‘Death Rattle’ is a consummation of sorts: not a total rarity but a rarified convergence of underground music, as in experimental rock, and soloistic collaboration, as in experimental jazz. It’s also international, which doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot, except for the historical eventuality of this consummation. The American guitarist, James Plotkin (Khanate, Jodis, master[er] of everything you love), and the Norweigian drummer, Paal Nilssen-Love (Scorch Trio, The Thing, Ken Vandermark, Pete Brötzmann), long-orbiting and finally-colliding, discuss in their respective voices the technical aspects of playing and breaking with repression. Together, the pair make a more severe Lightning Bolt, primped on the epic progressions of kraut-rock and the brute gear-worship of Southern Lord & Co. The whole thing is in the red. Even when building, the levels are in excess, just pushed further back in the frame. Over four tracks, each around 11 minutes, they climb over one another, writhing with carefully-keyed pedal effects and rolling sequences of percussion. Just the same, don’t let the “experimental” tag undermine the album format: these are well-composed demonstrations of expertise (see the artists’ CVs), an excellent concession to the forces of solid riffing and improvisational free construction. The pair expound on both idioms of their many genres, as well as the physical compounds of their instruments and supporting devices (in their hands, instruments in themselves). There is nothing that feels post-production here; this is merely a show of total vision and perfect execution. Like the best of works, this is a singular work of genius that requires little more than to say: listen. Vinyl comes in a pressing of 500. Highly recommended.
Rune Grammofon CD/LP
The first LP of drones by Nagual is also the last release you can count on one hand by Ergot Records. Having kicked-off with a vinyl reissue of Dilloway’s ‘Corpse on Horseback’, the label seems to defy convention to do what it wants, which is excellent. In the current microclimate of underground music, just releasing a drone LP is tantamount to doing what you want. And that’s a shame, considering the wealth of top practitioners in this hard-to-die genre. Ohio’s Nagual (Ian McColm and David Shapiro) would seem to fit this mold, constructing their long-form pieces from guitars and electronics in the Fripp/Frith avant-style of Table of the Elements and Erstwhile. Largely loop-derived, the two A-side tracks “Honey River Lacquer” and “Sweat Raag” buzz and swarm with melodic ornaments over thick chords of drone. Dramatic and essentially sinister, it’s as if they extracted only the most malevolent distortions from Terry Riley’s dervishes into a negative image of new age faithfulness. The transition from “Laquer” to “Raag” is smooth, though the initial coupling is an illusion achieved by a mix of capacious electroacoustic organicism and surface edits upon mastering; the illusion is broke when the latter begins to ascend sharply, strings scream like passing traffic, and in the last moments, McColm enters with a technical pummeling of drums in rolling staccato. This profound stylization of violence is a rare exception in such long-form work, and in effect multiplies the modality of listening to this dronal wall. The form, though not the percussion itself, is quoted to begin the second side and final track, “Continuous Becoming”: as if aware that this new modality would melt away in the face of wall-to-wall drone on an opposite side of the disc – like getting lost in the many sides of SotL’s ‘Tired Sounds of’ 3LP – the punctuation in front takes-on tone the way a ship in the sky might take-on air, drifting away instead of down. The warm, whole tones feature little texture but begin to variegate as seams appear on either end of emerging loops. With a whistle the ship departs along a perfect line of audition sending no signal of returning to the havoc of the disc’s other half. 300 copies on black vinyl. Recommended.
Ergot Records LP
“Long Arms,” the A-side and title track of the latest by Insect Ark, shows the strong influence of M. Gira on Dana Schechter (Bee and Flower) from her tenure with Angels of Light. From the controlled sequencing of early Industrial, the tribalism of a fully-orchestrated rock jam, and the bold rendering in minor keys, the track swells with malevolence like the hordes of Blood Meridian, neither dead in reason nor alive in emotion; palette knife sweeps of sound portray motion, lapsteel tones impart dread and grandeur, and a center-piece of percussion to convey brutal deliberation. The track further demonstrates the studiousness of its creator: Schechter’s solo work has appeared just once before, also on short-format vinyl, and she seems more than willing to preserve her aesthetic statements at a minimum. Even the B-sides, “Lift Off” and “Symbols” serve more as sketches for the single than as opportunities to triangulate range: while fully-realized in each of their elements, these tracks seem to emphasize different dynamics within the constellation of elements. Ascending tones collide with percussive bursts, producing new trajectories; sleighbell programming crimps the tail of the steel-stringed howl, producing a deep complaint in the bass. The sense of composition is never lost, even when clearings are made to highlight micro-interactions. ‘Long Arms’ is as much educational as it is aesthetic. The wager is risky: while the ultimate effect clashes with the traditional function of the short-format disc – without a hook, the EP can fail to provoke its operator – the invested and literate student will find a rich, provocative experience worth repeated listens. The 10” vinyl comes in a beautiful, screened envelope, doing justice to just what a special piece of recording this is. Recommended.
Geweih Ritual Documents 10”
When a person or group self-releases their work, I make up a story for how that came about. I’ve made up some stories about William Clay Martin. He’s from Delaware – I didn’t make that up – which is a feat in itself. What’s the scene in Delaware? What kind of music is getting made there? I literally know nothing of the place. I drive through Delaware about a dozen times each year, yet it always catches me by surprise when I get there. In all sincerity, I never considered that people lived there, thinking instead that all those other people were just hoofing it south from New Jersey for the weekend. So there’s that: I picture Martin tucked away in a marsh (I see lots of marshes from the bridge, and from the time I went to Bethany Beach), the sole inhabitant of Delaware, periodically stepping out on his porch with his chicory to watch the traffic washing in and out of the Turnpike. Then there’s the sound: following at a healthy clip on the heels of his ‘Future Street’ C20 last spring, ‘Sadler’ is well-over double the length with six tracks in total, expanding on the utopian pleasantries of post-rock (so heavily-inspired by the first decade of Temporary Residence, as I’ve insisted) with guitar and even-keeled programming. Looping jangles and shimmering drone jags give you all you could ever want. Who is this keeper of the Tortoise archives, this outcast of Tristeza? Without shaking the heavy haze of Tarentel that sits on this music like the twilight space of jazz, the compositions of ‘Sadler’ develop in directions beyond the soft punk of TRL, into the ambling urban reveres of the Aluminum Group, 33 1/3, or Maher Shalal Hash Baz. Positive, futurist, melancholic but not tragic. I picture Martin, relocated to Delaware, dragged away from the precipice of some project 10 years ago, holding out hope and staying true to the vision of Gattaca, where small gains and cooler heads prevail. 55 copies with slick j-cards.
‘Ruleth’ is the first LP by SSLEEPERHOLD (José Cota, of Medio Mutante), a compendium of beat-driven electronica for what I can only be described as the ‘IT-core’, or music for nerds in-the-know. Not to be disparaging or to over-reduce the audience for this music, there is something of a cultural logic specific to the current state of code, coders, and new aesthetics. Down to the Minecraft cover art, this is sandbox sound aimed at working in matrix. The sound is lossless, gridded and robust. In this world, Ladytron is Siouxsie Sioux and Lil B is Sid Vicious – though Nick Drake is probably still Nick Drake. Across seven tracks, Cota collates the latest state of technology-driven music (and politics), including the everyday glitch of Scanner, the new Industrial of Vatican Shadow, the drum and bass of Terminal Sound System, and vitally to the inverted consumption of programming by rock music, the “post-hardcore” of bands like 65daysofstatic. While the production is sweated over, meticulous and brutally-defined (the title track acts as a sort of abstract for the compositional format in the rest of the disc), the melodic sugar is not neglected: lining even the darkest billow of a track is a hook, rendered in bright synthetic colors and pegged to user-friendly grooves. While “Ashes” and “Beatsslave” enact this sort of chiptune conceit at more grown-up scale, it is the pair of pairs, “Timeghosts” and “Dreamwaves” which allow Cota to develop the function of these compositions through multiple iterations. The music is at its best where Cota applies a controlled warp – not quite screwed, but delicately burnished to a more organic acoustic adaption – and which upgrades ‘Ruleth’ to the latest build of electronic music. LP comes in an edition of 300 copies.
Phew! This one almost fell through the cracks of what became a three month review hiatus. That would be a shame. Yes it’d be a shame because it’s a solid LP of Metal Rouge’s spooky, modish psychedelia in the vein of Les Rallizes Dénudés – though the quality of the songs and their choice blend of garage/shoegaze production aren’t really the issue. It’s more like, what a shame that such a big, confident sound might be drowned out by the bangs and whimpers of so much once-measure, once-cut small-batch tape filler. Recalling that rare, fading Red Kites CDr in spaciousness and ulterior motive, ‘Soft Erase’ bleeds the cool, poisonous mercury of its cover into each of the four jam bouts that we find groaning, swirling, or sizzling of these two sides. “Take It” begins the disc with a wall-to-wall installation of Andrew Scott’s heaviest grooves, over which accumulate layers of wordless howls and staticky beats, buoyed precariously and ending without assurance. Some relief comes from “When Will the Blues Leave,” an interlude fitting golden-era Sonic Youth but with bolder leads, flicking forth a sleigh-bell melody from a small barricade of fuzzy/jangle guitars slightly askew of the background wooziness of a de facto rhythm section. On the reverse, “Dig a Hole” recalls avant- experiments from the Echo to the Silent Barn, arranging the vocals of Helga Fassonaki in a cove of loping bassline and even pulse, shot-through by a benign flashback of acidic guitar. With such a tracklist – wider than it is tall – it takes until the last track, “White Cube Graffiti,” to really gather the essence of ‘Soft Erase’ formula: skating wildly and recklessly with saxophone blasts across these dense accumulations of grooves and programmed beats, there is little pair can do to break the appearance of a rhythmic totality, as if these tremors will carry endlessly to the coasts. That they often do their best to press this logic only underscores the antagonism and sure-footed arrogance so critical at this stage of underground production. Wild and reckless, yes, but very big, necessary, and not to be over-looked. Edition of 300 copies.
Emerald Cocoon LP
Having followed Galtta closely since David Lackner called go, I’ve been waiting for the label-manager and core player to press himself onto vinyl. The results are not what I expected. Consider Lackner’s C40 from 2011, ‘My Leader, the Baby is Dead’: proudly mechanical, melodic phrases and recorded speech are made inhuman yet ritualistic, such that the notion of ‘sci-fi psychosis’ feels appropriate for the synthetic stew of copulating tubes and lab-grown feelings. Conversely, the A-side-long title track for ‘In the Well of Eternal Living and Dying’ bustles like a tree of birds with the twittering of flutes and charming honk of sax; bright percussion, bulbous bass, and the taut tones of Rhodes piano layout an always ascending rhythm; all the while, group vocals sing lyrics that seemingly capture the most psychedelic moments of Murakami’s meditation on human scale, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle – all to the effect of a more jazzy, less angsty Joan of Arc. In the gaps of the anthem, instruments swirl in Kraut-rock crescendos – a commune of solos – echoing the jubilee of bands like Akron Family and the instrumentalists Anvil Salute. Big, vibrant, and hardly the weirdness we feel from Lackner’s previous work. Then you flip the thing over and the familiar weird washes over you. “Still Inside” captures what I know and love most of Lackner’s outfit, while at the same time dashing silly concerns that the record could not do this and more: fronted by a looping mew with Furby-like emotional appeal, modulated synthesizers and staticky drumming form a ledger onto which hubristic saxophone jives in mockery of the programmed instructions murmuring throughout. Wonderfully weird. Similarly, the bad trip “Send in the Clowns” layers more instruction over a relentless gabber beat with glib effects and quasi-abrasive guitar (?) sounds – similar to the satire of Kylie Minoise – yet still sounding strangely accomplished as a composition. The brutal assault on existence continues by bleeding through the subliminal “Regular People” into the finale “A Semiperfect Number:” reaching the level of sentience and aesthetic spasms of Oneohtrix Point Never’s most recent work, a wild combination of timbrel swatches, rhythmic patches, and vaguely meaningful signifiers squirm with a futurist’s sentimentality. Lackner keeps building, building, and once he perfects this new edition to the complex, there should be nothing but hits to follow. LP limited to 300 copies.
It’s late in a season of untimely cold, yet we’re fortunate to see the emergence of The Original Flowering Earth, the solo work of Kyle Wade. The ‘Hosshin’ C30 is the third or fourth tape under the title, but shows a deliberation and creative clarity from the Goldtimers label manager. Structured as a side-long collage on A, and a triplet of meditative practices on B, the tape presents synthesizer minimalism nicely-balanced between the negation of forms and the position of content. While like most ambient works the composite sound seems inclined to retreat into the background, this is not the only force of the sounds in aggregate, which is why we might not define this as ambient so much as deep listening: phenomenally so similar, yet practically so opposed. For the absent-minded listener, there is little to jog you from your fugue – all the synthetic sounds are familiar, smooth, naturopathic. Shimmering, swelling, chirping. Yet for those looking for the shape of this content, for an arc or a pattern, the experience is far more rewarding. A soft break of thunder billows the sky. An arpeggiotic thought escapes like an uncanny configuration of rocks. A slow blink between moments feels too serene to be coincidence, drawing us back to the author of this sound and practice. Edition of 50.
((Cave)) Recordings cassette
A unique offering from Baltimore’s newish Anti-Matter Records, this 7” has all the qualities I praise of Anarchymoon’s releases: an immediately arresting cover (an etching and text screened in silver and greens, by Reuben Sawyer), sleeve custom to the release (heavy gatefold holding the glowing-green disk), a split (deferring ego; the tracks don’t even outlast the sides), and most important, a pairing of creative forces united by elective affinities. Stalwart lurker John Kolodij takes his High Aura’d project to (another) new height with “Remain in Light”: featuring vocals by Glenna van Nostrand, the sizzling drone comes swallowed in the throat of the singer with a heavy resemblance to Rob Lowe’s Lichens, but also drone-heavies like Growing or Tecumseh. Perhaps if Grouper would “ride the lightning” more often, she’d approximate something close. And with true commitment to the 7” single format, the dusty flash settles into the white silence of a locked groove. “Golden Blood Part II” is Sawyer’s contribution as Blood Bright Star, a one-man roadhouse band in the vein of Religious Knives and Wooden Shijps. Less Kraut and more a Doughboy form of reverberant rock, the dirt-‘stached sequel sweats and squirms and wears the house on its shoulders like an overgrown kid, an eternal punk codified in the Axis-powered rhythms of not German, but Japanese psyhedelia. Brief but bright, it’s a wonderful mangle of traditions. Recommended!
Doubly lost and found: yet another causality, cycling endlessly in the tape machine, only escaping months later to the reviewer’s consideration. ‘Breaking and Entering’, the “lost tape” by Cadaver in Drag, is a five song collection of the band’s handsome roadhouse-noise dichotomy, made immortal by the post-historical sound of a five-person “band,” and resembling little of a tape which should have or could have been lost. That is, it’s quite good. The thing begins with, is consumed by “Taking a Ride,” a long-form groove in the vein of Religious Knives, or even Moon Duo or Wooden Shjips for its tightly-locked psychedelic grit. Lulled by this narco treatment, the good vibes are broken by the sludge of “Buy a Gun” where bass and horn conspire over skronky noodles and flagging vocals, the whole thing seemingly duct-taped to the hi-hat and used to club us over the head again and again. The trick is all the more gnarly because we knew it would happen but went along anyhow. On side two, “Died in His Sleep/Lived in His Nightmares” rights a massive swell of bass growl in an airless soundscape – the self-same sonic effect bundled in much classier packages in the middle years of Peasant Magick, which these 2009 recordings were concurrent with – masking the band while retaining the sense of activity these many hands lay-on to these recordings. That is, except for the one-track mind of “Fuck the Royal Treatment,” a looping, loping bit of whisky-queasy which sits best among the solo work of Josh Lay and the majority releases on (his label) Husk. But this solo sounding track melts entirely away before the living brutality of “Taking a Ride 2,” a powerful thrash and bash familiar to Clockcleaner, less a sequel and more a coda to the massive opening track and namesake. On pro-pressed tapes, in glossy J-cards. 100 copies. Highly recommended.