Friday, November 27, 2020

Music Reviews

Swans: Children of God/Feel Good Now

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Artist: Swans (@)
Title: Children of God/Feel Good Now
Format: CD & 12" & Download
Label: Young God Records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Well, here we go again, another Swans remastered re-release, this time of their classic 1987 opus, 'Children of God,' coupled with their lesser-known live album of their 1987 European tour made by the band's sound engineer on a Sony Walkman. While 'Children of God' got its first reissue in 1997 combined with 'World of Skin' (that's the one that I have), 'Feel Good Now' was only released in the UK (vinyl and CD) back in '87, but a remastered version showed up in the U.S. in 2002. In comparison to their prior work, Swans' 'Children of God' was nearly a new direction for them. Jarboe had only just surfaced on their previous album ('Greed') and certainly has a larger role on this album. Their previous brutal no wave approach had been tempered and Mr. Gira moved into more subtle realms of nihilism. That's not to say Swans abandoned their sturm und drang; there was still plenty of that to go 'round. Most Swans fans probably already own 'Children of God' in one form or another, but if you want an original 1987 copy on vinyl, that's gonna cost you plenty. As for the remaster, I've listened to both the original and the remaster several times, and I didn't hear a lot of difference; maybe a little brighter on the remaster, but not so much that I'd be compelled to buy it unless I wanted vinyl. For some, that ought to be enough.

So that leaves us with 'Feel Good Now,' certainly a title appropriate to these times even if it is 33 years old. For something recorded originally on a Sony Walkman (Pro), it sounds pretty good. I never heard the original, so I can't say how much the sound was cleaned up. Gira himself says, "The lineup of Gira / Kizys / Westberg / Jarboe / Parsons was a really good version of the band - one of the best live versions of Swans ever – actually much more intense and visceral in performance than in the nuanced takes of the songs on these recordings." Intense is really the byword here; it doesn't get more intense than Swans live. They do most every song on 'Children of God,' (but not in the same order) and it’s a good deal more forceful than the studio album. Not perfect, but still a worthy document.

Here's the thing though about the 'Feel Good Now' portion of the reissue- for the vinyl version of 'Children of God' you get a (digital) download card for the live album, and the CD version gets you an extra CD. What??? No double-LP? Nope. Sorry. Guess Young God wanted to keep the cost down. Too bad. A vinyl version of the live album would have been most welcome. For those that don't already have these though, this might be the best way to go.

Aperus: Archaic Signal

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Artist: Aperus (@)
Title: Archaic Signal
Format: CD + Download
Label: Geophonic Records (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Brian McWilliams is back again with another Aperus release, 'Archaic Signal,' his fifth album with this project following 'Lie Symmetry' which I reviewed back in 2018. Revisiting the review and the album (listening), I realize that it was even better than I thought it was at the time, so I urge you to get it. As for the album at hand, let's see what we're in for. McWilliams claim the title ('Archaic Signal') came to him while visiting a petroglyph site near his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. "It appeared as a mirage....the images felt like viable signals still holding a charge." The resonating signal also occurred again while listening to a birdsong outside his studio, so he recorded it to a handful of cassettes and experimented with compromising the tape by scraping, crumpling, pulling it apart, reassembling it and applying magnets to it. That certainly added a lot of grit, noise and analog color. McWilliams' use of shortwave radio on this album is another key factor (and one used by Aperus often in the past) and that comes up right away in the music.

"New Antenna" features twisty drones interspersed with the aforementioned shortwave samples (foreign voices, possibly Russian) and then some other odd sounds toward the end. For the casual listener, this kind of experimentalism may be off-putting, but give it a chance. The title track perks up one's ears with a whistling quality, beginning as small signals in space to gradually become huge as the noise subtly sweeps in, a spacious environment is formed. At its apex it is nearly overwhelming, but then something happens and it morphs into something...otherworldly. Voices from the past rise and fall, as well as other incidents you're barely aware of. The melodic melancholy of "Phase Shift" is a little reminiscent of some of 'Lie Symmetry,' and although brief at 2:33, it is still poignant. The oddly titled "Newspaper Rock" blends complex ambient drone with various discreet spoken word (possibly radio or shortwave radio) samples, and other electronic zips, zizzes, and miscellaneous sonic artifacts. The broken melody loop that heralds "Canopy of Stars" seems to fade and disappear but actually changes into something more formidable while an at first minimal tapping advances into a bold rhythm, then dissipates. Just when you thought it was all going away, it gradually comes back again, stronger than ever this time. Towards the end it resolves into only two chord changes, but then changes a bit again with subtle supplementary string-like pads. It seems obvious to me that a lot of work went into this piece. You may have been wording what happened to those abused and deconstructed birdsong tapes, so "Birdsong As Mantra" should give you a good idea. It's birdie-chirp with drones and this is the longest track on the album at nearly 17 minutes. Various subtle events come into play at various points in this lengthy piece, but the drones and birdsong are its constant. At the end the soft noise sounds like a vinyl record repeating the last groove in the runout.

I knew sooner or later Brian would bring in some bellish tones (there are lots of them on 'Lie Symmetry') and here they are on "Silver Birds." This may be one of the best bell-drone pieces in recent memory. "Archaeodreaming" has an awful lot going for it- mysterious echoing drone, strange little minimal rhythm, and other nuances. It could have gone on much longer than the nearly five minutes it was. "Afterglow" offers big, rich, complex chordal drone, and a little bird chirping returns as well. The piece ends on a very long fade.

While I can't say that 'Archaic Signal' was as fascinating to me as 'Lie Symmetry' was, it does have some very good things to offer. What puts this into the “must buy” category is the CD packaging. McWilliams is also a photographer, and for the album artwork he used the camera as a sampler and incorporated basic components from his petroglyph photos with visual abstractions (such as the birdsong displayed on the front cover) layered over other photos of weathered metal, tables, rocks, etc. to create a unique composite image. The CD packaging features a 5 x 7 cello sleeve with a striking double sided gatefold cover and five double sided photo cards (10 images) created from weathered surfaces, pictographs and found objects. I have to say it looks pretty cool and makes this a worthy collectible as well.

Time Being: An Ocean Of Time

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Artist: Time Being (@)
Title: An Ocean Of Time
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: * * * * *
With their acclaimed ambient/electronic music project Time Being, veteran space-music maestros Phillip Wilkerson and Jourdan Laik have been exploring the expansive sonic realms of atmospheric soundscapes for the better part of a decade. On their third album, ‘An Ocean Of Time,’ the duo venture into over 70 minutes of deep-drifting, time-melting, soul-stirring bliss that hovers delicately at the fringes of darkness and light.Those lines come from Spotted Peccary of course, and it would be easy to just paraphrase a few more lines about the album being "vast and immersive," "fathomless spaces evok[ing] a sense of ageless infinity," etc., etc., but what does any of that even mean, really? Okay, when you use lots of programmed big reverb, things are going to sound...vast, along with complex synth pads and long drones, it can't be helped. And that's exactly what a lot of this is. Couple that with most of the (8) tracks being somewhat lengthy (total of 70 minutes worth of music) and it all seems a bit unending. Throw in a good dollop of treated noise sweeps as well (perhaps to make up for the momentum that isn't there) and you've got...voilà...Space Music! Well, no, not really. You've got drones in a large space.I really don’t believe this to be "space music." I suppose it could be considered spacey, or space-ish, but it sounds pretty terrestrial to me, even though there are no birds or other nature sounds. I'm just not getting any cosmic vibrations at all from anything on 'An Ocean Of Time,' and I've listened to it plenty. What I can say is that the album has what I'd call a New Age sheen- tranquil gentility, and a sprinkling of stardust as the only concession to the heavens. (Okay, "Unfolding Way" has some dissonant chords in it, but that's only four minutes out of the whole.) Not that there's anything wrong with that but this isn’t my idea of space-music. Space is an interesting place, extremely cold, full of wonder but fraught with danger, the unknown and often times, violence. There's little of that here. Most tracks open sounding like the dawn of a new day, full of hope, possibilities, and maybe even some languorous lolling around. There is minimal momentum- no rhythm, pulse, or sequencing, just drifty, floaty drones, with occasional sequences of plucked notes, and a hint of melody. For me, I was looking for something more along the lines of what the label touted this as, and truth be told, I didn't get it. If you're cool with New Age drift, I guess this album is for you.

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.

Desensitized: Hemispherica Portalis (Portal Of 1000 Years)

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Artist: Desensitized (@)
Title: Hemispherica Portalis (Portal Of 1000 Years)
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: * * * * *
Hemispherica Portalis is the debut collaboration album from the collective imagination of Deborah Martin and Dean De Benedictis. Performing under the moniker “Desensitized”, these two veteran ambient electronic sound explorers have joined forces to craft a thought-provoking work of art that combines ancient and futuristic moods into a captivating world of sound, filling the imagination with illusory images of undiscovered realms. The abstract and alluring music that unfolds across the album’s seven tracks is in many ways just what one would expect when De Benedictis & Martin’s recognizable yet disparate styles are focused into a singular expression.
Martin's long and early association with the Spotted Peccary label and her ability to integrate with similar artists in the soundscape genre position her well as the perfect partner for an album such as Hemispherica Portalis, while her extensive travel throughout Europe, Asia, and the North American continent brings a comprehensive understanding of the diversity of cultures and the historic threads that weave together connecting us all. The varied background and long list of music credentials makes Dean De Benedictis the ideal candidate and partner with Deborah Martin on this outing. Blending the familiar with the unexpected, Hemispherica Portalis not only takes you to some astoundingly exotic regions, but how you end up getting there is also an important part of the journey.

Forget everything you thought you knew about "New Age" music and begin again. While much in that generally maligned genre reeks of clichéd melodic content and easy listening/pseudo-classical bullshit, you'll find none of that here. Yes, there is plenty of melodicism, but nothing you will find yourself involuntarily humming. It weaves in and around the atmospheres, the magical environments your ear produces in your mind's eye. (The album cover by Daniel Pipitone is but a snapshot of a possibility of one of the realms explored here, but an accurate one.) You may even feel as though you've heard much of this before on an initial listening, but the deeper you delve, the more you will realize that you're experiencing something in a way you've never actually heard before. Martin’s signature sounds and digital synth expressions expand and contract as the occasional acoustic flourish or melodic moment briefly bubbles to the surface. Added to that are the nuanced layers of De Benedictis’ remarkable laptop-based sound-sculpting approach and the resulting array of textural, experimental, and at times gritty elements that he expertly swirls into the mix. Together they create a wonderama of a dreamscape that just cannot be easily defined. The tracklist may provide some clues though.

1 Hemispherica Portalis (Portal of 1000 Years) 06:59
2 Concunus Dracus (Dragon of the Heavens) 09:30
3 Formulata Oblivonos (A Complicated Tale) 09:15
4 Ecumenicus Orato (The Umbilical Center) 12:54
5 Saltis Nominus (Floating Seabeds) 11:38
6 Terminus Equitos (Redemption Seeker) 06:09
7 Amphibinatum (Myths and Legends) 09:05

And no, not everything is just drifty/floaty in the world of Desensitized. The rapid motion of "Terminus Equitos" for example, recalls Tangerine Dream's Berlin School sequenced electronics. This is an album to be savored like a fine wine, full of nuance, with great balance, flavor, complexity, and just the right length on the finish.