Monday, January 18, 2021
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Music Reviews

Emerald Suspension: Eruption / Ashfall

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Artist: Emerald Suspension (@)
Title: Eruption / Ashfall
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: * * * * *
Emerald Suspension is the rather bizarre sonic stylings project of Troy Curtis from Minneapolis. If you recall my 2017 review of Emerald Suspension's 'Divination' album, you may remember that I found it interesting, but wasn't completely sold on it. I don't know what ES has been doing in the meantime, but now, in Covid-19 Country ES has produced a 6-track CD (qualifying as an EP because it's only 16 minutes) titled 'Eruption,' and also a remix CD titled 'Ashfall' that remixes tracks from 'Eruption,' plus a track from elsewhere.

Taking the 'Eruption' CD first, I can say that it's not as all over the place as 'Divination' was, but it's nowhere close to normal. The EP title (and consequently, the title track by the same name) was inspired by the Van Halen song, "Eruption," as well as the guitar virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen who passed on October 6, 2020. The first track, "Level Ground," begins with a very brief recitation by (some girl named) Noodle, then launches into the song that sounds like Alvin the Chipmunk fronting the Stooges (proto-punkers, not Moe Larry & Curly) in a speak-singing rap style. Okay, this is different, kinda Residents, and I dug the female vocal chorus at the end. The voice processor used reminded me of an old episode of The Avenegers TV series circa 1965, I think it was the 'The Cybernauts.' (Check it out if you can; very Dr. Who-ish.) "Eruption" lives up to its name being a gradually more explosive noise-fest, but no Van Halen style guitar solo. Fortunately only 2:45 of that but noise enthusiasts should like it immensely. Donna Bayliss does an interesting recitation over semi-minimal music on "Jaded" and I'm reminded a lot of Anne Clark here, with a nod to Anna Wildsmith (Sow). "General Random" begins as something akin to an even more minimal Joy Division before launching into a 4-second military drill song about the commander in the title, then the song goes punk-rock crazy for the song's remaining 42 seconds. Goofy, but strange...or strange, but goofy?

"Mitten Fidget" is the lengthiest track on the EP at 4:05, and also the most muddled, yet enigmatic of the lot. It is semi-structured experimental noise that refuses to be contained inside the box. Finally, we have "Your Eurorack" which has a laughably bad vocal over old movie soundtrack music ("Fuck your Eurorack...in every tiny jack..."). For the uninitiated, Eurorack is a popular modular synthesizer format. As a whole, 'Eruption' isn't going to blow anyone's mind apart, but it has its fair share of interesting and amusing moments.

The remix CD 'Ashfall' (titled from the falling ash after a volcanic eruption) is 8 tracks in 32 minutes. First up is "Oddly Even" (Radio/Video Edit) which is a minimal bass figure, sequenced minimal percussion and some treated noise, with semi-muffled vocal dialogue samples occurring halfway through. Something one might expect from Coil. "Level Ground" (Headache Remix) bears only a passing similarity to the first track on the 'Eruption' EP, eschewing the chipmunk vocal processing for a different type of electronic vocal processing. The female vocals on the track are under-mixed, likely purposefully. The punk rock element has been replaced with a sort of EDM vibe. The Broadcast Mix of "Oddly Even" is sort of a trance-noise experiment with only subtle variations over the course of its 3:32 duration. The Noodle Mix of "Level Ground" plays with Noodle's prelude recitation vocal sample then bounces it all over the place - cut~paste~repeat; snip~fold~manipulate. That's really all this track is. "General Random" gets a Euro Remix that incorporates some elements of "Your Eurorack" given the Sonic Youth treatment. The "Mitten Fidget" Woolly Remix is as oblique as the original, but in a different way. The last remix of "Oddly Even" lives up to its Extended Club Mix name at least in terms of time (8:30), but dancing may be difficult as the club doors are all locked, and the electricity's been turned off. Finally, we have the last track - "Séance" (Jaded 'Live' Remix), which sounds a lot like "Jaded" but uses only snippets of Donna Bayliss vocal samples. I liked the original better.

I think these are really companion CDs and if you're going to buy one, then buy both, readily available on the Emerald Suspension website. As I suspected, Troy seems to be a fan of the Residents, and even has a neat cover version of "Smelly Tongues" on the Emerald Suspension website that was a winning entry in the "I AM A RESIDENT" project. In fact, you can listen to every song I reviewed plus a lot more there too. C'mon! What else have you got to do anyway.


Yellow6: silent streets and empty skies

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Artist: Yellow6 (@)
Title: silent streets and empty skies
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Yellow6 is the solo project of British guitarist Jon Attwood, based in Leicestershire, UK, working in post rock, minimalist, electronica and ambient genres. His discography is fairly massive...I counted 49 releases on his Bandcamp site, and there certainly could be more he was involved in. Since 1998 Attwood has played many shows in Europe and North America, and has collaborated with many other artists such as Portal, Thisquietarmy, Absent Without Leave, Caught In the Wake Forever, David Newlyn, Charles Atlas, Stafraen Hakon and many others. It's obvious that Mr. Attwood gets around, but lately, since the pandemic, not so much. That's obviously where this title comes in - 'silent streets and empty skies' could just as well be your town too. Attwood lives by an airport, hence the empty skies now that once were busy skies. The album was recorded during the lockdown between April and June 2020.

There are 9 tracks for a duration of about 77 minutes, and though predominantly guitar, some minimal percussion and atmospherics help things along. Yellow6's mysterious opener, "Unbroken Sun (One)" seems to beg the question - "Where did everybody go?" It's rhetorical because we know the answer, but it does speak to eerily deserted streets, closed shops and a definite lack of human traffic; the Twilight Zone for sure. The broad sustained chords of "Safe" offer some comfort and familiarity, like a cozy pair of old slippers, a cup of herbal tea and a good book to curl up with. "V2" has an undertone of drone while Yellow6 works some mild melodic riff magic. The gossamer padding backing the guitar is perfect for the atmosphere. It all sounds rather shoegazey. The repeating melodic content of "Broadcast" makes me think of something off of Eno's 'Another Green World' if it was played mainly on guitar.

"Unbroken Sun (Two)" bears little similarity to "Unbroken Sun (One)" seeming more tentative and introspective. Thus begins the album's atmospheric abstract phase which is carried into the lengthy (18:42) "Panam." Yet there is a defined structure and motif here, unfolding like a delicate flower and playing out to its inevitable dream-like conclusion. The first three minutes or so of "Doubled" are spent in an elegant sort of drone reminding me of the opening of Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," (although it really doesn't sound like it), but the chord progression that follows is a nice one, becoming fuller and more dynamic as it moves along, with a train-chugging sort of percussion backing. Eventually it fragments into something different and more delicate, but no less enjoyable. The initial somnambulant lullaby of "Silent Flight" is broken a third of the way through by jet fuel distortion leaving lasting vapor trails across an empty skyline.

The conclusion, "Unbroken Sun (Three)" is a sort of ruminating piece that begs the question- "Where do we go from here?" It's anybody's guess I suppose, but from what we've already experienced in 2020, likely no place good right away, and that's kind of sad, just like this track. 'silent streets and empty skies' seems to be the perfect soundtrack for these times, at least for now; elegantly executed, poignant and subtly potent. It comes in two versions - the standard limited edition of 200, handmade and hand numbered CD-r copies in a dusty grey cardboard envelope with a polaroid style photo affixed to the cover, or the deluxe limited edition of 100 is similar packaging to the standard that also includes a second CD-r entitled 'Almost Free' (6 tracks, 45 min.) inspired by the impeding relaxation of the pandemic restrictions in Attwood's area that didn't last long. Whichever you choose, it's sure to be rewarding.


Panoptique Electrical: Five Pianos

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Artist: Panoptique Electrical (@)
Title: Five Pianos
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sound In Silence Records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Panoptique Electrical is Jason Sweeney from Kaurna County, Australia and 'Five Pianos' is his third album. As you might imagine, here he is a pianist and of course, being on the Sound In Silence label, the music is ambient. 'Five Pianos' is five pieces for a duration of about 38 minutes. These meditative compositions were written for recent theatre and installation works with the intention of creating space and quietness, as well as to thread together a prepared piano sound evocative of weather shifts, radio frequencies, pulsation of electromagnetic vibrations and a resignation to human sadness.

The first piece - "Spiral Song" is a simple little repetitive melodic ditty in 3/4 time that sounds like a rudimentary student exercise. In the recording you can hear every nuance the instrument makes, plus other ephemeral sounds, such as light noise(s) from an unknown source. If you listen carefully, there are carryover overtones that seem to enhance the melody, but I was looking for something more expansive here. "It Rains Tonight," which follows is much more minimal, and also much longer at 12:18. In fact, the piece is so minimal that it makes Harold Budd seem like Van Cliburn in comparison. Notes plunk down slowly in a repeating figure amidst some light noise that could be rain with some sustain on the piano and a harder emphasis on the first note of the figure of three most of the time, with an auxiliary tone some of the time. There is over twelve minutes of this, and if you are listening anticipatorily, it is bound to drive you up a wall. On the other hand, if you cease to focus (or focus on something else) it will just wash over you like Eno's "Airport" albums, albeit even more minimal than those.

It sounds like electric piano on "The Lighthouse," and not nearly as minimal as the last piece. The playing is somewhat muted, tones blend together, and the theme is melancholic downtempo, abstract, but melodic, and surely improvised. So far I'm liking this track best. "Doors Leading Where" is an episodic series of ascending low register tones, heavy on sustain. Final track, "Night Dance," seems to be the most fully realized piece on the album. It's rich, vibrant and kind of elegant. Great way to end this brief "Piambient" album. As usual with SIS releases, this is a limited edition of 200 hand-made, hand-numbered CD-r copies.



Walrus Noise Wall: s/t

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Artist: Walrus Noise Wall
Title: s/t
Format: 3" Mini CD
Label: Inner Demons Records
Rated: * * * * *
I had previously reviewed WNW (Wonky Noise Wall that time) and enjoyed it. I like some variety in my noise, so some of the noise wall stuff doesn't quite work for me. This, however, is different from Fox's This Is What I Hear When You Talk, which is much more static. Plus, you really have to love that he doesn't take himself too seriously with a name like Walrus Noise Wall. Perhaps he needed to inject some humor into his music as a counterpoint to his recent spate of furious TIWIHWYT releases. With some idea of what we're in for, let's get into it.

All I can say about the first disc is "Holy Analog-O-Rama, Batman!" "Boat" warbles and pounds its way through the track with a ton of repetitive pulsing throughout. But like the other WNW project I reviewed a while back, this one changes over time, shifting little by little. Suddenly it all stops cold.

On to "Dicks," which is like a bunch of people hammering in a corrugated drainage pipe as people run bandsaws and various shortwave radios in the background. If you like it noisy, this is one for you.

What makes this set work is that it all functions like a wheel that is just slightly out of true. As it keeps turning, it becomes increasingly off-balance. It never quite falls apart, but it keeps shifting and changing. Both discs weigh in at 20 minutes each and are as much fun as the titles suggest. This is a nice addition that sits well next to Wonky Noise Wall in the collection. I'll look forward to the next W in the series.




Mortis: The Anatomy Of The House Is Like That Of The Anatomy Of A Human Cadaver

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Artist: Mortis
Title: The Anatomy Of The House Is Like That Of The Anatomy Of A Human Cadaver
Format: 3" Mini CD
Label: Inner Demons Records
Rated: * * * * *
I was unfamiliar with this Texas-based musician, but Mortis is the work of one Zachary L. This is not to be confused with the Mortiis with 2 I's. The liner notes state that this release is based on the horror game Anatomy and the opening sample is from the game as well. This is a re-release/remaster of a old N0123NOISE track.

We begin with a slightly distorted voiceover on a PA system that suddenly ends, giving way to heavy rumbling drone and a quiet melancholy synth line. Crackling noise and the sounds of footsteps and pounding on a door break in occasionally. The sound of chimes echo in the distance. You get the sense that Mortis is trying to be creepy from the title alone, but they pull it off with aplomb. This is well constructed soundscapes of heavy drone and atmosphere that does a great job of evoking a dark night in an unfamiliar place. You're lost, and you could swear that you saw someone watching you before darting around the corner ahead. Nicely done. This disc weighs in at around 19 minutes.