Music Reviews

Mark Van Hoen: Invisible Threads

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jun 04 2018
Artist: Mark Van Hoen
Title: Invisible Threads
Format: CD + Download
Label: Touch
Long-established experimental musician Mark Van Hoen offers up a compact album of cinematic atmospheres- long drones and sub-bass notes, sustained glacial string sounds, sparse and carefully chosen higher-end twinkles and decorations all group together into a consistent environment that maintains both a sombre tone and a relaxed atmosphere simultaneously.

On pieces like “Aether”, there’s a slow unfolding, a gradual introduction of elements to give a sense of dawnbreak that never rushes into any dramatic revelation, while on pieces like “Instable” there’s a less evolving, more ambient environmental set-up of synthetic winds and slow waves.

Though Van Hoen cites a variety of influences and sound sources- field recordings, YouTube and beyond- the end result ends up sounding rather purist, as though entirely constructed from digital synths and effects. There’s a boldness to it that’s beautiful, bordering on simple- the flipside of which is that there’s a slight shortage of truly distinctive or original elements at play here, and if listening devoid of artist or title information, you would be hard pushed to work out who this release was by. It’s one of those releases that is high-quality and polished, yet moderately forgettable.

Nytt Land: Oðal

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jun 03 2018
Artist: Nytt Land (@)
Title: Oðal
Format: CD
Label: Cold Spring (@)
Rated: *****
Almost a year after Fimbulvinter, this Siberian band returns with a release inspired by the traditional music of their land. However, they play folk music using not only traditional instruments, but also field recordings of nature, to underline the link to their land, and some sparse keyboard to enhance the musical spectrum. The gravity center, and most recognizable character, of their music is the overtone singing technique, “kargyraa”, used by both the male and female voices.
The opening dance of "Darraðarljóð / The Song of the Valkyries" opens this release with his grave pace. An howling wolf opens "Ragnarök" and the track evolves in a rhythmic cage underlined by the jew-harp with a rather dramatic crescendo of the tagelharpa and an effective use of musical suspension which has a coda,and a further refinement, in "Midsommar". "Hávamál" is a slow tempo song that makes full use of low frequencies. "Norður / Yule Song" is based on the use of the double ranges of the male and female voices. "Tagelharpa Song" is a catchy interlude on the tagelharpa introducing "Deyr Fé / The Heritage" whose first parts features a dialogue between father and son where the former teaches a poem, or a prayer; and the track evolves in an epic horse ride. "Völuspá" features some synth and "Sigrdrífumál / The Ballad of The Victory-Bringer" closes this release with a quiet song for voice and drums.
Perhaps even better than his predecessor to use some means of modernity to remove a dust's patina to a form rooted in ancient times, so it could be enjoyed even by fans on modern songs. It's really worth a listen.

Død Beverte: Polarination

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jun 02 2018
Artist: Død Beverte (@)
Title: Polarination
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Død Beverte is Stefan Klein from Colorado Springs, Colorado who began his musical career with his avant-garde extreme metal band Dethcentrik back in 2009. According to his website, Død has been in, worked with, and has remixed/been remixed by many other projects and artists, including Blank Faced Prophet, Cold Metal Future, Fill The Void, Dawn of Ashes, The Rust Punk Tribe, Angelspit, f.kk.d, Omega Dub Experience, Jeremiah Whitman, Chris Vrenna (Nine Inch Nails, Tweaker, Marilyn Manson), Disturbing Taxidermy, and many others. Kinda sounds impressive, eh? Well maybe so, until you listen to 'Polarination' which is supposed to be experimental music, but all too often as in this case is a catch-all category for not too good music. First and title track on 'Polarination' is nearly 5 minutes of poorly improvised noise with repetitious dialogue samples of pundits saying "this is the most racist bigoted" and other acrimonious political jargon, obviously directed at #45. Speaking of the Cheeto-in-Chief, "Echoes of a Dark Past" continues with more dialogue samples, namely the "I alone can fix it" gem pitch-shifted down several octaves to demon range. The improvised music on "Brooding Conflict" is slightly more intriguing, but not enough to make up for what preceded it. "Straight Outta The Cold War" gives us unadulterated Trump - "Madmen, out there...shooting rockets all over the place..." underpinned with bassy warblings sounding like sad whales. "Bipolar Partisanship" is just a manipulated mess, likely as it was intended to make a statement on the current political scene. The mess continues on "The War Has Begun" with lots of chaotic crowd samples and some really bad distorto-bass playing. Plenty of anger, not much else. The short (barely over a minute) track "Holding Onto The Pieces" was the first one that seemed to have an interesting ambience in its plucky minimalism. That quickly falls by the wayside though when Død Beverte tries some avant-garde guitar and bass dissected by a steady feedback tone on "Last Moment To Reflect". Later throwing in some reverb for good measure doesn't make it any better. The fourteen and a half minute "Nuclear Holocaust" has elements of dark ambient, (monotonous) avant-garde minimal improv and noise, but the elements don't coalesce well enough to form anything more than filling 15 minutes of space with sound. "Wasteland" started out being the most interesting track on the album with minimal atmospheric bass pulse in a slow, sinister rhythm, but then "the other bass" shows up a few seconds over a minute in, and kicks the crap out of anything that might have been worthwhile in its belligerent annoynace. Even the deeply chambered sonics that eventually follow seem kind of contrived. Lastly according to Død, track 11 is an open source track he completed after the album and gave away along with giving away alternate mixes and stems, entitled "Nowhere To Hide". Funny, it's the most musical thing on the album; a bit awkward but it has its strange charm. I'd be more inclined to have liked the album if there were more tracks like that on it. I can understand that (some) artists want to make a statement and ruminate on the current socio-political crisis that is enveloping the world, and especially this country today. Let's face it, it's permeating our culture, and to a degree our music is part of that culture. You're not going to be getting anything deep out of Taylor Swift, Kanye West, or others in the pop world, so it falls to the fringe carry the torch. 'Polarination' isn't the answer though because it's just too fractured and amateurish to even leave a lasting impression. I'm sure Død Beverte was looking to leave an impression when he concocted this; I just don't think it will be what he intended.

Anne-James Chaton & Andy Moor: Tout Ce Que Je Sais

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jun 02 2018
Artist: Anne-James Chaton & Andy Moor
Title: Tout Ce Que Je Sais
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Unsounds
The second part of their “Heretics” series continues to fuse together Anne-James Chaton’s French-language freeform and sometimes quite frenetic beat poetry with Andy Moor (The Ex)’s looped and layered improvised and mostly rhythm-driven experimental guitar work.

It’s recorded live, though you wouldn’t tell from the sound quality, which is very rich and deep- only the appreciate audience responses between tracks give it away. A curious bit of anachronistic soundscaping after the first track, seemingly featuring bees and tractors, is shortlived and not fully explored, with the release focussing almost exclusively on guitar and voice.

Being unable to speak French, the voice here is just another instrument to be judged on sonic rather than lyrical quality, but it stands up well in that regard. It’s dramatic, well-performed, both evocative and strangely authoritative, though there isn’t necessarily a great deal of variation between pieces which is highlighted more when you don’t understand what’s being said.

The guitar, meanwhile, generally has one particular sound, but does adopt a variety of playing styles- “Coquins coquettes et cocus” being more than halfway to full-on rock guitar, “Clair Obscur” being a little more folksy, “Casino rabelaisien” being somewhat darker.

Final track “The Things That Belong To William” (again a French-language track despite the title) stands out for being more freeform, using timestretched vocal recordings as a throat-singing-style atmospheric bed and using the guitar for spontaneous and dynamic clanging rather than the beat patterns that dominate most of the other tracks.

It’s a strong piece of guitar poetry in a relatively conventional style, and thankfully you don’t have to speak French to appreciate it.

Andrew Tuttle: s/t

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
New Music / Downtown / Avantgarde Jazz / New Classical / World
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May 29 2018
Artist: Andrew Tuttle
Title: s/t
Format: CD + Download
Label: Someone Good
Andrew Tuttle has collaborated or performed with a wide body of artists- Matmos and Julia Holter included- but can still be described as a “best-kept secret” of Australian music, rather than a truly established artist. Hopefully this release, his third album, will help change that.

It’s an unusual homemade concoction of banjo strumming, acoustic guitar work and synthesizer drones and atmospherics that successfully hybridises country music banjo tones into an electronic space. It’s always shifting, either in tempo or style, sometimes teetering towards energetic hoe-down knees-up territory (though thankfully not too close), and sometimes way off into sparse melancholic improvisations over single synthesized chords- whilst generally retaining a fairly bright atmosphere and never quite devolving into overlong grumpiness (“Reflections On The Twilight” is the closest it comes to this)..

“Transmission Interruption” exemplifies the whole work, so if you fancy checking out a single track on Spotify, perhaps make it that one. “Boarding Zone” has quite an expansive, Americana-type feel to it that makes the pulsing synths seem like a rare but honoured guest, helped along by a quite catchy melody motif. Some tracks, like “Garden Development”, have their edge taken away a little by slightly excessive effects processing. “A Winding River” has got shades of Mike Oldfield’s more laidback guitar meanderings at points, without the more showy Spanish guitar flourishes, before “The Coldest Night” wraps things up in quite a New Age-y fashion.

It’s a properly unusual construction, and at 33 minutes, it’s simply too short, in a good way. As an experimental fusion of guitar and banjo playing with complementary electronics, it’s a definite success, and Tuttle clearly knows his own strengths too.

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