Saturday, July 24, 2021
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Music Reviews

Gruntsplatter & Wilt: The Trough of Armageddon

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Artist: Gruntsplatter & Wilt (@)
Title: The Trough of Armageddon
Format: CDx2 (double CD)
Label: Phage Tapes
Rated: * * * * *
I have listened to Wilt for well over 20 years at this point so I'm very familiar with his work. For those less familiar, this is the work of James Keeler, who describes his work as "dark noise." He is joined by Dan Hall on guitars, pedals, and amps. Wilt is often a combination of noisy and dark and ominous. I have also followed Gruntsplatter for about the same length of time, first hearing Scott Candey's work when Phil at Troniks sent me a copy of Grimes' tape "The Infernal Machinations of Hell's Grim Tyrant," which I found to be wonderful. Over the years I've picked up a few of his albums, as well as ones put out on his label Crionic Mind. He describes Gruntsplatter as "somewhere in the gray area between Noise and Dark Ambient." In short, these are two artists that need little introduction to anyone that's followed the noisy dark ambient scene. The only question here is what will this collaboration sound like between these two giants (watching over us).

First off we have the disc labeled "Indoctrination," which is Gruntsplatter using Wilt source material. If you have ever wondered what it sounded like in the beginning when the Earth was formless and void and being created by the hand of God, "A Shiver Through The Hive" is a good approximation. You get a sense of what it felt like when the elements were crushed together to form the pale blue dot on which we all reside. So yeah, it's pretty heavy. "Gather at the Slumberland Pyres" gives no sign of this intensity letting up. Metal clanking together and once again that thick heavy bass rumbling that rattled my car as I drove around listening to this. Indeed if there was one word I would use to describe this entire disk it's "intense." There are some moments of respite from the crushing intensity of the various tracks. For example, the beginning of "The Shrine of 16 Hooves" gives the listener a little bit of breathing room. But like everything on this disc, this is temporary and eventually you are left under the crushing weight of the relentless bass rumble. If there is one drawback to this disc, it is that it does all begin to become a little overwhelming. There is a lot of complexity in the tracks, but you have to work to hear it, as everything is crushed underneath ten tons of rubble.

The next disc, "Repercussion," is Wilt using Gruntsplatter source material. From the opening track, "Eulogy Pt. 1 (Burnt Flowers)," there is a stark difference in approach, but there still an intensity here that belies its dark prettiness. The synth comes to the forefront, with other noisy elements kicking into effect. "Within the Twilight Chamber" calls back to the Indoctrination disc with heavy bass drone, but this is quickly pushed to the side as the synth comes in to tone it down a bit. If you're looking for more of that Wilt flavor this disc is where it's at, providing a nice microcosm of his various styles. "Annihilation Breath" and "An Eclipse of Pale Limbs" are noisy but not quite as overwhelmingly crushing as the Indoctrination disc. "Beneath the Sinking Moon," "The Cold Earth Slept Below," and "Eulogy Pt. 2 (Bone and Ash)" all have the dark, lush, ominous synth drone that I really enjoy from Wilt. One of his particular gifts is the ability to make it dark without being heavy-handed or evolving into silliness. This isn't the ominous feel of a horror movie but rather the sense of being in a dark forest as the sun is setting when you suddenly realize that you are completely lost. The disc ends with a nice blend of the crackling noise rumbling bass and heavy synth drone that is the hallmark of this disk.

As I was writing this review, Wilt mentioned to me that the album has a concept behind it. He said that "if we keep going the direction we are we will eat at the trough of Armageddon. Scott's mix is the now and the coming death and mine is about the aftermath, the future." With this in mind, Indoctrination sounds like a pretty painful way to go out, but there is still some hope, if however bleak, in Repercussion. I suppose if we continue with the biblical metaphor, this would be the period after the earth is cleansed with fire. Gruntsplatter describes his thoughts this way: "The election drums were pounding, the lockdown and pandemic were in full swing, Portland was in the middle of weeks of protests. I was listening to mixes in the car driving back and forth from the ER or hospital in the wee hours of the morning. Toward the end the air was choked with wildfire smoke, like I have never seen before. I was under stage one evacuations orders and my wife was doing less and less well. For all the pontificating that goes on about the end times, this was truly a time when it felt like things were piling up." With this in mind, it is little wonder that his disc evokes an overwhelming feeling of pressure and weight.

Overall, this is a great collaboration where the two discs play off of each other well. It manages to hang together while still being distinct in style and feel. This is one of those cases where the final product is greater than the sum of its parts. Well worth checking out.

Howard Stelzer: Invariably Falling Forward, Into the Thickets of Closure

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Artist: Howard Stelzer (@)
Title: Invariably Falling Forward, Into the Thickets of Closure
Format: CDx3 (triple CD)
Label: No Rent Records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Howard Stelzer has been at this for a long time. For those unfamiliar with his work, he is the man behind numerous releases of his own music, the man behind the Noisy Bandcamp directory, and former head of Intransitive Records. All of this while being America's Favorite Middle School Teacher. Tape manipulation is his forte, and the label describes this release as "a euphoric 2+ hour adventure that mines dub, drone and disco, obliterating tension and torrential tape manipulation." This mammoth 3 disc set also features collaborations with Windy Weber (Windy & Carl), Michael Anderson (Drekka), Stephen Clover (Seht), Peter Wright, Antony Milton, Peter Hope, Bill Ironfield, Elisabeth King, Sarah Hennies, Jeff Barsky (Insect Factory), Tom Smith (To Live & Shave in LA) and Audrey Chen. So let's sit back, give it a listen, and see what this one sounds like.

First off, this album really takes advantage of headphones, because there are so many things happening that it would be easy to miss them all if you don't listen to it that way. You could almost think of Stelzer's compositions as a kind of "eye-spy," in which there are bits of sound that you only hear if you are paying attention. Bits of voice, some windchimes, a guitar, random noises. All of this is often covered in a thick layer of drone that holds it all together.

But this is far from random "throw everything together and see what happens" experimental music (and heaven knows that I enjoy that as well), but these are finely crafted and thoughtfully laid out. Some of them even sound almost . . . normal. Like when a traditional band tries to get edgy. The difference, of course, is that Stelzer starts from the other end of the spectrum and went towards the side of traditional songwriting. One example of this can be found in the opening track, "Teal," which brings in a nice repetitive bass line, a driving rock drum beat, and processed vocals. This is rock music as interpreted by The Residents. But you can tell that he has created the feel that it is all barely holding together, as the bass becomes increasingly unstable and instead of a guitar solo we have pulsing line noise towards the end. "Lilac" has a similar feel with a funky beat and almost bluesy vocals with warbling tape noise in the background. Another example of this can be seen in "Violet," which features vocals (a woman singing bits of Prince's "When Doves Cry"), tape manipulation, heavy drone, the sound of footsteps, and various field recordings.

Other tracks are much more abstract, such as "Blue," which uses voice mainly as atmosphere, as we hear a woman humming to herself as the sounds of people just going about their day swirl around. Another example of this is "Olive," which has choppy electronic noises over quiet junk noise and field recordings. The entire track is rather subdued, and you could almost think of this as "quiet noise." "Indigo" brings us more of the dark ambient drone feel with analog noises, pulsing synth washes, and what sounds like a pressure cooker regulator. Think of it like a lo-fi Lustmord.

In general, there is a wide range of emotion on these tracks. For example, "Cyan" is a long droney track that is almost peaceful, as you hear bits of metal and cymbals buried in the mix. "Red," on the other hand, is a sparse track that kind of reminds me of hearing someone singing in the shower while someone slowly drags a microphone across the carpet. "Emerald" gets us more into the dissonant side, as a high pitched siren-like whine permeates the track as sweeping waves of sound wash over you, only to end with pleasant female singing. It toys with the feeling of discomfort without being heavy handed about it.

At over 46 minutes, "Maroon" warrants its own discussion. Open with sheep bleating and tinkling wind chimes which then continues over peaceful ambient drone. This builds in intensity over time, and what once seemed peaceful becomes suffocating. About 15 minutes in, we have some guitar thrown into the mix as the drone continues to shift without you even realizing it. About 35 minutes in, we are left with only drone. Over the next 10 minutes, the tone will shift slightly over time. I will admit that for me it went on about 8 minutes longer than it needed to, but the effect is undeniable. Your ears definitely feel a sense of relief once it finally fades out.

Overall, this is easy listening for the experimental set. It never quite descends into noise, but it is noisy enough to keep it interesting. It is well crafted, but still has a touch of chaos in it. This is accessible to a wide variety of tastes, and you could think of this as a kind of gateway drug for harsher experimental music (like some of Stelzer's other works). But for those of us who have been listening to experimental music for decades now, this still offers a level of complexity that is sometimes lacking. In short, it's a good time, and for the price, if you only like even one of the discs you have still come out way ahead. Well worth checking out.

Steven Jones & Logan Sky: European Lovers

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Artist: Steven Jones & Logan Sky
Title: European Lovers
Format: CD + Download
Label: Etrangers Musique (@)

I've been listening to the so-called Electroclash New Wave revival with pleasure as I found some artist like Miss Kittin & The Hacker or Ladytron really had the spirit of the 80's; daring, frivolous, energetic and open-minded.
Also I'm a keen watcher of reunions of acts who dare to comeback after x years like OMD, Ultravox, Blancmange, Visage ... not necessarily always successful musically or financially.
Jones & Logan are connected to the later, Logan Sky was Keyboarder in the final line-up and Steve Strange introduced them to each other. They work together since arround 2015 and released 4 albums to date.
Accomplished Musicanship meets Neo Romanticism quite succesfully here on the sample of 'European Lovers' I got for review. When Gary Barnacle adds Sax to "Sons Of Hallucinations" paired with french vocals by Charlotte Condemine it's a great pairing immediately revoking past spirits.
Steve Logan himself as main singer is a different chapter, his voice is capaple only of a limited range which he uses cleverly, never mixed too far in the front and kept in sonor timbre it fits the general mood of a slightly decadent and sentimental background drop for late nights.The lyrics might be meaningful but even in the ballad "Past & Future Lives" they leave no lasting impression. In my ears Steve Logan still need to find his voice and perhaps a little more passion, otherwise a whole album full of sentiments without the daring touch is just too much at least for my tastes.
Available as DL and CD with 6 additional tracks and mixes.

Thee Hyphen: Incidental Tools Of Confusion

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Artist: Thee Hyphen
Title: Incidental Tools Of Confusion
Format: CD
Label: Boredom Product
Rated: * * * * *

Thee Hyphen story began in the early 90s when Member U-0176 started recording his own music on a four-track tape recorder.
His first release "Incidental Tools Of Confusion" saw the light as limited CD-r and tape in 1996 and have been followed by other two albums in the 90s: "Re Sound" in 1996 and "Organique" in 1998.
If in the studio he was able to take care of all the phases that were needed to produce his music, when he has been asked to perform live, he asked help from Patryck Holdwem.
They worked together so well that they decided to keep on working that way and the following year Celluloide born.
At that point, they found a new singer (Darkleti), and Thee Hyphen was put on hold until 2004, then "Consolidated Green" kinda closed the circle for that project.
During the years Thee Hyphen songs surfaced in other forms on Celluloide's album, for example, "This Aching Kiss" has been re-recorded and released on "Words Once Said", "Not A Tale" became "Un Conte de Fée" on the album "Hexagonal" and "Air Conditioned" became "Air Conditionné" and has been released on the MCD "Modulation de Freéquence".
When the original four tracks tapes of the first two albums resurfaced, the people at Boredom Product thought to give Thee Hyphen's music justice and to release it properly.
The New version of "Incidental Tools Of Confusion" has been cleaned and some vocal effects removed just to give words more clarity.
Also, a new version of "Into Dirt" reworked in 2003 is in this new version as a bonus track.
If I should try to explain how this album is sounding to me, I would name for sure the Depeche Mode of the "Construction Time Again" period, because of the use of the melody and the unconventional rhythm sounds and Front 242 of the "Geography" period for the experimental feeling.
Anyway, it's a really good album that you should check out!

Ekolali: Om Sömn

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Artist: Ekolali
Title: Om Sömn
Format: Tape & Digital Download
Label: Constellation Tatsu (@)
Together with a bunch of new releases belonging to the label's Spring Butch of 2021, Constellation Tatsu recently pushed this interesting experiment/project by Swedish artist Mattias Lagerkvist in the guise of Ekolali on the usual tape format (together with the digital one, of course). You can imagine it as a superslow melodic lo-fi tune of those 80ies TV commercials, that also were poured by Boards Of Canada into some of their older tracks, or otherwise as a piece of possible background music for a sleep concert, as potentially suggested by the title ('Om Sömn' means 'About Sleep' in Swedish), filtered by the tastes of a possible lover of Terry Riley or La Monte Young minimalism with an interest in studies on hypnagogic states! Two pretty long suites ("The Exercise Of Sense Perception", lasting 20 minutes and 55 seconds, and "Of Necessity to Each Animal" - 21:46 -) on one side and the title track, a sort of potential combination of them (at least in terms of length, as it reaches 41 minutes and 36 seconds), on the other, that can also sound like an experiment, as besides the slowly lulling repetitions of the same tones, some other resounding entities, slight variations or maybe simple aural hallucinations can surface out of the apparently homogenous flatness of each suite. Have a try before, after, and during your resting/sleeping sessions.