descent into a living hell (even though we ourselves would not recognise anything being wrong)."

Patience (After Sebold) is the soundtrack to a documentary by Grant Gee, where he re-traced the steps of author WG Sebold's journey down the British sea coast. as chronicled in his most famous book, 'The Rings Of Saturn'. The book, and the film, both deal with the nature of memory and perception, of their unreliability, creating a ghost-like nether world in which the author floats and observes. Leyland Kirby's smeary, dreamy melancholia is the perfect score for this limbo.

After a number of releases under his own name, most notably "Sadly, The Future Is No Longer What It Once Was," with its ambitious six sides of antiquated chamber piano, where Leyland Kirby was focused more on composing and performing the pieces, and giving achieving a much more emotional and personal vision, 'Patience (After Sebold)', returns to The Caretaker's signature wax cylinder deconstructions. Named after Jack Torrance in The Shining, Leyland Kirby has been conjuring music for the haunted ballroom since 1999, but Patience (After Sebold) is much more classical than vaudeville, re-purposing sounds from Franz Schubert's 'Winterreise'; most of the album consists of locked piano grooves, with slurred disembodied choirs and pipe organs 3 miles in the sky, the whole affair is chopped and blurred with cotton swabs of reverb, like watching seaweed drift, through the surface of a fish tank.

"Patience (After Sebold)" seems distant, receding, like a rusting space station, drifting beyond Earth's radiosphere, dying transmissions from the familiar, and the voices that sent them now long since passed, anyway. Haunting, bittersweet, elegant, classic; Leyland Kirby has a way with working with tiny vignettes of music, cobbling them together like a sterling automaton, and creating something utterly distinctive and unique. Along with William Basinski, he is Master of the Loop.
Artist: N.E.O. (@)
Title: Sindustrial
Format: CD
Label: Koerperschall Records/Echozone (@)
Distributor: Masterpiece
Rated: *****
"Welcome to the industrial paradise...welcome to the underground...welcome to... industrial". This is the way N.E.O. (acronym for New Electronic Order), a duo made up of Arne Gutowski aka Tandrin (some acolytes of electro-industrial scene might remember him for being the voice of Mechanical Moth as well as for his very long blonde dreadlocks, which let someone argue he could have a steel-plated scalp!) and Disdain greats the listener with a cold female voice, whose articulating looks like she would announce some train delay in Hell-o. This Sindustrial (nice word trick!) offers quite good stomper with many interesting vocal samples, distorted guiras, mechanical noises and drum machine's rumbling, which are going to make the wearing of gas masks compulsary for the big amount of sweat they can produce in proper settings (amongst others, tracks I reccomend are "Irre Explodieren Nicht", "War Of Fidelity", "Enjoy My Sickness" and the interesting final march of "Hoffnung" - maybe the best one - for some interesting sonic make-up), but the clutter of references could appear a little bit cliched even though it pretend to be "unconventional" or referred to underground culture. The risk a good product could sink in listener's opinion just for looking so stereotyped to be associated with an exergame by Konami or with the nihilist kinks of some omnidirectional teeny-geeky anger (as the declaration of intents in the booklet in tune with those resounding proclamation made by groups of angry nerds speaking about a revolution against "all these downpressed beats, limited to their death" whereas other kinds of revolutions could be more meaningful...) is high, but this is just their debut and I'm pretty sure it will have good response (and just some cramps in legs) in more frenzied cyber or industrial-goth appealed parties.
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