Music Reviews

Swans : Soundtracks For The Blind (4LP)

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Aug 13 2018
Artist: Swans (@)
Title: Soundtracks For The Blind (4LP)
Format: LP
Label: Young God Records (@)
Rated: *****
Swans - an iconic, legendary band that defies simple categorization or classification. They've been called experimental, noise, post rock, post punk, goth, industrial, avant-garde, no wave, and more. They are all of these and none of them in particular. The Swans are "sui generis," in a class of their own. Their history goes back to 1982, and the Michael Gira led band continues on today. 'Soundtracks For The Blind' was the last (pre-2010 revival) Swans studio album from 1996, when Gira and Jarboe fronted this outfit. To quote Mr. Gira - “This album has everything in there – all the ideas from Swans’ initial 15 years of work. There’s some contemporary recordings of the band as it existed in ‘96/7, with Larry Mullins on drums/percussion, Jarboe singing and playing keyboards, Vudi playing electric guitar, and Joe Goldring playing bass and electric guitar, and me singing and playing electric and acoustic guitar, but there’s also a huge amount of sounds and recordings that Jarboe and I collected over the years. These are reassembled, looped, mangled, and in many cases overdubbed upon to create new pieces of music…" Originally released as a double CD set only, this work has just now been made available in a remastered limited edition of 4,000 copies on a 4 vinyl LP box set, with a poster, insert and download card, and signed by M. Gira. What's on the records is really no different than the original CD release, and I wasn't sent the album package to review (because it's damn expensive for a small indie label like Young God to send out unsolicited product of this magnitude, although I wish they had), just a private link to streaming the album online. So am I going to review an album that's been around for over 20 years? Well, no...yes...sort of. There is history here. In 1984 (or maybe 1985) I inadvertently and informally met M Gira and Jarboe at a radio station interview. (I wasn't the one doing the interviewing.) I remember them being intense people with a high intimidation factor. I don't know if we even spoke to each other than to maybe mumble a "hello" at the time. We were in musically opposing genres - me in synthpop/new wave, and them...well, you know. I had heard a little of their music at the time and didn't much care for it. (I had been involved in New York No Wave in the mid/late 70s, and by 1980 had enough of that.) Over the years things change- breakups and breakdowns, misdirection and new directions, so by 1990 or so I was beginning to become more interested in goth-industrial and dark ambient. A friend of mine had purchased some Swans albums, and I liked what I heard. Not all of it, but a good deal of it. Soon I began buying some of their stuff myself. When I first heard 'Soundtracks For The Blind' I wasn't wild about it. It seemed excessive, overly long, and draggy and dreary. If I had bought it, I must have sold it or given it away because I don't have it now. Listening to it again these many years later I realize just how vital it is. It really summarizes everything the Swans were, not succinctly but distinctly. There are songs, there are non-songs, drones, noise, loops, lengthy dialogue samples (personal, not from movies), mystical psychedelic instrumentals and more. For a Swans fan, this is the shit. Way back when, I thought this could have been boiled down to a single album of essential material. Now I realize it was all essential and not a thing should have been changed. This 26-track album still holds up well after all these years. The four LP set comes at a price though- 70 bucks is a hefty music investment for most. Dither about buying it and it will be gone, and the after-market (collectible) price is sure to be much higher. Fear not though, Young God is planning a later 2018 vinyl release of it in a gatefold LP album, and a CD reissue as well. So what was this- a review, an advertisement, or just anecdotal bullshit? I don't know, maybe all three, maybe none. I just know there are a lot of Swans fans who might not have known about it, but surely do now. Worthy for those who can afford it.

Vincent Glanzmann: Z/Rzw-Shiiiiiii

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Aug 12 2018
Artist: Vincent Glanzmann (@)
Title: Z/Rzw-Shiiiiiii
Format: 3 x CD (triple CD)
Label: Through States of Matter (@)
Rated: *****
Between the last winter and springtime, a new discographic label blossomed in cold Switzerland, the experimental label Through States of Matter, whose founder Tobias Meier decided to start its catalog up by the signature of Vincent Glanzmann. I met the name and the sound of this Tokyo-born Zurich-based drummer, whose bizarre and playful ways of forging unconventional sonorities brought him to collaborate in various different stylistic areas of Swiss scene (particularly improv, pop, and jazz), on the collaborative project This Difficult Tree (pushed by Wide Ear Records). Vincent's skills in forging new sonic languages and intriguing sound-set often focused on likewise unconventional conceptual frameworks, got confirmed on the first brick by this label. The first of the three suites (each of them has been recorded on a single CD of this box-set), titled "Z", is the longest one (lasting more than 17 minutes), and got inspired by a large subject of cognitive sciences, the so-called "cyclic thought processes" and their relation to mental growth; Vincent's handling of the topic, developed through fixed compositional tools and a wisely built musical matrix, is an amazing evolution (or involution), alternating cycles of many different rinsing of abstract rubbing on drum surfaces and granulated mingling on one side and lovely phases of intimate attenuations in the twinkling matrix of music box-like matrix. The nine minutes of "Rzw-Shiiiiiii" is an entrancing tonal puzzle, whose building blocks are single tone vocals (and vowels...mostly 'o' and 'a') and modulated in different ways, addressing "the differentiation between 'soul' and 'spirit'", and exploring "the question of how these two aspects of the human being might be purposefully conveyed through the voice", according to the attached introductory words (...and I'd add that it could resemble some 'classic' experiments on voice by some master of GRM). The last piece "---thehidden" (conceived as a tribute to Iannis Xenakis' "Concrete PH") is an experiment on sound compression, as Vincent packed sounds made through percussions, oral noises, a mini-amp feedback and a couple of violin bows into a very narrow interval of high-frequency ranges.

Darkrad: Heart Murmur

 Posted by Marc Benner (@)   Industrial Noise / Power Noise / Harsh Noise
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Aug 07 2018
Artist: Darkrad
Title: Heart Murmur
Format: CD
Label: Audiophob (@)
Rated: *****
Darkrad is a project of Jana Komaritsa, this project seems to have several previous releases which, I am sad to admit, were unfamiliar to me. I am familiar with some of the long form collaboration releases on Cryo Chamber (Azathoth, Nyarlathotep & Yog-Sothoth) which Jana has contributed material to and can say those should not be missed. I was also very excited to see this projects debut was on Cold Meat Industry which also brings a lot of promise.

This album which is titled Heart Murmur is an excellent unsettling but beautiful journey into synthesized ambient music. The occasional vocals are also a welcome addition that add an ominous layer to the music, we do not often get very many female fronted projects in this style but I would say Jana sticks out among all of her peers no matter who is approaching this genre.

This is a project I will be seeking out more from in the future. The main album is great. The bonus tracks which are pieces from other albums, as well as the remixes from Flint Glass & Mortaja do not disappoint either.

Hélène Breschand & Elliott Sharp: Chansons du Crépuscule

 Posted by Marc Benner (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Aug 07 2018
Artist: Hélène Breschand & Elliott Sharp (@)
Title: Chansons du Crépuscule
Format: CD
Label: Public Eyesore (@)
Rated: *****
I am most familiar with Elliott Sharp from some of his collabs and releases with Tzadik artists which is very promising for my ears. I have not previously heard Helene Breschand.

This CD covers a lot of genres but is sure to please anyone into experimental music and perhaps anyone just looking for something slightly off the normal jazz paths. The vocals from Helene are in French and range from Trip-Hop to chants or even spoken word. Sharp does contribute vocals on two tracks “Le Langue Dans Ma Bouche” and “The Cuckoo” which is a cover of the Ramblin Jack Elliott song. The instrumentals primarily from Elliott are slow and chill at times extremely minimal, quite relaxing through most of the album.

This is not something I usually would have picked up on my own but I am super happy I took the time to check it out and it is a very enjoyable album by two very accomplished artists.

Barnacles: Air Skin Digger

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jul 19 2018
Artist: Barnacles (@)
Title: Air Skin Digger
Format: CD + Download
Label: ADN Records (@)
Rated: *****
Hot on the heels of the review of Barnacles collaboration with Maurizio Bianchi we have Barnacles (Matteo Uggeri) latest work - 'Air Skin Digger,' an album of 4 long compositions made using only 4 sound sources per each, all cannibalized from other works done in his more than 20 year musical career by Uggeri or with his band Sparkle in Grey, or with other collaborators. No digital sounds have been used in the recording, but only instruments such as viola, bagpipes, trumpet, guitars, gamelan, and unknown devices. The four tracks all have lengthy, but ultimately highly descriptive titles. 1. How a slave who perpetually defamed me and desired to have me killed, was himself eaten and killed in my presence. 2. Of the manner in which the savages ate a prisoner and carried me to the feast. 3. How the savages ate the second roasted Christian called Hieronymus. 4. My prayer to the lord God when I was in the hands of the savages who threatened to eat me. The artwork by Uggeri himself is an interpretation of the woodcuts taken from “True Story and Description of a Country of Wild, Naked, Grim, Man-eating People in the New World, America)”by Hans Staden (c. 1525 – c. 1576), which compliments those track titles.

Although there is a certain ritualistic ambience in the music (mainly due to the rhythm/percussion), it certainly seems to be an abstract interpretation in total. Track 1 has a rather somber mood, at least until the drumming enters the picture a little over 3 minutes into the piece. It's jazz inspired and polyrhythmic in stark contrast to to the droning ambience. Track 2 begins with repetitive looped guitar riffs later giving way to some indistinguishable samples (field recordings?) while a steady beat emerges, The looped guitar samples are manipulated over time in such a way as to be in sync with the rhythm where before they were just disjunct elements. Barnacles gets a real groove going, then stops all dead but the beat, and morphs it into something almost completely different. Remember from earlier - there are only 4 sound sources employed here. While you may be getting the impression that this music is improvised, it is actually highly structured. Track 3 sounds like the most ritualistic of the lot, perhaps in part due to the exotic flute sounds and bellish tones. There is a calm before the storm here with various sonics in play, but the tension is palpable as the rhythm begins to build in its tribal fury. It's more of a seething sort of tribalism than war-like manifestations, and you could imagine it as the background for some sort of sacred ceremony, perhaps where ayahuasca or some other natural hallucinogenic was involved. Track 4 begins with somber strings but it isn't long before they are supplanted by a driving rhythm and indistinct lengthy agitated conversation samples. When the drums die down we''re left with an interlude of lengthy dialogue sample and the return of sad strings. The drum rhythm creeps back in but its different this time; less driving and more ominous. Eventually, fade to black.

This is an enigmatic work to say the least, and that these compositions were made using only 4 sound sources is remarkable. Although this album may never end up being number one on your hit parade, it is something to turn to when you're looking for something completely different. Limited Edition of 300 CDs, but as of this writing, there were only 17 copies left.

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