Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Music Reviews

Artist: Elephant House (@)
Title: Chollima
Format: LP
Label: Adaadat (@)
Rated: *****
You remember that weird kid in school (who are we kidding? If you're reading this you probably were the weird kid). You always felt a little uneasy around them, but you knew that they were pretty harmless. Well, Elephant House has managed to capture the aural personification of that kid. The compositions are complex and engaging, but they still manage to feel like they are not taking themselves too seriously. There is a whimsical quality to it and everything feels just a bit off (and I mean that in a good way).

The label describes the album this way: “‘Chollima’ is the second album from London-based Sino-Greek lysergic drone ensemble Elephant House. Percussionist Shenggy Shen & synthesiserist Christos Fanaras use the medium of Chinese mythology to explore lost Communistic futures and Rebetiko enchantments.” I have no idea what this is supposed to mean, so let’s get into the record.

“Stin Ypoga” opens the album up with an interesting groove that walks you through the track. Almost like if Henry Mancini and Parliament had to collaborate on a track which was then mixed down by The Residents. I like it. Chollima keeps this catchy groove thing going until switching gears with “Maid,” which is an interesting composition featuring an organ straight out of a demented carnival. This would make for a great into from some "weird tales" television show. On “World Out of Balance,” good beats and layers of drone give way to a synth line and then the sound of wind and waves. There is a lot of complexity here. “Triangle Eyes” closes out the side with rapid-fire staccato beeping over slow organ line.

Flipping the record over, Elephant House asks the question on everyone’s mind. “Do You Like Our Owl” is a slow moving composition with an uneasy feel to it. “Adamantine” features arpeggiated synth with layers of drone and percussion before kicking into “Tao Tie,” which is the only track so far with any voice. “Greedy Shopper” is up next with synth line and analogue noise thrown in for good measure. Finally, “Mallima” lays down more synth lines that provide an almost peaceful close out to the album.

Overall, this was a fun listen. If you are looking for something that is just a bit off kilter, this is one to check out.

Artist: Signalstoerung (@)
Title: Viel Lärm Um Nichts
Format: Tape
Label: Oxidation
Rated: *****
Signalstoerung has had a releases on Hymen Records, Inner Demons, and several digital releases on his own label Adventurous Music. He has also performed at such venues as Wave-Gotik-Treffen and Forms of Hands. This is my introduction to his work, however. The label describes the album this way: “Whether you do not play a tape or are unable to get a radio signal, there are still sounds you can listen to by operating a mono tape recorder. These sounds are collected and transferred into four tracks. No additional sounds were used.” A tape made with nothing but a tape recorder? Sounds delightfully meta. Let’s get into it.

First up, we have some low level hum that goes for a while. Some crescendo and decrescendo keep it moving. Nice, but this is pretty minimal stuff. This is just a ruse though, if you think this is going to be nice and chill. The next track begins with a similar trajectory, only in this case it becomes increasingly noisy. The result is aggregative, as the layers pile on to each other. Suddenly it all stops.

Flip the tape over and we begin with more warbling, crackling minimalist noise. There is a nice low end rumble that keeps everything grounded. Next up, we have more minimal noise. There is a bit of sweeping static underneath the main drone, which sounds like it was recorded in an irrigation drain. It's almost peaceful to listen to, and you can let your mind drift a bit while listening to it.

After listening to it a few times, I can appreciate what he is doing here, but this was a bit too subtle for my tastes. Still, this was pleasant listening, and I really enjoy that Signalstoerung is putting the experimentation back into experimental music. This tape weighs in at around 20 minutes and comes packaged in a cardboard box hand stamped and wrapped in strands of cassette tape. Fun, old school weird packaging as one would expect from Oxidation.

Artist: Mlehst (@)
Title: More Punishment
Format: Tape
Label: Oxidation
Rated: *****
Man. This is a blast from the past. I remember seeing this artist in catalogs from Self Abuse and others. The descriptions sounded intriguing, but I was broke and never managed to pick anything up from this artist. Mlehst is the work of Englishman All Brentnall. One of the things I remember being interested in was that the music was never quite described as noise, and this tape is no exception. This is more Hafler Trio and less Merzbow. Mlehst seems intent on creating a feeling - not a bad feeling or a good feeling, but more an unsettled feeling. Let’s get into it.

Side A opens with high pitched whine and some barely audible voices. The voices stay just out of reach, as some slight static and what sounds like footsteps on a sandy road creep in over time. If you like your changes slow and subtle, this is for you. Suddenly the high pitch drone cuts out and you can clearly hear what is left (although the voices have long faded away). This shifts into heavily processed voice with varied drone. At times, there is little there but the voice, and you still can't make it out. You can just sit back and enjoy the soundscape as the songs blend together. At one point, there is a drum machine keeping a beat, which seems a bit out of place with the previous tracks. Soon we are back to the familiar gritty droning. This is just on the border of noise.

On Side B, almost before you realize it, it becomes noisier and noisier. It never becomes totally harsh noise wall or anything. It's almost like listening to a noise performance from backstage. Then it shifts gears to an almost mellow bass line with various frequencies and textures of drone. It is almost hypnotic and quite pleasant listening. Bits of sound bubble up in the sea of drone, only to submerge again, leaving space for other sounds. This too becomes increasingly dissonant as the track marches on. Finally, we have a short, percussion-based track that becomes slightly distorted before quietly ending.

Overall, this was a nice listen. It is quite limited, so you'll want to pick this up while you have a chance. One thing I enjoy about the Oxidation releases is that they hearken back to the weird packaging of late 90s early 2000s noise releases. The general tape edition features a handmade plaque with whip & cassette, both of which are nailed to the plaque. Mine was the non-whip variety, so I guess my Saturday nights will have to be much as they have been…. for now.
This tape weighs in at around 90 minutes.

Artist: Martin Taxt
Title: First Room
Format: CD
Label: Sofa
The debut solo album from microtonal tuba player and composer Martin Taxt, a duet with Inga Margrethe Aas on viola da gamba and double bass, sits in a middle ground between classical solo and drone. It’s melodic, but many of the notes are so long and so sustained that they start developing their own drone-line textures.

It’s a single 35-minute piece that layers up live and studio recordings, with a reactionary concept at the core where the performers respond to the previously recorded layers. Perhaps the most striking parts are the pauses- while some drone works deliberately avoid stopping for breath, this work has several points where the tone ebbs away into silence or near-silence before gradually returning for another, different wave. Exposing the creaking tones of studio furniture adds extra texture at the top.

Taxt recently finished a masters degree in Music & Architecture, and this work is described as a tribute to the Japanese tearoom and the tatami mat- but if anything it seems to describe slightly larger, emptier rooms, studio spaces, or some kind of geometric cave. It’s a lovely nuanced bit of work that brings character and a sense of storytelling with tones normally used in flatter, more open drones, and it does it all rather nicely.

Artist: The Post Spiderhole Ensemble (@)
Title: False Alarms and Excess Baggage
Format: Tape & Digital Download
Label: Kitchen Leg Records (@)
Rated: *****
There is something alluring, at least to me, about a cassette-only release of well-constructed noise. The Post Spiderhole Ensemble is just one dude, a German named A.K. (Andrew Kemp), but damn if Herr Kemp doesn’t make some delicious and decidedly beautiful sonic trouble here on False Alarms and Excess Baggage. The word “collage” comes to mind as you dive in here. There are bells and whistles and motherfucking melody, too. “Precious Fragments” kicks things off with some nifty little indie rock (imagine a bunch of super stoned music nerds holed up in a basement somewhere doing bongs and making magic) walled in by killer sad clown horns and buzzy machinery. If you dig old Fly Ashtray, you’ll love it.

As the record progress, Kemp adds in touches of goth-y drone that is reminiscent of the kind of babies Tones on Tail and Coil would have had if they were on a codeine binge. So good. I really like this cassette a lot. It’s got that familiar lo-fi buzz crackling all through it that reminds me of an old Sears stereo I had growing up. Everything I listened to on it sounded warm and loving and imperfect. False Alarms and Excess Baggage has been in the making for the past 15 years and that both bums me out and makes me smile. I’m bummed because it tells me I could have been enjoying some of these nuggets for the past decade and a half and I’m smiling because Kemp cares enough about his art to be thoughtful in how he releases it.

“Shattered Knees” is all bassy throb, weaving in and out of distorted treble heavy guitar-ish noise. The vocals add to the hypnosis of it all and lend to the languid head bobs I can’t help but do as I listen. A.K. gets you moving on this record. I wish there was a chronological order as to when the songs were recorded because there does seem to be progress here as around track 8 (“ShipsIn The Sand”), which is one of the few slightly forgettable tracks on here, there does seem to be a shift in production values.

It would also be great to have information as to how A.K.’s influences expanded over the 15 years these songs were being made. “Grin At The Sun,” for example, sounds like a deconstructed Strokes song. Was he listening to a lot of Strokes when he made this? I’d love to know! The rock and roll ecstasy that is “Trust The Dollar” is all new wave, fuzz, and we’re back to the indie rockers in the basement, although the weed has worn off and the caffeine has kicked in here. Is there anything better than a great riff that is kinda backwards and weird? This song is kinda like something corporate Beck, not young, cool Beck, would have written and then thought, “No, the record label won’t go for this.”

Perhaps the greatest thing about this cassette, though, is that it gives hope. It is filled with hope, really. The hope for more of The Post Spiderhole Ensemble music in the future. The hope that anyone with some good ideas and the patience to learn some tech and put it all together can make a wonderfully fun and clever record. The hope that it will never end, even though “Paris, With the Same Age On His Bathtub” ends this cassette perfectly.


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