Thursday, July 9, 2020
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Music Reviews

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Artist: Massimo Discepoli (@)
Title: The Right Place on the Wrong Map
Format: CD
Label: Depth of Field (@)
Rated: *****
This is one of those things you never knew you wanted. I'm a drummer, so it warms my heart when drums are at the forefront because it so rarely happens. But you know one place you don't expect drums at the forefront? Ambient music. Now I'm not talking about some hippies with a djembe playing new age music. I'm talking drum set with plenty of cymbals. But Discepoli delivers.

There is a lot of variety here. The opening track, Once In A Minute, is a peaceful track featuring the sounds of xylophone, drums, and cymbal, with a slow moving synth line. Contrast this with Phase Transition, which is a bit grittier than the previous compositions. Everything is coated in a light layer of distortion until a soothing piano line comes in, which provides an interesting counterpoint to the static. Eventually the static fades away and we are left with a calm piano and cymbal composition. In others, we have a liberal helping of heavy synth drone to go with our drums.

The album as a whole is well composed and demonstrates what can be done when percussion is not merely a means of keeping a beat. I also appreciate that the album was not processed into oblivion. The cymbals actually sound like cymbals (complete with overtones and decay) and the drums are raw and beautiful. If you love percussion, this is one to pick up. If you don't, then you will probably love it after hearing this. This album weighs in at around 57 minutes.



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Artist: RNL (@)
Title: Conquering King Kong
Format: Tape
Label: Vonconflon (@)
Rated: *****
RNL is the work of one Jesse Farber, who is an accomplished visual artist. According to the artist, “Conquering King Kong is a 45-minute trail through mental states and thought patterns, an abstract audio film that unspools with the logic of a dream. Woven together from a massive archive of tapes, the album builds ambient spaces and puzzling sound objects out of location recordings, found sounds, private performances, and endless analog and digital manipulation.” So let’s see if the music is as good as the visual artwork.

The music on the tape is heavily synth-based, with bits of field recordings and voice thrown in for good measure. For example, the tape begins with pulsing drone that adds a layer of noise like a helicopter spinning up and preparing for takeoff, followed by a series of staccato, barking synth hits with a thin layer of warbling flutelike sounds. Later on, we have someone beating sticks against the floor with the sound of a howling wind outside. Turning the tape over, we begin with a short, interesting ditty with percussion that gives a sense of marching band, more drone, some heavily processed voice,and more synth based noise with a heavy beat. Overall, this is pleasant, but it began to get a bit dull and predictable at times. RNL is at their best when they incorporate other elements besides the synth or going beyond the standard drone (the heavily processed voice, for example).



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Artist: Albert / Day / Kreimer (@)
Title: Mutations
Format: CD
Label: Public Eyesore (@)
Rated: *****
This is the work of Marco Albert on voice and electronics and Bryan Day and Jay Kreimer, both on "invented instruments." Like many artists on the Public Eyesore label, these artists are new to me. However, I have found that I have enjoyed most of the things that PE has put out, so let's see how this measures up. I hope it measures up well, since Bryan Day is the man behind the label!

Mutation 1 begins with sparse bits of heavily processed chaotic noises. This is incidental music to play in the soundtrack of your dreams. It becomes increasingly aggressive as the track moves on until it is full on chaos. Mutation 2 features whispered Spanish and English voice over loosely strung guitar and balafon, interrupted by scraping metal, with the voices becoming increasingly processed over time. Mutation 3 is chanting/singing over chaotic percussion and bowed strings, and Mutation 4 keeps this feeling going with spoken word about art theory over a noisy background. Mutation 5 is thudding percussion over the sounds of wheels on rough pavement. An organ drones as bass slaps and metal rattles. It has a rhythm like an off center washing machine until it eventually falls completely apart. Mutation 6 changes it up to conclude with lots of drone, voice, and bubbling water.

This was interesting and well constructed. If you like experimental improvisation, this may be up your alley. Another solid entry to the Public Eyesore catalog. This album weighs in at around 36 minutes.


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Artist: Zea + Oscar Jan Hoogland
Title: Summing
Format: CD + Download
Label: Makkum Records / Klanggalerie
After originally meeting in unusual circumstances- teenage Hoogland attending a gig with Zea performing one evening, then attending school to find Zea was his new sociology teacher- the duo have since been collaborating for some time, combining Zea’s guitar and voice with Hoogland’s piano, electric clavichord, “synths and sirens”. Summing is a nine-pack of short experimental-rock-alt-pop pieces that sounds like the duo are still challenging one another, rather than settling and getting comfortable.

There’s something of a 60’s or 70’s wig out feel at times, including sonically- sometimes relatively static, at other times not. The title track’s chaotic final minute, that segues gently into the brooding “You’re Dead”, is a strong example of that. Some tracks, including again the title track, have various production details that qualities that demonstrate the 2019 nature of the recording, but at times the only detail that indicates that the tracks are modern, rather than unearthed from the annals of prog rock, are lyrics such as “We Lost Our Phone” (which is not as flippant as the title suggests) and the talk of track-and-trace delivery in curiously passive-aggressive “I Never Threw A Stone”.

More introspective moments come in tracks like the surprisingly moving “Atomic Heart”, which if it had been released in a more acoustic form by a pop-singer-songwriter, might be getting lauded as a beautiful pop song. Final track “Trip the Light Fantastic” is notable for its jazzier, more laidback feel as well.

At only 32 minutes it’s a compact album that buzzes with ideas and moods. The duo work together with other musicians on other releases too, and it feels like that’s probably necessary in order to drive the inventiveness further. But this level of expressiveness from a duo is rare and heartfelt.


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Artist: VV.AA.
Title: Building A Better Reality : A Benefit Compilation
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: JMY
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.




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