Rangers – ‘Scrap’ C50+C32
As the most recent entry in his gradually expanding Rangers catalog, Scrap sees Joe Knight working in a full-fledged archival/collagist mode, something like a skewed Texan one-man-band interpretation of The Faust Tapes. A dizzying range of styles and forms are orbiting within this sprawling double album, sometimes as mere one-minute fragments and elsewhere as wholly realized song-length pieces. A partial and scattered index: blisteringly fuzzed duo-guitar psych levitations; claustrophobic pseudo-Industrial churners; lucid Ethiopiques-ish desert soundtracks; feedback-encrusted noise burners; tightly-assembled and dirigible-shaped floating pop ballads; cactus-spiked slo-mo biker bar blues; deranged warbly tape-manipulation head scratchers; “lurkers only” stadium rock exercises; fictional late-nite local-access themes and over-Xeroxed degrado-funk, among dozens of other non-genres. The dozens of edges and corners fold into themselves, an origami box disguised as a pair of cassettes. Of course, those of us already knee-deep in Knight’s musical output know that he’s been charting these scissors-and-glue territories since back in the Volvo Jungle Mist days. (True heads may even recognize moments from those earliest Rangers investigations reworked with crisper fidelities within the tunnels of Scrap…) However, rather than having each fragment threaded into the next as a hazily flowing tapestry, each song on Scrap builds and inhabits its own clearly-defined miniature environment before abruptly halting and moving onwards. The whole package has a genuine workbench-notebook feel, a solo artist experimenting with new strategies and refining older ones, documenting the movement of energies and ideas over the course of two years for his own amusement and our communal benefit.
Swanox – ‘Tess’ C46
As a fellow native Northwesterner, I can assure you that cold Cascadian rain courses through Anthony Boruch’s veins each and every day. Though the man is no shut-in sun-shunner, he tends to gravitate towards the grey-weathered corners of the world. He’s been a dweller of the heavily fogged westernmost pocket of San Francisco – that windswept and somewhat isolated cold coastline on the city’s perimeter – for the better part of a decade, where he’s been quietly honing his craft. His work under the Swanox moniker could be seen as an attempt to put these types of landscapes through a sieve; his native locale, his adopted homeland and the wet/mountainous terrains of his musical reference points (England, Germany, Finland, Japan, etc.) are reinterpreted through his singular vision. The music on Tess is part of the same trajectory of his stellar Dawnrunner album from 2010, channeling only the purest basement strains of acoustic folk, cinematic psychedelia and informed outsider anti-music. The album meanders within deep eddies of finely rendered melodicism, while periodically dipping into radio assemblage, understated electronic flourishings, sheets of throbbing black bass murk and propulsive percussion/keyboard workouts. If R. Thompson and F. Fricke had cut an early-90s album for Siltbreeze, though one that could inexplicably only be played at daybreak in your pickup’s tape deck on desolate backroad drives, it could’ve resembled this. Tess feels complete and whole, a uniquely unified rain-addled statement from the narrow road to the interior.
N.N.N. Cook – ‘(Bl)end User’ C30
In a city full of modest polymaths, St. Louis’ Nathan Cook is a multi-faceted artist in pursuit of heightened epiphanies through diverse mediums. Between heading the long-running next-level Close/Far tape label, pushing crisp graphic design work into the 2-D visual realms, experimenting with video art and sound installations, as well as operating in any number of musical collaborations (see: the Subotnick-techno of Lobster, the free-jazz spew of Heyoka, the horn-drone of Blemished Stone, et al.), Cook is an aesthete-drifter of the highest caliber. His prime vehicle for solo sound output over the years has been through his namesake N.N.N. Cook project, which has been manifested largely through a long series of interconnected ritualistic live performances. In these small-scale events, Cook employs multiple cheap tape-recorders, handheld percussive gestures, wild saxophone skree, small-motor elements and gut-blossoming oscillators, while playing the full dynamics of a given room’s architectural constraints. The stage is everywhere and nowhere for the man. (Bl)end User is a significant departure from these concerns, as he dons the new coat of the weary techno-futurist. The approach here is pure electronic lab-work of the highest order. The mood is distinctly dystopian, a soundtrack for a clouded future of embedded surveillance and data-as-currency. The effort doesn’t come across as computer music per se, more as a viscous pixelated syrup-mulch seeping into your inner ear. Is (Bl)end User intended as a soothing balm or a forecaster’s warning call?