Although “The War Wolf” EP is named and artworked as being ready for battle, sonically it feels more ready to party. While the circa 100bpm stepping beat does have a slight marching vibe, the squelchy acid bass, bright plucky synths, and the use of that old famous fluttering panpipe sample (which works better here than it ought to on paper), all have too much of a feelgood vibe about them on the title track to make it feel really fighty.
Second track “Acid Drive” does have a slightly more warrior feel, thanks to its 120bpm-ish tempo and distorted squelchy acid line, but it’s tempered again by bright keys and a spectacularly old-skool ravey breakdown that feels like it’s been sampled straight out of the best bits of 1992.
Timothy Clerkin’s remix- or rather his “remix reprise”- of Night Giant’s “Bleak House” is a bonus inclusion that’s treated like a bolt on, but which the EP may could’ve led with, as it has an epic unfolding opening that leads into an almost Jarre-ish (but on the simpler side) melody line. This would’ve been a heroic album opener.
Not nearly as violent as it may appear, this short EP (that’s barely an “extended play” at all, you might argue) is quality thinking-person’s-dancing-music, baked at a home-listening temperature and with a lot of endearing old school ingredients that will appeal to people of a certain age, myself included.
Schaukelstuhl translates as ‘rocking chair’ (hence the artwork) and there’s a mesmeric steady rhythm to this 6-track mini-album- though I’m not sure I’d call it ‘rocking’. It’s six slabs of steady electronica-house with an assured feel that gets more laid back quite rapidly, after an initially upbeat beginning, and once it gets fully horizontal, it stays there up to the point where the final track gets you up and dancing again.
While there are some analogue squelches and a grumbling vibe to it at times, it’s moved on quite far from the more aggressive electroclash-ish sounds of T.Raumschmiere albums of old. That familiar 12/8 groove can still be heard in tracks like the purposeful “Edith”, and aforementioned final track “Isidora” which has pure danceability at its core, but it is contrasted nicely by unashamedly chill out tracks like the soft and deep “Klaus”, and the positively balearic sunwashed vibes of “Bela”.
It’s premium quality stuff with a mood that feels very 2020, but it’s the tracks where the more familiar T.Raumschmiere attitude shines through that provide the best moments.
Gianluca Calliagaris, as Grotta Veterano, recorded this debut album during lockdown and, like a lot of other work being done under the same circumstances, it feels like a downbeat embodiment of the patience, space and unsettlement that many have been feeling.
It’s principally ambient and soft drone, and wanders through a variety of soundscape set-ups, some quite familiar-sounding. Even in the title track alone, we journey from completely ambient, through a lovely two-chord repeating key pattern that feels soporific and warming before getting gently looser and more jazzy, before ending up with organ and bell-like tones and a more ‘empty church’ feel.
“Colliding Tones” has very little collision, again building from emptiness into tones that feel sparse and hollow yet grandiose. “Dawn At Prvi” brings more sorrowful piano chords that flow almost unnoticed into “Morning Tom”, the electronic underbelly of which is arguably more interesting than the melodic core. It’s final piece “Roseneck”, with its bubbling and heartbeat sounds, click rhythm and oddly backwards feel, that provides the most unexpected set-up of the pack.
Overall it’s a beautiful album, without feeling very original. A well executed layering of soft tones gives a rich sonic fabric that doesn’t dazzle or sparkle, but which provides a very comfortable listen with just a hint of lockdown catharsis.
Jeffy Just Needs A Hug and “Honey” are a pair of short, gently glitchy electronica tracks from LA-born producer D Tiberio. The kind-hearted sentiment and warmth of the title (borrowed from an unexpectedly introspective graffiti tag found in D Tiberio’s neighbourhood) can be sensed as a thread in the tracks, but there’s also a certain coldness here- icy crisp melodic bits and pieces on top, stammering over curt, pinched and complex kick patterns. Cut-up vocal sounds are the real character at play, and while there’s no outright melody that would make either track a crossover, the energy levels and slight cuteness are rather endearing.
It’s a very short snippet, but it feels self-contained rather than just a tease for a longer work- a short little postcard of friendliness in a musical genre (and an outside world) that’s been tending towards the bleak and isolationist recently.
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.