Saturday, November 28, 2020

Music Reviews

Blood Rhythms: Civil War

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Artist: Blood Rhythms
Title: Civil War
Format: LP
Label: No Part Of It (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Blood Rhythms is the brainchild of Arvo Zylo, who is also the driving force behind No Part Of It. He has released a considerable amount of material, but this is my introduction to his work. First off, let’s talk about the packaging. The packaging is quite involved, with artwork of deer hearts and quotes by Carl Jung. There are a lot of people involved here, but my favorites are Dave Phillips on “balloons, electronics” and Daniel Burke on “Inevitability / Transformation.” The attention to detail is evident also in the record etchings (remember those?) with “There is a place where we go to die” on one side and “Your wound has created a pearl” on the other side. So let’s put this on and see what it sounds like.

The album begins with “(En) Closure (Heart’s On Fire),” which was not what I was expecting. Whispered vocals over grinding, squalling noise. Ends with a scream, then silence. Not bad. “Onism (Sick Skin)” is sparse, high pitched feedback noise with completely destroyed vocals. The lyrics are completely unintelligible. Not really my cup of tea though. “Locked Away” begins almost peacefully, with a simple synth line and just a hint of static. Nice building of anticipation as you wait for the track to completely let loose. Once the vocals kick in it becomes increasingly noisy, but the restraint on this track is remarkable and it never really disintegrates into noise like I expected it to. With lyrics like “Cut off your face” this isn't exactly feel-good music though. But you didn’t exactly pick up an album titled “Civil War” to get mellow, did you?

Flipping the record over, we have “Paris Window,” with an intro that sounds like an old time radio show soundtrack, but this quickly becomes enveloped by noise. Next up, if you were waiting for this to go full on power electronics, “The Face” has you covered. Grinding repetitive synth line with screamed vocals and interesting noisy interludes. “Alchemy & Grief (Part I & II)” closes it all off with a two-part track. Part 1 is a really good noisy track. The sounds of answering machine messages over clanging noise. Part 2 begins as really sparse noisy soundscapes under yelled vocals. The noise builds over time as the vocals become increasingly unhinged.

One of the issues that I have with a lot of power electronics stuff is that the underlying noise is just so boring. Blood Rhythms manages to avoid this trap by keeping the underlying compositions interesting. Indeed, the compositions are sometimes more interesting than the lyrics (when you can make them out – they aren’t in the booklet). There were times where I would have really liked them to completely let loose with the noise, but I can appreciate the work that Zylo is doing with variety and dynamics. If you like power electronics that takes the noise part seriously this is well worth checking out.

The Switchblade Kid: From Spaceport To Infinity

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Artist: The Switchblade Kid (@)
Title: From Spaceport To Infinity
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Mobius Theory (@)

While this might be an exciting step in the musicians personal development it is not necessarily for the rest of the world. From 'Spaceport To Infinity' is a long form one dimensional drone piece which leads to nowhere (not to be mixed up with Infinity). Backing noises from daily life meet the humming of a refrigerator, like first generation DIY Industrial fan tapes from the early 1980's.
At first unimaginative and dull 30 Minutes where the end can't be easily reached - there is no tension, nothing to keep the listening interesting and not even a proper ending or fade-out (most likely recorded just as long as the tape was running). Then there is the Revenge Body Remix of 'From Spaceport To Infinity' in equal length which adds some more basic electronic distortion to the mix to uplift this a little, at least into stereophonic noisy territory.
But please, there is nothing experimental nor creative which has not been done so many times before.This leaves sadly no emotional or musical impact to the listener as it's neither meditative nor powerful enough.

Mystified: Yenisei Crossing

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Artist: Mystified (@)
Title: Yenisei Crossing
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Under the project name Mystified, Thomas Park has many, many releases on a variety of labels that go all the way back to 2003. Among other projects, Park put out a couple of techno releases under the name Autocad, and has also collaborated with Robin Storey of Rapoon and also released a primordial soundscape triology with Shane Morris. With all the albums Park has put out (16 pages worth on Discogs) one could spend months, maybe even years wandering through his discography. Well, I haven't done that, and all I have is 'Yenisei Crossing,' a quite different album even for Mr. Park. The title was inspired by a dream he had about being in Siberia, where the Yenisei River just happens to be. As Park says, "The Yenisei is a huge river that moves through this landscape. It divides Siberia in half, carrying time forward and water to the sea." Don't be expecting a nice flowing watery ambience though; more on that shortly.

This album, consisting of 17 pieces clocking in at a little over an hour was created by Park curating a large pool of sound sources that he transformed into elements ideal for iterating and mixing. Then he used Python programming code with his computer to give the machine the leeway to layer and combine sounds. This puts a lot of trust in technology, and results may not necessarily be what you might expect, or even want. Thomas doesn't say how much he discarded or didn't use that was computer generated, or even if the order and length of the pieces on the album was predetermined, so we really don't know about the editing process, if any. Track titles may have been computer generated as well, with titles such as "LUSCG," "XTWZ6," "OECV4," "DZE3W," etc..
Let's get back to the Yenisei River. There is nothing that sounds like a river (Yenisei or otherwise) on this album. What we have are 17 industrial ambiences that rely primarily on a looped base sound pattern with other loops and/or sound elements overlaid. Looping is both an art and a science. While examining the sound waves visually for loop start and end point is the science, what your ear hears is the art to creating the perfect loop where the loop point is almost impossible to detect. Computer programs are pretty good at the science aspect; not so much in the art aspect, hence the rub. When you let the computer determine what's appropriate to combine, aesthetics sort of go out the window. On 'Yenisei Crossing' sometimes that works out okay, but a lot of times it misses the mark in my opinion.

To illustrate, let’s analyze the first track "LUSCG," begins with a steady ticking/tapping that eventually multiplies (short slap-back echo perhaps?) over time while a sound like dull metal clanging against a flagpole and a wordless sampled voice humming an abstract melody over and under heaps of drone while a low pulsing looped tone emerges through bubbling electronic oscillations. For me everything was fine except for the percussive tapping which came across as uber-annoying and superfluous. In fact, most every track that utilized a stick type of percussion (be it stick, snare, drum, whatever) I found distracting and superfluous as no (extraneous) rhythm seemed needed to carry off the mechanical concept. "XTWZ6" begins with a loop where the loop point causes a rhythm. Since the material in the loop happens to be noise, this creates a mechanical industrial machine-like ambience. Other sonic elements provide some enhancement but it's pretty dry and static throughout the nearly 5 1/2 minutes of the piece. That's another problem with this type of programming. Once a scene is set, there seems to be little deviation from it except in additives, and "OECV4" is a perfect example of that. It starts out with a very short noise loop and a snare hit with constant cymbal noise while a whole lot of sonic effluvia plays in and around it. The snare hit multiplies into multilayered hits no longer rhythmic but rather arrhythmic as more and more sonic elements are mixed in. Unsettling, but not necessarily enjoyable to listen to. Not every piece has this percussion element, but there were enough tracks that did, and it was just unsettling.

Some pieces are less chaotic than others, and the ones that have less defined percussive components tend to be easier to digest. One of the problems with having so many of these similarly schemed pieces is that extended listening becomes tiresome. Then again, there are anomalies where everything seems to work great together, such as on "L31MF" sounding to me like a tin can tugboat ride in a kiddie park., if such a thing were to exist. I'm sure that repeated listenings could produce more imaginative descriptions of other tracks but I think you get the idea. Another thing I noticed is that numerous sound elements and loops appear again and again in different tracks. While they may be combined differently on subsequent tracks, you get the feeling you’ve heard this track or that track before and it starts to blend together.

So this is sort of as mixed bag; when things work well together a track sounds great in its mini-environment, but when they don't, not so much. Although there are some abrasive elements employed, this definitely is not power electronics or harsh noise, even though it sounds quite industrial. This is more of an experimental industrial ambient album, not something the Spotted Peccary label is known for, but I guess they're branching out.

Pan Sonic: Oksastus

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Artist: Pan Sonic
Title: Oksastus
Format: CD
Label: Kvitnu (@)
Rated: * * * * *
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: s/t

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Artist: Sea Of Poppies
Title: s/t
Format: Tape
Label: self-released
Rated: * * * * *
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.