Music Reviews

Title: Bas-Relief
Format: CD
Label: Other Voices Records
Rated: *****
Coming from Rochester, NY, Eleven Pond released only an album for their own label Game Hen Records in 1986. After that release they faded away like they never existed. Those eleven tracks were like lost in oblivion before Dark Entries decided to reissue that album in 2009. The last year, the Russian label Other Voices, released on CD a new reissue mastered by Attrition's Martin Bowes. "Bas Relief", shows a band that was able to mix different influences into their sound: new wave, shoegaze, post punk and synthpop were the genres that excited Dan Brumley, Jeff Gallea, James Tabbir and Jack Schaeffer. The album opens with two gems: "Tear And Cinnamon" (musically it reminds me of Bauhaus' "She's In Party") and "Watching The Trees" (this one is a synthpop hit with catchy melodies). On the following "Days Hence" and "Tightrope" they recall the best 4AD bands of the likes of early Modern English. "Portugal" calls in synthpop music again and it sounds fresh and convincing. "Asterisk" and "Moving Nowhere" sound new wave with a bit of pop easyness. Other tracks I enjoyed particularly are "Temporal" and "Ignorant Father". The first has a sensual almost melancholic atmosphere while the latter is a post punk intriguing song with guitar feedbacks and drum machine beats. Mixing dark atmospheres and fresh ideas coming from a personal interpretation of late 70s/early 80s alternative sounds, Eleven Pond created this nice record and now you're able to enjoy it again!
Artist: Abdul Moimeme & Ricardo Guerreiro (@)
Title: Khettahu
Format: CD
Label: Creative Sources (@)
Rated: *****
The performative approach this duo made up of by Portuguese guitarist Abdul Moimeme and electroacoustic composer Ricardo Guerreiro on this recording is somewhat atypical even if it's not totally new: it's based on the temporal postponement of the two performers, as Ricardo's machines treat (or I'd better say they swallow, partially digest and then spit out) what they grab from Abdul's timbrical digressions on his two electric prepared guitar, which he manages to play simultaneously, so that it seems they hold a sonic dialogue where they fill the listener's space and change the setting in a very funny way without breaking the rules of improvisational music (I sometimes prefer to call them precepts!), as this performance was entirely recorded during one session in Namouche Studios in Lisboa on 19th June 2010. Workout's result is really remarkable, a circumstance which might be explained by reciprocal musical deep understanding, an important help to the blending of their trades... Therefore I should not be impressed by the balanced dosage of digital and analog, as computer "voice" is never intrusive or untimely even when Guerreiro manages to unfold sonic plots in a more distinguashable or when he manages to blunt geometries evoked by the sinister squeking of some guitar clips, plane or alternatively sharp metallic extrusions, nebulize pulse after pulse more stressed streaks, before finding refuge in the silent protection of something close to white noises, so that it sometimes looks like seize some Abdulìs thunder by the hair in order to let them reach some harshness without getting too cacophonic. A listening experience to be tried!
Artist: Merzbow (@)
Title: Lop Lop (2 CD Deluxe Edition)
Format: 2 x CD (double CD)
Label: Rustblade
Distributor: Rustblade
Rated: *****
Noise musicians are infamous for unleashing a caustic landslide of CDs, tapes, LPs, free downloads; it can be overwhelming and headache inducing to try and take the plunge, to know where to begin. Merzbow, the long-running alias of one Masami Akita, created the standard, with over 350 releases to his name. As a result, most album reviews are negligent and dismissive, boiling down to essentially 'this is a noise record.'

This is not helpful. There are as many different ways to make noise as there are body types: from the dreamy, organic drone of Growing; to the narcotic lull of Liz Harris' Grouper project. There is a HUGE gap from early 80s industrial noise to the current wave of laptop fiddling, floorcore basement dwellers.

So the question is: 'what am i getting into?' What makes this record stand out from the 349 other albums i already have by Masami Akita. Why bother? It depends on what you are looking for.

Noise re-conditions the way we look at and listen to the world: the passing traffic, the whirling wind turbines, the rain on a tin roof, become incidental symphonies, after an afternoon or evening listening to Wolf Eyes or Throbbing Gristle or Whitehouse; they are like generative synthesizers, and the world becomes a more artistic, more ordered, more inspiring place. Noise musicians take harsh, unwelcome sounds like feedback and industrial sounds, like power tools, and embraces them, incorporates them, and they become less hostile, less intrusive. Its like making friends with yr environment.

On Lop Lop, Merzbow expands his usual arsenal of feedback and oscillators to include guitars and the human voice, he strives for constant innovation and mastery over tone and texture. The result is a more colorful, more psychedelic, more emotive monster than on his early 80s industrial splatter porn material. Its like watching the snowy static on a tv, back when they had antenna, turn technicolor, a swarm of unknown insects, whirling with life.

There is something to be said for having released over 350 albums: you are eventually going to figure out what yr doing, even if what you are doing is intensely odd and abstract. Akita has become a Paganini of the mixing board, finessing rumbles and wind-fire from archaic knobs and buttons, that the uninitiated would never notice. That's part of what pisses me off, which is part of what made me want to write for this site in the first place. The dismissive, condescending attitude towards experimental/avant garde music and art; this is noise, this is drone, blahblahblah. Its like saying Vivaldi and Appalachian Hill Music are the same thing, because they both write for the violin. Ignorance.

My other main incentive to write about this music is just an excuse to listen to it, and listen closely. There's such a barrage of music these days, its hard to know where to begin, and we are all left with cultural ADD, and people might not notice the wheat from the chaff. Merzbow's been making music for over 30 years, he essentially created, or helped to create, power noise. I am always curious what separates the master from the disciple. What makes for a good noise record? Listening to Lop Lop, i am struck by the continuity, by the flow, that i must chalk up to intelligent editing. The subtle warbling bass LFO from album opener 'Canaanda', flowing through the first half of the second track, 'My Voice at the Pace of Drifting Clouds,' then fading out suddenly. I am reminded of bassoons, dropping out of the second movement of a symphony. Graceful. Subtle.

The flow of songs makes listening to Lop Lop like a journey, no verse chorus pop structure; more like being swept along in a fiery river. And, of course, the firm foundation creates a solid structure for pyrotechnic freak-outs to take place, Merzbow's signature oscillator/feedback scree, like standing in a wind tunnel.

Most people that hear noise for the first time's first comment is: 'This Isn't Music'. It is chaotic, violent, assaultive, and that's part of the secret. It takes some getting used to. Over the past few months, dipping back into Merzbow's catalog, and other innovators of the genre, i have been reminded of the eye of the hurricane. This music is not meant to be ignored, it is true, it is not background listening. It screams and demands attention. But late last night, i succumbed to its windstorm, threw on a pair of headphones, and had the blackest of black metal evenings: listening to Merzbow and sewing. Once one has surrendered, there is a peace here. The music rages and surges around you, and produces all manner of interesting mental and physical side effects. Most adventurous music of the past 100 years, from Bebop to Stravinsky, was considered atonal, not music. It produces riots and chaos, but it is reflective of the world that we live in.

Lop Lop does not cater; you must come to this work on its own terms. You must acclimate to its extreme volume and frequencies. You must stop yr busy life, or bring it along for the ride. But embracing noise music, exploring it, learning its intricacies, is like planting a zen garden in yr mind: unshakeable.

Lop Lop comes in three version, from Rustblade: a single disc 3 track version, a deluxe 2 cd box set, with additional artwork and swag, and a 3 disc limited edition, that came with a shirt and a carrying case, which looked beautiful but is unfortunately sold out. I have the disc version, and it is lovely packaging, pure fetishistic delight, holding the luxuriously designed packaging in yr hands. A real work of art.
Artist: Plaster (@)
Title: Platforms
Format: CD
Label: Kvitnu (@)
Rated: *****
Another very good release delivered by postman in a packet with Ukranian stamps from Kvitnu, the industrious label by greatly respected artist Zavoloka bears the signature of Plaster, bicephalous electronic freak born from two skilled Italian sound forgers, Giuseppe Carlini and Giancarlo Hashem Moniri, whose headquarters are in the chaotic Rome, a metropolis where there are the best conditions for electronic musicians' inspiration (alienation, sociopathies and a rich sample collection of behaviourial disorders and mental diseases, multiculturalism, contradictions, impressive cultural and social asymmetries, urban brutal landscapes, human feelings' slaughterhouses and so on), but where there're just some small hotbeds for electronic music, which are still too small to be considered as a scene. In spite of such a situation, Rome sometimes delivers some very interesting stuff (I could mention Lory D, D'Arcangelo brothers, DSP recordings for instance...and some of you knows some of them reached important goals such as signature with legendary labels like Rephlex) and Plaster could reasonably be considered one welcome gift from that scene. The method they use in order to assemble their electromechanical structures seems to be more or less the same for each track as Plaster like gradual ascensional progression according to a compositional scheme based on the crossbreed of deep bass tones (looking like a mechanical unlabored ventilation, a sort of robotic eupnea, or an involuntary muscle contraction...) with subtle, cinematic and more or less highlighted sonic swarm, reminding to me the style of projects such as Autechre (many click'n'bleeps whirls recalled to my mind their masterpiece Tri Repetae), Hecq, Ltd.Noise or Denny Almonde, a scheme which seduced many notorious bands as well (Depeche Mode, Young Gods, Nine Inch Nails and so on), overloading speakers till peaks of saturation. Sometimes they depart from crystalline sounds, but instead of cleansing frequencies it seems they like to zoom on impurities, so that if you follow the progression of a bass tone, listeners could almost renderize its gradual indentation, especially in tracks like "Rearline", "Component" and "Double Connection" (a track where Christina Gasparetto interprets a sentence taken from "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle). The conceptual framework explaining the title (Platforms) they have chosen refers to a mental journey through the flow of music, where each track turns into a sort of platform, i.e. a point where listeners can stop or start again and again like in life through routes, with large or narrow corridors, obstacles, blurred visions, confusing or neat directions and so on. A nice way to describe their release, but I'm sure many listeners will appreciate it without embracing such a perspective. The Cd has been enhanced with the inclusion of a videoclip by David Terranova, titled "Lydia K", looking like the vision of a dancer who gradually lose the perception of space. I warmly reccomend Plaster's sonic prophylaxis as well as I could reccomend to pay attention when pulling cd out from its card package!
Artist: Contagious Orgasm and Kadaver (@)
Title: A Tragedy Without a Border Line
Format: CD
Label: Wrotycz (@)
Rated: *****
First off, I must admit that I am a fan of Contagious Orgasm's work. 'Illegal Occupation of Ears' stands, for me, as a pinnacle of noise. As such, I was quite happy to see this in the package of review materials. I had heard of Kadaver, but had not heard much from this artist. First the packaging. The press sheet states that it comes packaged 'with rather controversial photo inside (at least some will think so).' Well, time to steal some thunder and let you know that it is nothing like the artwork in, say, Koerperwelten's 'Avatars Of Rape And Rage' or some that simply go for shock value (you can guess the kind of acts I'm talking about). This is a dead, dissected mouse. There you go. Now on to the music. The label describes the album as 'a mixture of ambient, PE and noisy sounds. Consists of 3 long pieces of musick without frontiers... Bubbling drones, sampled voices, crashes and hums.' When artists or labels describe things as a mixture, the ratios are rarely equal. This album is no different; it is heavily slanted toward noise, but it is still a mixture indeed. For example, 'Poison' starts off much more subdued than the Contagious Orgasm material that I have previously heard, with much more atmosphere. This track incorporates spoken word samples about abuse (reminiscent of Brighter Death Now's 'Little Baby') with field recordings of water and violin as noise crashes into the mix. It tacks back and both between harsh noise and atmosphere, which keeps it interesting. Disposable starts off all about the noise, but it still holds back, and descends into somber synth ambience mixed with samples of someone crying. This is much more quiet toward the end, which makes it that much more disquieting. 'Antidote' likewise keeps the mixture swirling, as it unleashes noise, only to be followed by atmospheric gloom, and back again. We get some more spoken word about lethal doses and the like. If you like your noise mixed with ambience, this is definitely one to check out. This album weighs in at around 55 minutes.
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