Sunday, June 20, 2021
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Music Reviews

Straight Panic: Flagging: First Four Albums

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Artist: Straight Panic
Title: Flagging: First Four Albums
Format: CD
Label: Oxidation (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Queer Power Electronics. This is not the kind of word order that one would generally expect for power electronics, but that did not stop Thomas Boettner from making it happen. First off, there is an essay by Isaac Tyler in the liner notes that really frames the whole thing. It is worth reading, unlike some liner notes. I was immediately reminded of Bob Ostertag's collaboration with Kronos Quartet entitled “All The Rage.” Indeed, one could consider each album to be fellow travelers, but while Ostertag and Kronos Quartet would be traveling in first class on an airplane, Straight Panic is driving on back roads at 100 miles per hour in a 1992 Astro van, stopping at dive bars along the way. This is angrier, grittier, and lo-fi as hell, with seemingly no desire to make this palatable to the masses. This was my introduction to this artist, so let’s get into it. Since this collects the first four cassettes by Straight Panic, I’ll break up the review by tape.

“Manifesto” opens it up with a movie sample about homophobic violence toward a man and then gun blasts. The music itself features garbled vocals and interesting noise compositions. The overall feel is reminiscent of Slogun, but more in emotion than execution. “Propaganda” features a woman speaking, buried under a wall of static and whining noise. It is hard to get a sense of what it is, but it sounds vaguely religious. This track was not quite as powerful or unhinged as other track, but still interesting.

“Rough Trade” brings us another sample at the beginning with a lot of really high-pitched and more of that Slogun / Genocide Organ feel with distorted vocals. “Trick” begins with a sample that states, "life on earth is evil." This track features analog / shortwave squalls over a pummeling noise wall. This is relentless and a nice ride.

“Cruise” opens with another homophobic sample and some droney noise. This was not as crunchy and jagged as the previous tracks and sounded almost like someone messing around with analog synth filters. It’s definitely on the experimental side, but not really my cup of tea until it dramatically changed directions during the last 20 seconds. “Vice Squad” is a short track that opens with another sample about "lifestyles." This is incredibly harsh noise with more high pitched squeals and unhinged vocals. Short, but intense, and a definite counterpoint to the previous track.

“Balance” is kind of odd, in that it sounds like carnival music distorted and mangled. Imagine if the Residents were remixed by Masonna. “Fun” is not a descriptor I often use in describing power electronics, but here we are. It only sort of fits, but who cares? It's a good time. “Fuse” brings back the looped noise with yelled vocals buried in the mix. This doesn't have the same quality as the previous ones, but it is interesting, if a bit repetitive. “Cruise (Return)” brings the disc to a close. This is a lot darker than the other tracks. Low base drone and scratchy static over the top of it all gives it an ominous feel. I really liked this track, and for me this was the best track on the disc. At 14:54, it is a hefty track that really works with the time, slowly evolving and shifting. There are voices that have been processed beyond recognition, but they end up serving more as atmosphere. Really well done.

These kinds of anthologies are interesting in that you get to see the progression of the artist over time, and this is no different. While I appreciate the rawness of the early tracks, the later tracks seem much more well-constructed and varied to me. But as with any review, your mileage may vary. This disc is limited to 200 copies and comes with a postcard detailing what color of handkerchief one should use to signal a desire for various acts (the first 60 copies come wrapped in a handkerchief).

Expose Your Eyes & Howard Stelzer: One Should Never Cease Considering Human Love, Which Remains As Grisly And Golden As Ever

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Artist: Expose Your Eyes & Howard Stelzer
Title: One Should Never Cease Considering Human Love, Which Remains As Grisly And Golden As Ever
Format: CD
Label: Oxidation (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Expose Your Eyes is the work of Paul Harrison, who has also been involved in such acts as Smell and Quim, and Howard Stelzer has been working in the experimental music scene for well over two decades now and is the man behind the Noisy Bandcamp site (along with being everyone’s favorite 6th grade teacher). I had previously reviewed one of Stelzer’s collaborations (with Seht), but this was my introduction to Expose Your Eyes. This disc consists of one 33 minute track, so let’s get into it and see what this sounds like.

You could easily think of this as a series of movements that somehow hang together. The opening sounds like something from Lawrence Welk or a Disney film, but before you know it, the piece has evolved into a slow, plodding drone, punctuated by what seems to be bass guitar strums. Eventually the bass leaves and the track becomes noisier, with analog sweeps coming in and out. This is a continually shifting piece that constantly brings in bits of noise, some drum beats, some rattling metal, a bit of voice, some synth - whatever they had lying around seemed to get shoved into the mix. The overall effect is almost peaceful and reminds me of some of Hafler Trio's long form works.

Overall, if you are looking for experimental music that has some noisy elements, but never quite ends up being noise, this is worth checking out. Evidently, there is also a special edition housed inside an old book which has been painted and hollowed out in order to hold the CD, but that is limited to 25 copies and if you want one of those, you will want to act quickly. This disc weighs in at 33:13.

15 Degrees Below Zero: Open Doors

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Artist: 15 Degrees Below Zero (@)
Title: Open Doors
Format: CD
Label: Oxidation (@)
Rated: * * * * *
For those unfamiliar with this project, 15 Degrees Below Zero is the work of Daniel Blomquist, Michael Addison Mersereau, and Mark Wilson (who also performs under the name Conure). This project began after the demise of Imperial Floral Assault Unit, and the structured improvisations that they have become known for would continue for the next 20 years. This album has been 10 years in the making. To give you a sense of how long it has been, a live version of "Horizon, Skyline" originally appeared on the Conure/15DBZ split cassette that was released on Danvers State Recordings in 2012. Still, this album still holds up as if it were recorded yesterday.

I have often enjoyed 15 Degrees Below Zero’s music because of its cinematic qualities. In previous reviews I've compared it to In The Nursery’s Optical Music series. One of the things that is consistent in 15 Degrees Below Zero is, ironically, their inconsistency. One album kind of reminded me of The Durutti Column with a little bit more of an edge to it. Others have a cinematic quality that sounds like it’s straight out of a soundtrack (they have often referred to their music as “cinematic isolationism”).This one is a slight departure in that the soundtrack would be for a very unhappy post-apocalyptic film where there is no happy ending. If you want a microcosm of this album, you can look no further than the first track Horizon, Skyline. This track begins with lush drone combined with a beautiful harmony. However, just beneath the surface is a wall of static that continually threatens to overrun the track. Toward the end we’ve achieved a kind of uneasy equilibrium with equal parts rumbling static and drone.

15 Degrees Below Zero enjoys messing with the listener and giving us what we don't expect. Just when you think they are moving back into beautiful soundscape territory, we find ourselves being slowly dragged back into a sea of squalling feedback and static. Sometimes the static comes completely to the forefront, as in “The Dead Sea.” In this track, we have high pitched squeal and harsh noise that would be right at home on any noise album. This is unsurprising, as I saw both Mark Wilson’s solo project Conure and Daniel Bloomquist’s solo project at this year’s Northern California Noise Festival.

This album is the best of all possible worlds in experimental music. In some ways, there is something for everyone. If you have a friend that wishes that bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor would let loose and be more experimental and chaotic, hand them this disk. This is what that would sound like. Do you know someone who is not really into harsh noise because they think it all sounds the same, or they simply want something more to it? Hand them this disk. There is all of the noise, but also all of the beauty. That is precisely what makes 15 Degrees Below Zero such an engaging act. You never quite know what you are going to get but you know it's always going to be worth getting. Highly recommended.

Perse: Exile In H

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Artist: Perse
Title: Exile In H
Format: Tape & Digital Download
Label: Bamboo Shows (@)

Perse is a new project by Marco Milanesio (aka 9Cento9 or DsorDNE) and Emiliana Voltarel (Braconidae). Together they had already issued an self-titled single on Marco's own label HUM_an last December which captured the Winter mood perfectly.
The Exile In H EP, published via the Lyon based Bamboo Shows label (podcaster and enterpreteur of events) continues with atmospheric and poetrical pieces which recall positively some of DsorDNE's work of years ago, updated with more current audiotools and a wider field of sounds and experimentation in various degrees.
Half of the six tracks have lyrics dealing with atmospheres and trends today. Recorded during 2020 the occuring themes are isolation, memories, despair and how to get along if I interpret them correctly with the aid of an online translator.
These are reflective songs in the widest sense, "Nel blu e nel rosso" is a slow opener to lure the listener in. Without a break "Guardavamo davanti" follows in an decent upbeat structure with again more spoken than sung lyrics from Marco by Emiliana. His O.F.F. associate and Larsen member Fabrizio Modonese Palumbo guests with ebow to accomplish the drift and it could go on but the track ends sooner than I would have liked it.
The following "Sin" gives an instrumental post-industrial noir tingled break where the wind howls through the empty city. Mere abstract, "INFF" inverts the impression to thoughts running circles inside one's head but that's just one possible interpretation it's all left to the recipent. "Corde risonanti" is the third and final vocal track, hushed and hunted close to breathless the lyrics counterpoint the instrumental pseudo calmness. The closing "Vento Da Sud" evolves the theme of a desert wind running through the landscape but it's not an utter bleak world, at least not yet.
The talents of both musicians supplement each other really well and it's great to hear the results of their collaborative effort. I hope Perse will not be lost in time soon and follow this up with a few releases when the time is right.
This is serious music for the hearts and minds in a rarely lit corner between various electronic styles and poetic expression.

Exile In H is also available as limited tape, only 46 copies where made - so good luck if you're want a physical copy!

Dark The Keeper: Insight...23

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Artist: Dark The Keeper
Title: Insight...23
Format: CD + Download
Label: self-released
Distributor: DSBP / Bandcamp
Rated: * * * * *
This is the latest release of the Russian Dark Electro music project Dark The Keeper. It is solo effort of Alexander Borsov, who was otherwise musically active rather in the Russian Death Metal scene as guitarist and of one of the founders of projects like (Morgue), (Atom), and (Sarcoma – this project was part of the Crimean Death Metal scene in the mid-90s). But this episodes can be left into history.
In 2011 Alexander started to produce music with electronic-based equipment. Dark The Keeper as well as his recent alter ego-projects like Stellar Dynamics, Satura or Darkmechanic (yes, Alexsnder insists to have so many different projects running like other people would change their underwear...) have indeed not too much to do with his Death Metal past, the conceptual idea especially behind Dark The Keeper was born out the influence of the legend / cult act of Dark Electro music within, GGFH (Global Genocide Forget Heaven).Yes, Alexander's music lives and breathes the overwhelming GGFH-influence on “Insight...23” here, other references I tend to name with some Splatter Squall tracks, Pain Station with their “Cold” album, or some deepest Lexincrypt moments. But actually, he has already released a tribute EP with two instrumental cover version of GGFH to their “Disease”-era and also this new album here features two additional reinterpretations. The sick and rotten GGFH world is his most important quell of inspiration, without doubt!

So we have with “Insight...23” that kind of a deep, dark, and ominous sounding release filled with uncountable twisting sounds, dark atmospheres, samples highly infiltrated with gore/splatter voices, this all accented in a bombastic, soundtrack-like design. In short: this is an ideal soundtrack for Halloween.He adds sparsely in his vocals, often provided in Russian language and in a guttural fashion, as this is quite typically for an artist out of the Death Metal genre. Mostly the tracks concentrate to create sinister mood lines and this comes united with his mid tempo-to slower grinding, pummeling, vicious rhythm and percussion patterns. This isn't the music to set fire under the floor of your next dance party event and most important: this isn't the music provided by the redundant snap light stick Harsh Electro-generation!

Outstanding - because crystal-clear – is his final mixdown and mastering process. Alexander's tracks are sounding quite polished and well-balanced and there's absolutely nothing to complain on his recording quality. Generally I find it a bit difficult to tap on a personal favorite on here, but this rather has something to do with the fact, that each track contains lots of details and dense layers of industrial madness, a lot of strange voice samples perfectly placed and with precision installed into the mix.

Also – as a matter of constructive criticism – his amount of multiple outputs as well as his almost uncountable number of different projects which all follow musically a relatively comparable direction is a bit too optimistic to the listener to be able to follow and to identify themselves with the artist.
Since Alexander has been throughout the last year immensely collaborated through mutual track compositions and remix exchanges with Tommy T. of Diverje and projects of his DSBP label roster, it should be said, that a limited number of a physical product, a CD, is available via Tommy's mail order service.

This one can be purchased without hesitation.