Saturday, November 28, 2020

Music Reviews

Joana Guerra: Chão Vermelho

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Artist: Joana Guerra
Title: Chão Vermelho
Format: 12"
Label: Miasmah
Cellist and singer Joana Guerra’s “Chão Vermelho” (“red floor”) is a series of laments about the increasingly dry ground in the area of South Portugal where Guerra lives. It is part folksy, part tribalistic, part experimental, but in every case it wears its emotions on its sleeve- predominantly sorrow, but with elements of love and hope. Regeneration is the hope.Guerra herself, as well as cello and voice (mostly Portuguese, but English on “White Animal”), also plays Portuguese guitar, prepared electric guitar and keyboard, and is joined by friends contributing violin, percussion, “objects”, bass, and additional voice. The length of this list suggests a busy sound, or a party, but it is nothing of the sort. Most of the pieces are limited to only two or three performers at most, concentrating on one instrument each and with a focus on the space between the notes. Unnecessary virtuosity or complexity has been stripped back to concentrate on the texture and expressiveness of single notes and plucks- though there does seem to be at least a slight sense of enjoyment of the sound-bending process, exhibited for example in the rubbery bass tones of “Lume”.There’s either a discordant edge or an attitude to the bowing in pieces like “Onna-bugeisha”, and a strong theatrical sense that comes through in pieces like “Oasis”. It’s an unusual blend of somewhat longer pieces, five or six minutes, contrasted against tiny sketches such as the 26-second-long “Entropicar” or the frantic scratchy solo cello work of “Reducao”.There’s both a bleakness and an intimacy at play in “Chão Vermelho” that is at times uncomfortable, but there is a power behind it that makes it a very engaging and mood-changing listening experience.

Babe, Terror: Horizogon

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Artist: Babe, Terror (@)
Title: Horizogon
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Glue Moon (@)
Even if I'm not really persuaded by the fact that pain (particularly when undeserved) is the element that turns a piece of art into a masterpiece, some interesting artists are resurfacing from the depths of oblivion or the chaotic ocean of web during the surreal pandemic situation we're experiencing. Babe, Terror, the brainchild of Sao Paulo-based soundscaper Claudio Szynkier, could be considered an interesting re-discovery. On "Horizogon", he collected six pretty long suites lasting almost one hour in total, but in reality it's a multimedia as each track got hooked to the six clips belonging to the footage "Os (Brazilian-Portuguese meaning "the poles"), that Claudio made during the first days of the pandemic in Sao Paulo, showing what is related to this assumed medical emergency that anyone can imagine and maybe experienced. In spite of the crucial and somehow inescapable visual part of the project, the music is so evoking that it doesn't really need a visual support to evoke those scenes and its obscure emotional framework. Slo-mo playbacks of bleak choirs, sombre piano choked phrases and dry and austere chord tunes that sound like curling, fading and sometimes trembling on "Scalar Velodromeda", wisely cross breeding sonic clues of that glossy tropicalism of late 70ies and 80ies movies on the following track "Alcalis", whose atmosphere almost evokes a raped illusion of an earthly heaven and a certain sense of disenchantment by a sound that could match an anthem for an imaginary spooky version of The Love Boat, the famous sitcom set on the fictional luxury passenger cruise ship S.S.Pacific Princess, whose crew and passengers turned into zombies or ghosts. The funereal chorus opening the following "Horizogon Squadra" got masterfully melted with a tune that sounds coming from a synth-trumpet-driven 80ies television commercial and could be the perfect ironic and iconic national anthem for a Brasil in Bolsonaro format, as well as the spectral music-driven intensive care by any possible instrumental phrasing in e track "Estuario Transurania", whose circling all-pervading ghostly choir impels the listener to the weird catalepsy of the following "Salina Lumen", whose black procession lead to the final grinding glitches of what could be labelled as doom-jazz of the final "Horizogon Catalase".

Leyden Jars: Gone

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Artist: Leyden Jars
Title: Gone
Format: Tape & Digital Download
Label: Outer Reaches
With “Gone”, the established London-based duo of Natalie Williams and Mark Courtney toe a fascinating musical line that skirts around genres with ease. It’s electronica, but not quite, it’s alt-pop, but not quite, it’s hauntology, but it also contradicts it, and so on. It certainly never settles down long enough to be pigeon-holed.

The warm synth arpeggio that emerges once the initial noise collage of opener “Gillett Circle” has subsided feels momentarily like a set-up for a steady electronica journey- yet it’s followed by the abstract anti-pop of “London Gone”, where sparse lyrical moments play against sporadic and arhythmic waves of atmospherics and found sounds, ranging from traffic noises to much more indistinct elements. Yet the tables turn again with third track “Farfasaline”, which starts with a beat and a slightly obtuse trip-hop groove that persists throughout, almost flatly but with enough detail to avoid being dull.

The tonal changes (if not gear changes) persist through the rest of the album- the dubby hollowness of “Morskie Oko”, the robotic and vocalised bass oddness of “Abstract Armour”, the stuttering glitches of “Feverfew 2” and greater pulsing urgency in “Attenzione!”.

It’s a rich and moody electronic excursion absolutely full to the brim with expression, and the variety between tracks keeps you engaged as well. Although I wouldn’t prescribe it to anyone feeling the pinch of lockdown isolation right now thanks to the certain underlying bleakness it exhibits, on a musical level this is certainly something I’d recommend wholeheartedly.

Chthonic Force: Delirium Tremens: The Best of Cthonic Force

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Artist: Chthonic Force (@)
Title: Delirium Tremens: The Best of Cthonic Force
Format: CD
Label: Discriminate Audio (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Chthonic Force is the joint project of Vadge Moore (ex-Dwarves / Phoenix Thunderstone) and Wendy Van Dusen (Neither/Neither World). Venturing deep into the realms of Industrial, Power Electronics, Experimental, Noise and Ambient, their work has traversed not only the boundaries of musical genre, but conventional songwriting as well. Since the band's inception in 1999, Chthonic Force has released two full-length albums (1999's 'Chthonic Force' and 2003's 'Agathodaemon'), a split single ('Mouth Pigs'), and appeared on several compilations. Their collaborations have included work with luminaries such as Boyd Rice (NON), Peter Sotos (Whitehouse), Monte Cazazza (TG / Industrial Records), Cole Palme (Faktrix) and Thomas Thorn (Electric Hellfire Club).

This compilation CD was originally released in 2007 in a limited edition of 100 (obviously sold out for some time), but now enjoys a remaster and a wider release. If you are not familiar with Chthonic Force, what you may be expecting won't necessarily be what you get. More psychodrama than strictly musical experience, recitations over electronic hellscapes dominate the tracks, listed below for your convenience.

1. Stele Of The Vultures
2. White Logic
3. Helios
4. Mouth Pigs (Featuring Peter Sotos)
5. King Of The World
6. Disable
7. Assume The Position (Featuring Boyd Rice)
8. Agathodaemon
9. Solitary
10. Primate God (Featuring Thomas Thorn)
11. Nihil
12. Chthonia
13. Thirteen (Featuring Monte Cazazza)
14. Catastrophism

The power electronics/experimental noise aspect of what Chthonic Force does is not nearly as off-putting as many of the artists in those genres (works) are, and not every track has a recitation either. But some of those recitations might be a little more disturbing than the musical backgrounds. "Stele Of The Vultures" goes "My heart is promised by a dream that the heaps of my enemies corpses will be so vast, as to reach to heaven..." In "White Light," the recitation on John Barleycorn serves as a metaphor for the ruination of alcoholism, over a martial beat and a Gollumish whisper chanting "Let's drink to death." "Mouth Pigs" addresses the sexual objectification of women in a very visceral way. In "Assume The Position" Boyd Rice equates the social order with sado-masochism, exempt of the roleplaying/fetishistic aspects of those practices. The nihilism of "Primate God" is a bit overwrought, and not much more than preaching to the already perverted. "Nihil" is far more frightening in its impressionistic creepiness. "Thirteen" refers to the 13 victims of the Columbine High School shooting, where Monte Cazazza recites brief sketches of each victim over squalling electronics and drones. "Catastrophism" may be the most musical track on the album, but more living up to its name in the chaos it evokes.

This isn't a pleasant album by any means. Then again, Chthonic Force's aim is to make you think and feel in the real, not be submerged in the fantastic. Overall, these tracks likely carried more impact at the time they were originally released than now, as we’re living now in the dystopian future that was heralded in music, literature and art decades ago. Still, there is a relevancy here that cannot be denied.

Seskamol: Reason

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Artist: Seskamol
Title: Reason
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: Mille Plateaux
“Reason” from the relatively anonymous Seskamol is pitched as the launch of ‘hyperglitch’ music- “an evolution of glitch music” that “doesn’t mean more, or faster, or louder” but instead means “deeper and more interconnected”. In reality, on the evidence of this compact 28-minute mini-album of sonic extremes, it would appear that hyperglitch *does* actually mean more, and faster, and louder, after all.

It relies on stark contrasts. On the one side, there’s extremely mellow ambience and long faint and sustained reverberant piano notes, with some indistinct quiet spoken-word samples and found sounds. On the other side, this is pitted against flurries of extreme drum programming baked heavily with effects and distortion. Compared to EDM it’s a little light on the post-dubstep synthbass and sub-bass elements, preferring instead to focus on relentless percussive work. If you are looking for one track to successfully sum it up, “Destiny” or “Empty” are probably the best examples.

The second half of the album offers a more meaty depth, with the two longest tracks, “Epic” and “Summit”. The formula here is essentially the same, but in these longer pieces the ambiences are allowed to play out somewhat more richly, and with fewer interruptions. It leads to some lovely atmospherics, though it does play a little on the generic side, with a strong sense that you’ve heard these hollow tones and drones before.

I don’t think this is the birth of a new genre, to be frank. But if you like drones, but you also like the frenetic percussive energy release of artists like Venetian Snares, and if you love a good musical jump-cut, there’s still plenty to enjoy in this short album.