Music Reviews

Artist: Phase Conductor (@)
Title: Conditions
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Chinese calligraphy masters take years to cultivate their art form to the point that they draw characters with one stroke and a minimum of revision, if any. Mike Matheson, who for years produced as Beef Terminal, has reached a kind of mastery where his tracks are now casual yet masterful strokes. Matheson created a world of brooding yet melodic guitar over drum machine beats, liberally seasoned with field recordings of rambling inebriated party attendees, religious sermon culled from the radio and captured conversations from mobile phones that still used analog signals. Beef Terminal tended to have darker overtones, melancholic instrumental drama, and at times a kind of anxious solitude, yet within all this is also its beauty and strength. The Beef Terminal was always able to evoke emotions felt long after the disc played and Conditions is no exception. I would go so far as to call it the missing album. In some ways, Conditions is more low-fi than Matheson’s previous efforts with discernible tape saturation, cable hiss, equipment hums, with the exception of 20GOTO10 (2000), his debit solo album. A point of departure is how varied Conditions sounds. Tracks like “Fourth” and “Long Ride” could have been outtakes off of Further or New Lands by Flying Saucer Attack and all that is missing are the haunting vocals of Rachel Brook or David Pearce. FSA are not so much influences as descriptive touch stones, though the two projects share similar approaches to recording. In the early days, FSA would record onto VHS tape via home stereo whereas Matheson records onto cassette, as he elaborates, “I did much of this album outside the computer, or if I started in the computer I would output it usually to my SP404 or OP-1 and use on-board filters there, which is where some of the hiss came from but for a lot of tracks I bounced them to cassette. Besides that I spent most of last year just making these songs with no real plans to release them or anything but once I got them together I enjoyed listening to them so I thought it might make a good “album”. Basically the criteria for music making for me in 2016 was that it had to feel good doing it, and doing things on computer had become so boring and sterile I had to come up with some other ways to do things, which I’ve done and now I’ve continued making tunes this way and have been far more prolific than ever, working super fast, barely any overdubs or editing, I just do these tracks and move on. Sort of how I did 20 GOTO 10 actually. Way more enjoyable.” Indeed, much of Matheson’s work is immersed in the glitch in ways that would do early Aphex Twin proud with “Pooling”, Rplanet”, and “RCA” which are more ambient excursions that recall Selected Ambient Works Vol 2. That is not to say that all of conditions is low-fi, as “Rounded”, “Sorting”, and “Sorting 2” come off as more crisp electronic ambient productions. A personal favourite is “Discleaves” for it’s 90’s-era melodic electronica feel more at home in a Warp or Delsin records retro-compilation. “Backlook” is firmly in early Beef Terminal territory with fragments of audio sample’s from 2003’s The Isolationist and could be an outtake, even. Mathesons’ artistry is certainly there, though somewhat curious, if we follow the calligrapher analogy, that he picks more worn parchment as his medium, so to speak. But that is Matheson’s aesthetic where he fully understands the production rules and breaks it to make his melancholic musical statements that have all the charm of faded and aged photographs or film, emotional fragments that encapsulates memory.
Artist: Tony Buck
Title: Unearth
Format: CD + Download
Label: Room40
Berlin-based composer and drummer Tony Buck’s first solo release in well over a decade, “Unearth” is a single 51-minute track of thickly layered wind sounds, swelling drones, sparse and organic prog-rock-esque instrumentation, untraceable found sounds and processed noises. It’s interspersed with spontaneous percussive moments that are sometimes single hits that cut through the soundscape like blunt knives, sometimes more frantic repeated cymbal washes.

After a relatively sparse first five minutes, the multi-tracking gradually increases, and with it so does the sense of disorientation. It’s a bumpy sonic wallpaper, frequently introducing new noise variants to keep you on your toes, at times panning elements sharply across the stereo field as though trying to make you dizzy.

Around the fifteen minute mark guitar, bass and keys are gradually introduced, and this is where it takes a substantial step in the direction of avantgarde jazz or the most out-there side of prog rock. The analogue tone to the bleeps and radio effects that arrive here seem to throw proceedings back to a more 1970’s flavour, transforming it into a sort of improvised wig-out.

As we proceed into the second half, the melee is joined by deep piano notes and some strung-out bowed sounds that increase the tension and sense of alienation to a new level. Towards the finale the sense of a rhythmical pulse also increases, with the alarm-style notes in the final five minutes a very stark and broadly unpleasant wake-up call concluding something that initially sounded like it might have been sleep music.

It’s an expertly measured evolution of atmosphere and sound that progresses through a variety of styles without losing consistency. It feels at times like it looks backwards rather than forwards somewhat but appreciators of the most indulgent avantgarde edges of rock will definitely enjoy the ride.
Artist: Hexas
Title: Liberty Nest
Format: MCD (Mini CD)
Label: Hagshadow
Rated: *****
Hexas is the new creature born from the collaboration of Patrick Leagas of Sixth Comm/Godlesstate/Mother Destruction/SchrÄge Musik fame and Gaya Donadio (active as ANTIchildLEAGUE and boss of Hagshadow). "Liberty Nest" is their first release and contains six tracks that are the perfect mix of their past music experiences. The meaning of Hexas in the original Greek form is the number Six, perhaps also Hexe, which in German means "witch", is connected to a continuation of the subject 6. Hexas' aim is not to point the finger indicating what's wrong or else, Hexas is a mirror and it's reflecting back to you images that you'll decode looking at it from the different angles. Besides the fact that we're living in a corporate controlled regime where the crazy dictators can recall you the Reptilian alien Visitors of the 80s show having the same title, musically what we have in this six tracks MCD? Well, as I said Patrick and Gaya musical souls interacted and if Gaya brought in her noisy semi controlled sounds, Patrick merged that with rhythms and a bit of melodies. The tracks differ the one from the other in which way the elements have been balanced. To give you some idea, the opening track is sounding like being under a bombing where between the explosions we hear martial rhythms, dissonant chords and declamating treated vocals. "Reptilian Culture" sounds like a SchrÄge Musik track remixed by Gaya. "Hellborn" is tense, noisy and mix a rhythm which recalls me Boyd Rice's roto guitar sound with feedbacks and Gaya's vocals. At the moment is not important to describe how much noise or rhythms every track contains, because this MCD contains no fillers and it's a really inspired release that I'm suggesting you to check if you liked any Patrick's past one. If you are more into power noise and you knew mostly ACL stuff, well, this is the right chance to check another side of her music!
Artist: Monty Adkins
Title: A Year At Usher's Hill
Format: CD + Download
Label: Eilean Records
Completing a trilogy of albums that have all been released on different labels, “A Year At Usher’s Hill” sees Monty Adkins on celesta, organ and electronics joined by Jonny Best on piano to perform eleven introspective, supremely languid, ballad-like bits of downtempo music that border on ambient and drone but doesn’t step over that line. Lush, smooth chords sustain and wane with a vibe that’s warm yet a speed that’s melancholic. The melodies are loose and feeling improvised.

There’s variety in the tracks insofar as, for example, “Alone” is a solo piano offering with a more classical feel while “An Eden Within” is more purely atmospheric; “Small Steps” or the lullaby-like “Radiant Moon” offer both. That’s the limit of it though- it’s consistent and soporifically unchallenging.

It’s a touch glib at times, edging just a little close to a “meditation music for relaxation and yoga” CD you might find in a motorway service station, with only the enhanced sombreness (and the lack of water sounds or pan pipes) keeping it distinguishable from that. At other points the drone elements, hints of darkness and polished electronic production is what ensures this release belongs well away from service stations. “Solstice” is notable thanks to the deep pulse that pervades underneath it and gives it a more soundtrack-like feel.

Music for self-pity and emotional wallowing.
Artist: Alis
Title: Sai / Strong
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Infinite Machine
Alis’s first release on Infinite Machine is a pair of dark slices of electronica with the sonic palette of deep techno and rhythmic patterns that crash together dubstep attitudes with faster and glitchier elements. Over the thumps and long deep bass notes roll sci-fi style pads and atmospherics.

The decision to hold back the “ayyyayyyayyy” vocal until the end of first track “Sai” is an unusual and successful one. In multiple phases but flowing neatly, it’s a melting pot of off-techno generating an environment that corresponds well with the deep blues of the release artwork.

“Strong” adopts a steadier, more industrial four-four approach to its beat, with a strangely catchy organ riff and some actual, albeit hard to make out, vocals with lyrics. The smart key change around the two minute mark draws you in and although it does then tail off somewhat, it’s still a track worthy of its title.

It’s a confident and rich release and definitely a strong advert for other releases from Alis (Sabina Plamenova) both past and future.
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