Monday, May 17, 2021
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Music Reviews

WZRDRYAV: West Coast Systems

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Artist: WZRDRYAV (@)
Title: West Coast Systems
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: LINE (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Most of the stuff coming from the drive of Vancounver-born producer Kelly Claude Nairn under the umbrella of his imprint and artistic identity WZRDRY orbits around electronic dub and 'sample-a-delic' planets as well as the plenteous stream of drum-machine driven (in the 80ies) and sample-based (in the 90ies) New York hip hop artefacts as well as by the sensory stimuli coming from his parents (a new age mom and a jazz freak artist dad, according to his biography). By the way there are some awesome samples of fluffy ambient stuff, thriving in many releases he dropped through his Bandcamp. This digital release he dropped last December on Richard Chartier well-managed imprint LINE sounds like the apical rarefaction of this area of his sonic explorations, maybe influenced by the quietest aural environment of Vancouver surroundings. The meeting during his electro acoustic studies with granular synthesis forerunner Barry Truax, whose work explicitly influenced the sound of "West Coast Systems" (a dedication to Mr Truax but also to the place where these sounds were forged), the tree topped mountains and the closeness to the ocean of his nest in British Columbia as well as the placid flows of the streets of Vancouver are somehow mirrored in this entrancing flow of overstretched whispering tones, agglutinated into field recordings, vaporous aural entities and gently delayed gauzy patterns. Environment variables (to call them so) or specific spots often become the sparkle of each suite, such as a prolonged downpour on the opening "Heavy Clouds", where a wave-like game on the volume renders a sort of interpenetration between a meteorological phenomenon and the perennial movement of the sea, the almost hypnotic flow of "Elysian Chorus" or the entrancing sonic heterotopia of tracks like "Nuns Island" or "Roberts Creek".

rlw: Agnostic Diaries

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Artist: rlw
Title: Agnostic Diaries
Format: CD
Label: Black Rose Recordings (@)
Rated: * * * * *
This is the second of two discs recently received from Black Rose Recordings. rlw = Ralf Wehowsky, one of the most respected electronic composers of our day and was also a founding member of the seminal German group P16.D4 and label Selektion whose ground-breaking releases influenced many working in today’s experimental music scene. Way back in 2013 I positively reviewed his 'Fall Seliger Geister' album here, calling it " an enigma just waiting for you to puzzle through." The common factor linking the recordings on 'Agnostic Diaries' is that they were projects never fully realized. The basic recordings started in 2005, however the period of reworking and transformation (2016 to 2017) is more important. All vocal parts and general revisions were done during this period. Agnosticism was the basic idea for the vocal/musical re-working of the pieces with the vocals implanted into the basic pieces, not just as simple overdubs, but inserted in a dialectical confrontation with the basic sounds and structures. The album consists of six tracks running about 50 minutes. It's a strange listen for most, but no so strange if you're already familiar with rlw.

Track 1 ("le ballet") claims to rely on George Antheil´s 'Ballet Mecanique.' If you're into avant garde music you've likely heard this fantastically aggressive, frantic, chaotic classic. If for some odd reason you haven't, think of Frank Zappa's work at its most avant garde (instrumental; not the comedy stuff). You really should check out 'Ballet Mecanique' before going any further though. "le ballet" may have been influenced by Antheil´s composition but does not sound anything like it. Antheil employed a number of pianos, pianolas (player pianos), xylophones, drums, as well as electric bells, siren, etc. rlw's vision here is closer to musique concrète, realized with electronics, cut up voices, etc. Think more John Cage than George Antheil, and fits comfortably into the experimental ambient domain. Track 2, "July 2006" is a noisier affair than the preceding, giving a sense of motion, but also careening headlong into oblivion, until it comes to a momentary dead stop. Picking up again, the digital sounds seem like they've been put in a lo-fi blender without a lid, and spit out hither and thither. The piece is uncomfortable, but it is precisely this uneasiness that makes it interesting. "for gerald" was to be a co-operation with Anla Courtis using some sounds by Ovary Lodge planned for the Gerald Jupitter-Larssen series which stopped far too early. Here, breathy light noise and single tone rising and falling electronic oscillators combine with radiant electronic resonant tones and chords for awhile, but that changes somewhat when more (intermittent) percussive elements are introduced. Next comes some chaotic circuit bending introduced into the mix. Track 4 ("without m.b.") includes rlw’s parts for a collaboration with Marc Baron, but holds up pretty well on its own, combining processed noise and electronics, spoken word (Italian, I think), feedback and manipulated samples as well as deep chambered resonance. With all that is going on here (and frankly, it's a lot) I don't see how Baron could have added much to this piece. On "caute!" we are treated to a noise scrubbing, once again with (treated) foreign language spoken word samples before it drifts into a quieter sort of ambience, with a juxtaposition of sublimely percussive low and high tones. There's a it more going on than that; you just have to hear it for yourself. Last track, "monotype #6," includes vocals by Dylan Nyoukis, but seems to be largely comprised of processed strings and electronic treatments.

'Agnostic Diaries' is a remarkable achievement on its own and shouldn't be just considered a collection of unrealized projects. Although there isn't a central unified theme here, I don't necessarily think there has to be one. I am still amazed though that an artist with the stature of Wehowsky doesn't seem to have his own website (I couldn't find it so I used his Discogs page) and forget about any email address. I'm sure Black Rose will notify him of the review anyway.

Contrastate: Recorded Evidence II

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Artist: Contrastate (@)
Title: Recorded Evidence II
Format: CD
Label: Black Rose Recordings (@)
Rated: * * * * *
This is the first of two CDs recently received for review from Black Rose Recordings. I reviewed Contrastate's 'A Breeding Ground for Flies' back in 2013 and found it to be uneven. Some things I really like, others...not so much. 'Recorded Evidence II' is a collection of rare and unreleased tracks by Contrastate, released on their own Black Rose Recordings imprint, although some of these tracks did originally appear on Dirter in various formats too. The tracks are a progression from old(er) to new(er) so there is a discernible difference in recording and composition from beginning to end. The group, from the U. K. consists of Jonathan Grieve, Stephen J. Pomeroy and Stephen Meixner. The CD is 12 track over 59 minutes, and if you know Contrastate, it's fucking weird as usual.

Opening with "Taste the waste for the human race,” it sounds like The Residents on vocals over an acoustic guitar riff loop and other processed sounds and vocals. "English embers" begins with a crying baby over some dark ambient drone before a grim spoken word dialogue becomes the center of attention. Other elements, such as a clanging bell and ringing bells, various and sundry electronic elements invade your psyche. While I'm not going to describe every track, there are some that deserve mention, one way or the other. "Between two mirrors" is a primarily vocal piece that has a hallucinatory yet drunken quality to it, which under the influence of psychedelics would likely freak you the fuck out! The following track, "From the opened red lips" (an rlw improvised revision) is similar in its enigmatic vocal expression, but much briefer. I really loved the very spooky ambience of "True believer," but was a little disappointed with the repetitious voice-over that came in halfway through, leading into a huge noise barrage that followed, but that's Contrastate for you, or just me and my preferences. I really liked the malevolent ambience of "The people who control the information," and as noisy as it is, and with unintelligible vocals, it still manages to get its point across, in spades, I think. The weird thing is, it almost seems like that track was supposed to be the title of the following track, "Revolution sera la nom de la civilisation" from the "people who control the information" vocals on it, so I'm wondering if the track order didn't just get mixed up. The last track, "Africanus neanderthalis" takes a while to build into its ultimate percussive frenzy and ensuing electronic chaos, but just stops dead for no apparent reason...kind of like the tape ran out?

Fans of Contrastate are likely to appreciate this album more than I did, but it's a good introduction to the group for those who haven't heard but may be curious. As with 'A Breeding Ground for Flies' I'm not totally sold on it, but there's still a good deal to enjoy.

Flamongo: Sun Dreams

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Artist: Flamongo (@)
Title: Sun Dreams
Format: 12" + Download
Label: HauRuck

Flamongo is the brainchild of Austria’s Alexander Trinkl, who is also a respected and prolific visual artist and graphic designer. Sun Dreams is the third full length Flamongo album release in two years. The music falls into the category of lo-fi ambience / noise, and Trinkl composed, performed, produced and mixed the record himself.

The album begins with "Braunungsstreifen" (“tan lines”), which features an evocative synth wash slowly unfolding over the top of a field recording of what sounds like a dismal rainy day. Slightly unnerving yet also strangely relaxing and calming, the music creates a picture of an idyllic dream set against the reality of everyday drudgery. Towards the end, the music becomes more and more unsettling and discordant, until loud otherworldly crashes replace the calm ambience. “Schilling wird angenommen” (which I think means “coin is accepted”) starts with a continuation of the rain sound, with distant cars now audible as well. Strange glitchy rhythms begin to come to the fore alongside mournful and lugubrious synth textures. The track exudes a strange kind of sadness as it gradually becomes more intense, with sounds of doors opening and closing juxtaposed against sci-fi synthesizers. “Absprung Tunnelwurm” (jump tunnel worm) follows, and again the rain sample continues. A lush pulsating pad texture enters, along with a an unsettling feedback-like whistle sound. Twisted snippets of piano and synth melodies peak out of the wash as more harsh ambient sounds (that sound like speeding trains) muscle their way in. “Satan & des Messers Zweck” (“Satan & the knife’s purpose”) is based around what sounds like a heavily distorted sludge metal guitar sound. Strange synthesizers also begin to writhe around and collide. Samples of what could be a train station announcement, and of church bells and choirs, eventually start to take over. It is eerie and affecting. As this track ends and “Unter der Brucke” (“under the bridge”) begins, the rain sounds carry on, and then a forlorn and nostalgic accordion wades to centre-stage. As the accordion moans through its sorrowful passages, the sound becomes gradually more twisted and distorted as though shifting into a weird nightmare. The rain still pours as album closer “Endzeit Ketzergasse” (“endtimes heretic alley”) begins. Ghostly discordant wailing synth textures swirl around. Listening to this feels like being stuck on a very strange broken down ghost train. Gradually, romantic piano chords begin to emerge from the ethereal textures. The sound has been run through delirious effects so that this sounds like a distorted and queasy reality. As air-raid sirens and disturbing bass synths gradually come through, the feeling becomes gradually more and more intense and menacing. As it all slowly fades out we are left, yet again, with the relentless precipitation, along with a distant sounds of a passing train and far-away thunderclaps.

The album cover (also by Trinkl) is an excellent piece of graphic design, featuring an overcast sky and a rain-soaked street with a rather dilapidated and boarded up old unit adorned with the sign “Sun Dreams” and the “Flamongo” logo. Perhaps this building used to be a sun-tanning salon. Either way, the effect is powerful, and the image perfectly compliments the music.

Sun Dreams is the most accomplished, evocative and cohesive album Flamongo has so far put out. It takes the listener on a journey and it manipulates the emotions in subtle but very effective ways as the sounds and atmospheres unfold to create a dreamlike and at times somewhat dystopian sound world. Each track has its own identity, but the whole work is held together by the use of recurring themes and sounds including the ever-present rain which serves as an anchor to reality even when the nightmare of the music itself is steering wildly out of control. Excellent stuff!

Sun Dreams is released on 1st May 2021 via HauRuck on vinyl and as a digital download.

Nigel Mullaney: The Navigator

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Artist: Nigel Mullaney
Title: The Navigator
Format: LP
Label: Behind The Sky
Rated: * * * * *
There are not so many positive facts related to restrictions and lockdowns. Maybe one of the few is the impressive quantity of music releases, partially related to the excess of time amount available to work on sounds at studios or home studios, particularly for all those musicians and sound engineers, who usually spend a lot of time in forging sounds. Waiting for that moment when all these artefacts can be joined with some real audience... The biography of the skilled sound engineer Nigel Mullaney could match the profiling of this kind of sampler/keyboards worms (a big jump in the evolution of bookworms!). Making computer music since he was 11, the aural material he forged over the years was licensed for use mostly in TV shows and films, broadcasted or available on popular networks and platforms like Netflix, HBO, BBC, Fox, AMC, Marvel, DC. Nigel also spread some breakbeat stuff in the past as well as more explicitly esoteric contributions for a collaborative project (nicely named Best Before) with the English occult author and publisher Ray Sherwin, co-founder together with Peter J.Carroll of the so-called chaos magick, but besides grimoires and danceable beats, he shows a love for the somehow sacred melting of vintage, modular and digital synths in this output, whose "esoteric" inspiration is the mythical voyage of St.Brendan, also known as The Navigator, whose quest for a sort of Eden (named "Terra Repromissionis Sanctorum" in the 120 original manuscripts that circulated mostly in Europe of "Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis" or Tír na nOg, the Irish otherworld), embellished by that magical halo of Irish tales (even if there are some resemblances in his stories with the tales of another famous mariner, Sindbad), supposedly brought him and his crew on landing on American continent centuries before Columbus, or maybe on Iceland or Faer Oer. This bestseller of the Middle Ages cannot be considered a hagiography of St.Brendan, but its fascinating aspect lays in the fact that it looks more like a quest for the divine, that is what that could have propelled the ten stages of the musical journey offered by Nigel. The source of some sounds could be recognized by trained ears of synth lovers. I'm pretty sure that Nigel used a Korg Sigma of his collection which was proudly exhibited at Synthfest 2019, as I perceive the presence of many Korgish sounds, even if that crystalline drop you can hear the lovely "Paradise of Birds" - one of those tracks where get closer to those stylistic coastlines where Polyporus seemed to quote Californian New Age cassettes era - inspired a quarrel between me and a friend who listened to it (it seems coming from an Alesis or a Korg - but not the Sigma, maybe an MS series - to me, from a Behringer Poly to my friend). My favourite moments of this voyage are the ones where Nigel manages to transpose vintage sounds into structures that fit the so-called chill-step format (the favourite genre of many coders, while programming apparently) such as "A Shifting Sea", "Eternal Return" or "The Final Voyage", where he seems to quote Boards of Canada's harvesting (!), but synth lovers will appreciate most of the stages of this sonic journey.