Thursday, July 9, 2020

Music Reviews

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.

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.

Non Toxique Lost: S.O.T.A.

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Artist: Non Toxique Lost
Title: S.O.T.A.
Format: CD + Download
Label: Klanggalerie
Non Toxique Lost have been plying their industrial and political electronic attitude-driven music for over three decades now. After the tragic loss of long-time member Steffen Schütze in 2017 they’re now a duo of Gerd Neumann aka Sea Wanton and Cem Oral aka Jammin’ Unit. While their older cassette-only works are being reissued on vinyl and CD, this is a brand new studio recording. It’s based on a “surprisingly dancy” live set that they performed for the Klanggalerie label’s 25 anniversary. Although it was videoed, and parts of the performance are available on YouTube, nobody recorded good quality audio on the night, so the band went into their studio and recorded it- so it’s studio quality, but with an energetic, live feel. It’s a masterful journey through the deeper darker side of electronica, with industrial tones that never really get too heavy. Sweeping effects, backwards percussion, squelchy bass arpeggios and various stretched-out noises create atmospheres that feel like an inverted mirror image of dance music. After the screaming German introduction of “Bewegen Wir Uns Noch”, the advanced restraint of the music is on display in the nearly-sinister “Dulce Et Decorum Est”, with its super-gradual build and unfold. The contrasting tensions are clear on tracks like “I.N.T.A.S.B.T.L.A.S.S.”, where the dubby understated electronic groove (reminiscent of some recent Orb tracks) is unmoved by the angry shouting that’s initially stamped on it. “Schwarze Mamba” is absolutely mesmeric, and a highlight. It’s got the long, patient building patterns of Tangerine Dream, but with a carefully exposed backbone of attitude, and (eventually) a vocal that’s oddly reminiscent of The Doors’ “Rebel Woman”. A similar atmospheric build also makes a joy of the catchily titled “Buchenwald (Case No. 000-50-9. 31 Pleas: NG!)”. People who like their industrial electronic more urgent and relentless will be more drawn to tracks like “Untergang”, a war-like call to arms where the pulsing bass pattern doesn’t let up or pretend to be clever, or the more aggressive snares and beat poetry-ish vocals of “Buchenwald”. “Ich BIn Nicht Sisyphos” exposes the band’s 80’s industrial roots. The promotional material is right to pitch Non Toxique Lost as an underrated band, and in some ways they’re quite understated too, showing their musical teeth in moderation and with a lot of maturity. Despite being supposedly quite raw, as a representation of a live set, nevertheless this is an extremely strong industrial electronica album that ought to garner a lot of attention.

Fail: Dated Ten

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Artist: Fail
Title: Dated Ten
Format: 3" MiniCD
Label: Inner Demons Records
Rated: *****
To paraphrase James Brown, Dan Fox is perhaps the hardest working man in the noise scene. He has several projects, and Fail is his harsh noise project. You know the pedigree, so let’s see what this one is like.

“191113” opens the disc up with ominous drone, crackling noise, feedback, and a melody running throughout that would be almost peaceful if it wasn't so unsettling. This is the moment in the soundtrack where the villain is hatching their plan, but they are so blinded by anger and a thirst for revenge that it is hard to think straight. This is incredible, and this track alone is worth the price of admission. “060725” changes it up with some straight up digital noise. Starts off with low rumbling - the calm before the storm - slowly building with some high-pitched feedback and hiss. This is an exercise in restraint, however, and he never completely opens the floodgates. There are periods of noise punctuated by quiet passages. This is well done harsh noise.

Overall, this is one of the best discs that I have heard from Fail, and I have heard a lot of them. If you like it noisy, you need to get this one. This album weighs in at around 21 minutes and is limited to 42 copies.

Istochie: Snake Source

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Artist: Istochie
Title: Snake Source
Format: 3" MiniCD
Label: Inner Demons Records
Rated: *****
I’m enjoying the international scene that Inner Demons is bringing together in their latest offerings. So where are we going today? Russia, with Istochie and a heavy slab of harsh noise for your listening pleasure. "Snake Source" kicks it all off with a heavy, rumbling harsh noise wall. Everything is overdriven and distorted to oblivion. Well done. Now on to "Death Place." I have to admit that at first it seemed like it was the same track as the first. But on closer listen, there are differences but they are incredibly subtle. It is pleasant listening for those who like noise, but I would have liked more variety. This disc weighs in at 20 minutes and is limited to 42 copies.


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