When this precious sonic document, a live recording that Pan Sonic - the obscure creature by Ilpo VÄisÄnen and Mika Vainio - made on the occasion of Kvitnu Live Concert on 6th June 2009 in Kiev, Ukraine, was firstly released by Kvitnu in 2014, Pan Sonic didn't exist anymore. Now that Kvitnu decided to push a second edition (300 copies only), many of you sadly know that Mika Vainio doesn't exist in his physical form at least, but the sound that those Finnish guys forged on that live session and nestled in this "Oksastus" keeps its fit to times. When it was firstly released, many reviewers heard some connection to the tickling bomb for world peace related to Euromaidan, the wave of demonstrations that started in Indipendence Square in Kyev in the night of 21st November 2013 to protest against the suspension of the association agreement with European Union. During our days, someone can certainly listen some echoes of the current and forthcoming limitations of civil rights and freedom related to... guess what? That virus. Both situations can somehow fit to the sound or vice versa. 'Oksastus' is the Finnish (and Estonean as well) word for 'grasp' and some details of both stories (Covid and Euromaidan) can conceptually be considered as grasps in the contemporary history. A grasp of an element in a common ground that totally disrupts the pre-existing order (or maybe it's aimed to strengthen it), even if the awesome grasps by those Finnish sound nihilists in the eight tracks (titled after their length, as there's no apparent matching with previously released output or simply melt sounds belonging to soundbanks they adopted for some of them) often sound like the inoculation of artificial cells into a dead matter, but I wouldn't say "Oksastus" is a sort of necrophile game, even if that's what you can feel particularly in the first three tracks. In the eleven minutes and three seconds of the fourth, the sonic entity, which they forged through chaotic dusts of dissonances, electronic regurgitations, convulsive synth lo-hats and atrocious cuts on volume, smells like a sort of mechanical flesh before their creators began to dig a hole to bury it and potentially your eardrums in the second half of the track. The clipped bleeps over super dried thus of the fifth movement (5'42") could have brought the audience of that live session to a higher level, even if those sound masters had fun in let their entities move into what sound like an anechoic room. The heaviest sonic assault comes on the following 17'28", a wonderful track that initially envelops listener's nerves into tighter and tighter electronic knots, hits them by a flurry of percussive muffled punches getting more and more cacophonous and sweltering and finally melts into magmatic sonic pools. Against such a stage, the fury of the last two movements is almost reassuring like the hug of a mother. Grab it, if you missed this little masterpiece.
Sea of Poppies is the work of Czech artist Marek iška, who also has the dark ambient project Deprivation Chamber. As described by the artist, “‘Sea of Poppies’ is my first foray into purely analogue sound. As such, I wanted to experiment with different sounds and techniques. This album is the result of that - each track is made from different sources and in a different way. It is both a love letter to the old school industrial scene, and a document of sorts, of me exploring a whole new world of sound.” Sounds promising, so let’s dive into it.
On side 1, Sea of Poppies comes out swinging from the beginning with high pitched feedback matched up with heavily distorted rumbling. The next track has everything processed to oblivion, like someone keeps changing the speed of the record over and over again and everything is run through 27 layers of echo. Flip the tape over and we have more harsh noise, only this time with a some circuit bending madness thrown in for good measure.
This is my kind of noise. Constantly shifting and lo-fi as hell. This is everything that you would expect from noise that comes on a cassette tape with a hand cut paper J-card. There are no track names, and not even a title for the tape. But it delivers. If this is a “love letter to the old school industrial scene,” it is heavily perfumed with gasoline and has a match taped to a strip of sandpaper on the inside of the envelope. This is limited to 30 copies, so if you like heavy noise with a lot of variety you need to get this.
The sheer weight of feeling behind a cause doesn’t prove that cause’s validity or importance- but it must surely be a massive indicator. It speaks volumes that JMY set out to do a benefit compilation raising funds for Black Lives Matter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and received over 100 tracks from over 80 different contributors. That’s eleven and a half hours of music. And while the sheer scale of a compilation album doesn’t equate to its quality, I’d certainly call it value for money!
The quality is excellent. I can’t feasibly comment on every track, but to generalise massively, there’s plenty more reasons to buy this compilation than just the charity aspect.
The arrangement of tracks is such that listening to the first few tracks is quite misleading. This opening hour or so is a collection of works from the thoughtful and introspective side of electronica, but with lashings of acoustic elements, found sound and sound design and atmospheric work. There are huge doses of ambient, some drones, including Silber-ish guitar drones, some more cinematic pieces, and plenty of sombre moods and environmental pieces.
However this is not the full story, by any means, and after this point, a lot of musical diversity arrives. TV POW’s “Cadillac A” and Precise’s “It’s On Me” are on-point rap track (the former with a nice line in American culture samples), while Tina M Howell and Just Nick offer up a soul-meets-trip-hop affair in “Donna And Tina”. Gel Set’s “Headless Statue #3” is an intriguing bit of semi-retro synthpop with a nice hook to it. Extraordinary Popular Delusions’ “Contention” is a straight-up slab of avantgarde jazz, Jeb Bishop Trio’s “Fifth Gear” is a smooth cruising jazz (the latter a part of a jazz zone that the album enters around two-thirds of the way through), and Azita’s “Something That Happened” is a straight-laced reggae groove with dub elements- until the point where it isn’t (spoilers!).
The diversity plays out piece by piece, and throws up some assured surprises. But the compilation does keep returning to the electronic world periodically, making it its home turf and leading to some interesting contrasts- none more than the roll from Spanish-sounding guitar ballad into Zoot Houston’s sine-wave symphony “xrstlyedit.mp3”.
Many of the tracks have a political connection to the cause in hand, like the protest crowd sampling “BLM about the Permawave 2020” from GK Jupitter-Larsen which covers a self-contained distance from found sound through to a wall of distorted noise- and at the other end of the spectrum, Simon Joyner’s acoustic folk ballad “There Will Be A Time #2”. Few are more unsettling than the long drone, sirens and riot noises pulling against solo choral and ballad singing in Jesse Goin’s somewhat Jimmy Cauty-esque “Is There A Balm In Gilead”, while some take topical sounds but process them into more abstract soundscapes, like Fred Lonberg-Holm’s “Slow Riot” or the sinister but not gruesome “Smoldering Corpse Outside The Embassy” from Our Wrongs.
The compilation does return to its gentler more atmospheric and ambient roots at later points as well, with Doline Karst’s haunting “Incolae” and Pharmakustik’s “Freight” some of the finer examples, and some more interlude-like pieces like Mykel Boyd’s “60 Miles South of Chicago”. There are plenty of immersive soundscapes here as well, many of which top the ten minute mark on their own (and some nearer half an hour!). Some are on the unsettling side, like the dizzying “Untitled 200613” from J. Soliday, or Al Margolis’ “QueBec” with its utterly unexpected accordion halfway. The selection of alien environments on offer ranges from the straight-laced, like Kazuya Ishigami’s “Lemurian Memory”, and the dark and grunge, like Gabie Strong’s “Sous Les Pavés”, to more unusual offerings like Stephan Comford’s presumably lock-down inspired “A Finite Number Of Rooms”. Others like the excellent “Carrier v1.40” from remst8 + Drekka or Rugar Magnusson’s “Gull” are more accessible and warm drone works. Towards the end of the compilation there’s a greater prevalence for sparse, isolated solo tracks, like Jeff Kimmel’s extremely plaintive “Solo At ESS”, as well as some extended noisier abstract works like K2’s “Flat Horizon Is So Black”.
Although this is a political hot topic at the moment, there’s surprisingly little here that feels rushed or overly raw. It is curious to think that if the dates are correct, I’m reviewing tracks like Jeb Bishop’s dizzying “mISTAKES v170620” less than two weeks after they were finished, but it still doesn’t feel underbaked Some tracks feel like an opportunity to try something unique that might not fit into the rest of their work- while I’m not familiar with Mike Bullock’s work, his chaotic string and processing piece “Tread” feels like a good example of that scenario working well. There’s the odd short sketch, like Nick Hoffman’s one-minute guitar piece “Sufferir So Disposto”, but the calm maturity in tracks like Neil Jendon’s “Sulu Bleeding Heart” rather suggests that the current lockdown situation has given many musicians a bit more time to work on these tracks than they might’ve had otherwise...
Other miscellaneous highlight tracks include Jim Becker’s pulsing electronics and fragile melody of “Jajouk 2213”, and the bright but twisty electronic drone-fanfare of Boris Hauf’s captivating “Exspiro”. Pandabrand’s “Listen” is from the very quirkiest edge of pop, and the raw electronic techno of Danfan’s “Contratiempo” or Frank Rosaly’s “Fool” both leap out at you, as does the sharp one-minute guitar-techno “Grass Dance” from Kendraplex. For the introspective side, Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson’s yoik-like multitracked vocal “Turning Down The Volume Inside Your Head” must be mentioned.
For eyebrow-raising weirdness, a number of special mentions should go to No Motive’s “Untitled”, Pavlos Vakalos and Nicolas Malevitsis’s bold stop-start sample-metal “Cry”, the energetic cut-up monkey vocalisations of Karen Constance and Blue Spectrum’s “Medication Bathing Wine”, the mental-health-concerning twisted vocalisations of Leif Elggren’s “Soya” or the noise wall of Crank Sturgeon’s “Standstill Until”. Ernst Karel’s “Cassette Field Recordings, Thailand 1993” tells an interesting but sparse story of forgotten television broadcasts, while Weasel Walter, Brandon Lopez and Michael Foster offer a track called “Current Events” which is a difficult wall of distortion, angst and percussive noise- which is very fair, because that’s what current events do feel like.
Eleven and a half hours is a marathon listen, for sure- but considering the minimum price is only $7, it’s insane value, and even if you can only relate to half the tracks on here, it’s still a fantastic find. Plus it’s a charity record for a solid cause too- leaving you with pretty much no reason left not to buy it.
Non Toxique Lost have been plying their industrial and political electronic attitude-driven music for over three decades now. After the tragic loss of long-time member Steffen Schütze in 2017 they’re now a duo of Gerd Neumann aka Sea Wanton and Cem Oral aka Jammin’ Unit. While their older cassette-only works are being reissued on vinyl and CD, this is a brand new studio recording. It’s based on a “surprisingly dancy” live set that they performed for the Klanggalerie label’s 25 anniversary. Although it was videoed, and parts of the performance are available on YouTube, nobody recorded good quality audio on the night, so the band went into their studio and recorded it- so it’s studio quality, but with an energetic, live feel. It’s a masterful journey through the deeper darker side of electronica, with industrial tones that never really get too heavy. Sweeping effects, backwards percussion, squelchy bass arpeggios and various stretched-out noises create atmospheres that feel like an inverted mirror image of dance music. After the screaming German introduction of “Bewegen Wir Uns Noch”, the advanced restraint of the music is on display in the nearly-sinister “Dulce Et Decorum Est”, with its super-gradual build and unfold. The contrasting tensions are clear on tracks like “I.N.T.A.S.B.T.L.A.S.S.”, where the dubby understated electronic groove (reminiscent of some recent Orb tracks) is unmoved by the angry shouting that’s initially stamped on it. “Schwarze Mamba” is absolutely mesmeric, and a highlight. It’s got the long, patient building patterns of Tangerine Dream, but with a carefully exposed backbone of attitude, and (eventually) a vocal that’s oddly reminiscent of The Doors’ “Rebel Woman”. A similar atmospheric build also makes a joy of the catchily titled “Buchenwald (Case No. 000-50-9. 31 Pleas: NG!)”. People who like their industrial electronic more urgent and relentless will be more drawn to tracks like “Untergang”, a war-like call to arms where the pulsing bass pattern doesn’t let up or pretend to be clever, or the more aggressive snares and beat poetry-ish vocals of “Buchenwald”. “Ich BIn Nicht Sisyphos” exposes the band’s 80’s industrial roots. The promotional material is right to pitch Non Toxique Lost as an underrated band, and in some ways they’re quite understated too, showing their musical teeth in moderation and with a lot of maturity. Despite being supposedly quite raw, as a representation of a live set, nevertheless this is an extremely strong industrial electronica album that ought to garner a lot of attention.
To paraphrase James Brown, Dan Fox is perhaps the hardest working man in the noise scene. He has several projects, and Fail is his harsh noise project. You know the pedigree, so let’s see what this one is like.
“191113” opens the disc up with ominous drone, crackling noise, feedback, and a melody running throughout that would be almost peaceful if it wasn't so unsettling. This is the moment in the soundtrack where the villain is hatching their plan, but they are so blinded by anger and a thirst for revenge that it is hard to think straight. This is incredible, and this track alone is worth the price of admission. “060725” changes it up with some straight up digital noise. Starts off with low rumbling - the calm before the storm - slowly building with some high-pitched feedback and hiss. This is an exercise in restraint, however, and he never completely opens the floodgates. There are periods of noise punctuated by quiet passages. This is well done harsh noise.
Overall, this is one of the best discs that I have heard from Fail, and I have heard a lot of them. If you like it noisy, you need to get this one. This album weighs in at around 21 minutes and is limited to 42 copies.