Music Reviews

Pharmakon: Contact

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Apr 03 2017
Artist: Pharmakon
Title: Contact
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Sacred Bones Records
While the creative theme of this album is a form of nihilistic animalism, it’s not perhaps as organic as you might expect. This is a melding of harsh electronics drones and repetitive bass notes where the human element is just one part of a mostly harsh and dissonant electro-scape.

Like the artwork, Margaret Chardiet’s vocal elements scream for attention, with a violence that sits somewhere between orgasm and primal scream therapy, heavily distorted to meld into the tracks. It’s deliberately affronting, angry and cathartic.

While the press release explains at length that the record is structured to represent the four stages of trance states- preparation, onset, climax and resolution- musically the structure sounds rather different in my opinion. Opening track “Nakedness Of Need” sounds more climactic, while “Sleepwalking Form” in the centre of the album has a tone that feels more resolved.

“Transmission”, with its pulsing bassline and rockier vocal, sounds like a fantastic intro to a screaming rock track that never arrives. “Somatic” has slow, almost industrial loops that are on the point of becoming mesmeric when the distortion abruptly jams your hearing. Closer “No Natural Order” is a furious super-slow techno soapbox for the barely discernible screamed polemic.

Never have I heard such a vitriolic, distorted and challenging piece of music described with words like “empathy” and “trance states”. This is darkness and fury realised as a half-hour of scream-noise.

Hey Exit: Caudata

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Industrial Noise / Power Noise / Harsh Noise
Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Apr 02 2017
Artist: Hey Exit (@)
Title: Caudata
Format: Tape
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Be careful if you decide to rise up the volume to catch the words by the disembodied voices, which seem to come out of a encrypted radiophonic transmission, while your mind is maybe getting ready to flow into the lulling stillness in the short opening track "Olm", as Brooklyn-based sound artist Brendan Landis aka Hey Exit will unexpectedly ignite a sonic blast that could let your eardrums bleed on the following "Irises", the harshest part of this excellent release, whose extreme and somehow magnetic virulence seems to be a preparatory storm to fertilize the listening soil for upcoming tunes. Residual electric charges and occasional muffled thunders fade out while the ambient layers, some chimes and a warming rising guitar tone begin to enfold listener in a soothing silent symphony on "But Is Not Consumed", a sort of anaesthetic following the previously described sonic fury. The metallic squeaking of sharpened blades and some scratches on scorched guitar chords are the elements that slightly disturb the static catalepsy of "So They Spoke", the track at the end of side A. The length of the last track I described is the same of "Small Burials", the almost ethereal mist which opens side B, leading to the catchy nostalgic sonorities of "Twin Moss", getting more and more "strangling" and estranging by the final short electric storm. The only moment where the listener can perceive a silent diving line is the one between these two tracks and the last "Lanterns, Chrysanthemum", the longest one where Hey Exit builds a sort of quiet cinematic drone over pulverised occasional resounding entities. In spite of the seasoned nuance of the sound rendered by the hissing of the tape, "Caudata" is a fascinating listening experience, including some field recording that Landis took in the desert of Arizona at the very end.

SiJ: The Time Machine

 Posted by Andrea Piran (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Apr 02 2017
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Artist: SiJ
Title: The Time Machine
Format: CD
Label: Cryo Chamber (@)
Rated: *****
According to the liner notes this release is based on the concept of time travel and, while it's not particularly evident during the listening of this release, this is the reason why there's a so massive use of field recordings. SiJ makes little use of drone as it's used mainly as a structural glue which ties together all tracks and relies instead on a descriptive musical language based on a the choice of samples with an evident influence from movie's sound design. In such choices samples are chosen not only for their technical properties but also for the fact that they are so culturally connoted to be even descriptive of a mood e.g., the sound of rain.
Over the usual drone which is the skeleton of this music, "Forwards in Time" exposes a series of small field recordings / samples whose technical craft is simply impressive. The childs' voices of "A Place to Live" amplify the sense of menace given by the soundscape. As the drone is almost inaudible, "In Ancient Times" sounds as a crossover between a field recording piece and an audio track of a movie while "Instantaneous" is a return to the canon of the genre that is even reassuring after all the previous deviations. "Floating Clouds" borders the territories of some new age with his peaceful atmosphere and the use of a flute while "Realm of Eternal Rain" is based on the juxtaposition of a drone and the field recording of the rain and "Particulate Matter" is a short and complex track where field recordings, drones and electronic effects are juxtaposed in a descriptive manner. "Morlock's Path" and "The Death of the World" are almost canonical dark ambient tracks that sounds as a sort of rest, while "Vision of Hell" marks a return to the use of field recordings and "Shine of Dark" closes this release with a return to the peaceful atmosphere of "Floating Clouds".
This is one of best release from this label at a technical level and it's even courageous to explore territories out of the canon of the genre. Truly recommended.

Radio Free Clear Light: In The Company Of The White Rabbit

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Ambient / Electronica / Ethereal / Dub / Soundscapes / Abstract
Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Apr 02 2017
Artist: Radio Free Clear Light (@)
Title: In The Company Of The White Rabbit
Format: CD
Label: Black Note Music (@)
Rated: *****
Records like this one by San Francisco-based collective Radio Free Clear Light could get matched to those rare visitations by some supposed shamans or hippie veterans, whose magical potions (or poisons, depending on dosages) manage to liberate (or intoxicate, depending on dosages again) the entire community of an unknown village. "One might call it music", they say in the opening words about this enjoyable release. If we don't have to label as music, I guess we had to consider this unidentified strange round object (one might call it cd) as a sort of divinatory instrument to reach the enlightenment or maybe tear Maya's veil to shreds. And yet it sounds like something musical. I'd rather say that the similarities of the audible entities quote higher standards of electronic, post-rock and ambient trance music, particularly of the late 90ies, and all those resemblances could have been persuaded some reviewer to introduce them as Future Sound of San Francisco by establishing an imaginary bridge to Future Sound Of London, due to the psychedelic vibing of its sound. Some of the similarities/influences - Matmos, Jim O'Rourke, Supersilent... I honestly don't catch too many resemblances against Autechre they included in the "sounding-like" list - are quoted by themselves, other ones - maybe less known - could be easily deducted if you know some unknown underground blossoms of that period. For instance some similar sonorities that almost immediately to my mind are the ones by ATOI - Ambient Temple Of Imagination, another San Francisco-based collective project, founded in 1992 by Richard Sun and Seofun (melting ambient-trance, therapy music and that vague sense of transversality, close to be socially critical stings...) or the entrancing tribal-ambient by Jorge Reyes, but I wouldn't sayRadio Free Clear Light are a collective of plagiarists! There's a remarkable degree of stylistic heterogeneity (including the swirling lukewarm beat of "Underlying Macro Narrative", the hyperbolic clap-driven movement of "Change The Course", the hypnotical tribalism of "Children Of The Most Arcane" or the abstract blurring of piano sketches and oriental nuances in tracks like "In These Places" or "Undifferentiated Particles"), but there are some recursive items: besides the psychedelic halo wreathing the whole album, Radio Free Clear Light often uses inverted sounds, stereo effects based on rapid channel switching, catchy heavily distorted or gently reverberated female vocals, piercing theremin-driven oscillations and muffled bleeps. It's what the white rabbit would insert in your car stereo if you had to ride for miles to reach the Queen of Hearts on time.

Strotter Inst.: Miszellen

 Posted by Stuart Bruce (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Mar 29 2017
Artist: Strotter Inst.
Title: Miszellen
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Hallow Ground
As Strotter Inst., Christoph Hess plays with the mechanics of turntables as a physical instrument, rather than a record player. For almost two decades he has avoided using other people’s records, except when asked to do remixes. With “Miszellen” there’s a change of heart- he decides to take stems and elements from others, from artists that theoretically have influenced him over time, and warp and abuse them in a variety of ways.

Every track bears the name of an artist whom Strotter Inst. is paying tribute to, or heavily borrowing from, depending on how you look at it, but with the letters ordered alphabetically. This includes Asmus Tietchens, Nurse With Wound, and Tasaday. This inadvertently turns it into a bit of an alternative music quiz- “AABDMORRS”, anyone? How about “GIILLMSS U”?

While as a concept this might suggest that “Miszellen” is raw, sharp and analogue, the result is certainly none of those things. The raw ingredients are, as far as it’s possible to tell (they’re not credited), sourced from music concrete and avantgarde classical sources, along with electronic drones where it’s hard to tell whether they’re being played in, or whether they’re Strotter Inst originals.

Understandably, with such a variety of sources, the net result sits somewhere where several labels, though none of them would stick totally comfortably. There are dark industrial synthwave elements, there’s drone, there’s noise and found sound, there’s aspects of super-slow techno and more. The predominant mood is tense and ominous and there’s a lot of prevailing space.

There’s 70 minutes of material here, giving plenty of time for tracks like “ACEEH IMNSSSTTU” to swell into extensive filmic soundscapes of slowly pulsing bass notes with building, distant drumming. “DEHIN NOR STUUWW” is an accomplished piece of many parts and is at times reminiscent of Jimmy Cauty’s “Space” project but with an overriding sense of being further away. “146DP” and final track “ARLTU” both begin as a simple piano patterns which are then wrapped and then smothered in glitched electronic noise. “EFOSTU” features ambiguous vocal noises, while on “ÄDEKL” there’s the rare appearance of a discernible vocal sample, with a strangely cowboy swagger to it.

There’s a good balance between consistency and variety here, and it’s generally hard to distinguish where the original material ends and Strotter Inst.’s reworkings begin, which is a good sign. It perhaps never truly shines as a work that’s either attention-grabbing or beautiful but it’s a very coherent body of work that’s got some distinct character.

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