Thursday, September 24, 2020
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Music Reviews

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


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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.



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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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