Archive for September, 2016

Southern Lord – 26th August 2016

James Wells

Southern Lord continue to excavate the underground for the gnarliest, angriest, most brutal, most frenetic metal with this, the latest album from Bay Area, CA hardcore act Lies. The CD version of Plague is bulked out by their debut release, the EP Abuse. So we’re being treated to 15 tracks in all, but given that the longest of those fifteen tracks, ‘Class War’ is a mere minute and fifty-three seconds in duration, it still amounts to a mere twenty minutes and four seconds of music. Yes, it would probably fit on a 7”, and most other bands’ EPs are longer.

But this is all about keeping it focused, keeping it tight. The short tracks condense everything into fireballs of explosive intensity. There’s no room for gratuitous solos, muso meanderings or even time to breathe. This is claustrophobically taut and relentlessly violent. That isn’t to say there’s a lack of detail or nuance: behind the blur of noise there are some brilliant guitar lines and a good variety of sounds on top of the thousand-mile-an-hour rhythm section.

Given the impenetrability of the lyrics, it’s not easy to determine their exact political leanings through song titles like ‘White Light’, ‘Paranoia’, ‘All Hail’ and ‘Human Nature’, but they’ve played a benefit gig in support of the Homeless Youth Alliance and it seems reasonable to assume their white-hot rage is directed at the system, and the injustices it propagates. They’re the good guys – they just sound nasty. Very nasty indeed.

 

Lies

LM Dupli-cation – 26th September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Thor & Friends is the eponymous full length debut from the avant-chamber ensemble formed by its namesake, polymath percussionist Thor Harris. Anyone who has heard – or, more so, seen – Swans in their current incarnation will be aware of Thor Harris’ remarkable percussion skills, and likely know that he is a man worthy of his name: a burly, bearded, hirsute figure who appears to have been transported from the mists of Norse mythology and onto the stage, surrounded by chimes and gongs, he’s something of a drumming deity and a figure far more fearsome than Chris Hemsworth.

Swans fans may, then, be somewhat surprised by this album. Surprised, but not disappointed. Despite it being Thor’s project, the percussion is not a dominant factor: it’s very much about the contributions of his ‘friends’, namely Peggy Ghorbani on marimba and Sarah ‘Goat’ Gautier on marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, organ, voice, mellotron and piano. Harris also plays, alongside myriad percussion instruments, wind instruments including some of his own devising. The core trio are joined by Jeremy Barnes on accordion, drum, and mellotron, Heather Trost on violin, voice and marimba, John Dieterich on guitar, bass, castanets and special effects and Raven on bone flute, and electronic sounds.

The choice of instruments may provide an indication of what to expect, but to be clear, there are no thunderous crescendos to be found during the nine tracks on offer here, and Thor and Friends is a remarkably graceful, elegant and understated work. In place of volume, there is atmosphere.

Soft chimes ebb and flow and soft, supple droning tones rise and fall before soft, soothing strings layer down over them on the album’s first track, ‘White Sands’. It’s a multifaceted, mood-shifting piece which sets the album’s gentle, hypnotic tone. Airy rhythms bounce from softly struck xylophone bars, and the general leaning toward instruments fashioned from natural materials lends the pieces a soft, organic feel. Supple woodwind melodies drift and trill effortlessly through semi-ambient passages, and there’s almost a sense of playfulness about the light, skipping, rippling motifs of ’12 Ate’. Elsewhere, ‘Lullabye for Klaus’ presents a darker, more brooding outlook, but nevertheless manages to lift the listener with its cyclical motifs.

Many of the pieces would work well incorporated within film or series soundracks, and while the compositions in themselves aren’t overtly evocative of anything specific, they possess a malleability allows their context to be ascribed by the listener. If ‘pleasant’ strikes as being a wet, nondescript word, in reference to Thor and Friends it most certainly is not: we live in a world befouled by unpleasantness, we’re jaded, cynical and mean. Thor and Friends offers a rapturously pleasant listening experience, in many ways simple, natural, and honest. It’s a magnificent antidote to modern times.

 

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Karlrecords – KR024 – 15th July 2016

Edward S. Robinson

How I hadn’t encountered the work of Iannis Xenakis previously, I will never know. Nevertheless, it was at the 2016 European Beat Studies Network conference that I first saw – and then heard – examples of his work, courtesy of Antonio Bonome in his talk on ‘Polytopy and Burroughs’ Coordinate Points’. The crazy, three-dimensional graphs, or polytopes, which accompanied Metastasis were utterly mind-bending. Given that I’m neither a musician nor a mathematician, they didn’t mean a great deal to me, but as visual pieces, they were stunning. Conceptually, Xenakis’ fusing of two disciplines, music and architecture, breaks new ground in itself, with the combination of architecture and music translating to the architecture of music. And then Bonome played the sounds these images represented. Huge, extended, quivering, brain-draining walls of sound. Powerful, immense, they seemingly took solid physical form. This was truly something.

La Legende d’Eer was composed in 1977 and 1978, when Xenakis was in the midst of his far-reaching explorations of mythology and philosophy. La Legende d’Eer is another of Xenakis’ monumental polytopes, and was created to mark the opening of the Pompidou Centre in 1978. While previous editions have presented the music as a single track and across different releases, featuring an array of errors, this latest reissue from Karlrecords (which makes the work available on vinyl and download for the first time), uses the eight track version Xenakis himself presented at Darmstädter in 1978.

La Legende d’Eer represents one of Xenakis’ most renowned and celebrated electroacoustic compositions, and is a challenging work to sat the least. Not being musically minded in the compositional sense, or scientifically minded in the sense of the technicalities of the mechanics and frequencies and all that jazz, I’m perhaps rather ill-equipped to respond to the fullness of Xnenakis’ objectives and achievements. As such, this is less of an academic analysis and more of a straightforward review, and pulled more from the gut than drawn from anywhere else. However, this is sound which elicits a cerebral, emotional and physical response first and foremost. This is extreme music, which many would likely dispute even constitutes music, and a similarly extreme response is surely a natural one.

Those who are wired to actually derive enjoyment from it are likely a very small minority, but one I happen to belong to. The eight tracks segue together, and begins as a series of trilling whistles of feedback, building into a screeding, shrill mesh of treble, howling drones and pained hums that bow, bend and scrape. If sounds reminiscent of Whitehouse (the resemblance of ‘Wriggle Like a Fucking Eel’ to moments on track seven is remarkable, but then the twittering, jittering top-end noises Xenakis creates are also very like those which make up the majority of the Great White Death album) and the entirety of the careers of Merzbow and Kenji Siratori can be heard, then La Legende d’Eer marks the foundation stone of power electronics and noise. Amidst the earthwork rumbles and the buzzing swarms of hornets and the atomic detonations, shrieks, rattles and crashed are churned together to form a huge, excruciating aural assault.

Acute listening reveals complex internal polyrhythms of the sonic vibrations as they bounce together and against one another. And as the tones and velocity of the sounds shift, so the rhythms change. Indeed, La Ledenge d’Eer is a work in which sound is in perpetual flux. Bleeping arcade game sounds bubble from a tidal wave of noise which resembles a landfill sit’s worth of tin cans, blooping laser modulations surge and swell before devouring themselves and being carried away in an avalanche of static and pink noise. Extraneous jazz honks through a kaleidoscope of sparkling circuitry and low-end interference. In short, there’s a lot going on, and what goes on changes over the course of the piece(s).

It’s a three-dimensional attack on the senses, designed to inflict maximum disorientation and temporal dislocation. And it succeeds. It will necessarily and inevitably twist the psyche and create an almost indefinable sense of discomfort, and it doesn’t require a mathematical equation to calculate the unsettling effects of the sound on the listener. 38 years after its composition and it’s still an astounding and quite devastating work.

 

Iannis Xenakis - La Legende d'Eer

ROOM40 – RM476

Christopher Nosnibor

We seem to have been inundated with piano-based works here at Aural Aggravation recently. If that’s not remarkable in itself then the diversity of the music they contain is. David Shea’s Piano 1 is by far the most conventional-sounding of them. This is by no means a criticism: much as I spend the majority of my time immersing myself in and hugely appreciating experimental works, spanning the most abrasive noise to the murkiest of ambience and anywhere in between – even near-silence has its place, to appreciate any one thing, exposure to its polar opposite is invaluable. Piano 1 isn’t strictly a polarity against works like Antony Burr and Anthony Pateras’ The Long Exhale, Angelina Yershova’s Piano’s Abyss or James Batty’s Sanctuary, it is a very different kind of record in that it focuses largely on musicality over experimentation. It would also be erroneous to suggest musicality and experimentation are at offs with one another: even the most extreme avant-garde anti-music is born out of music, and often works best when its creation involves a purposeful breaking of the rules rather than an ignorance of them.

In the notes which accompany the album, Shea explains the significance of the piano throughout his life, that he grew up exposed to classical and jazz piano works, as well as the greats of the avant-garde, and, while his career has been centred around music, his primary focus has been on composition rather than performance, admitting that his compositional works often exceeds his ow technical abilities. As such, Piano I documents Shea’s repositioning himself in the role of musician, testing and pushing beyond his limitations. ‘I spent a year unravelling my past approach to composing for piano and explored my own phyucal technique,’ he writes. ‘No preparations, no samples, no extended electronics or reliance on overdubs or reliance on my past sample acoustic techniques. The result of this year of practice, writing, listening, exploring and recording is this CD’. As such, it’s a very honest and sonically unpretentious album which finds Shea exploring his relationship with the instrument in terms of composition and musicianship, and an album on which the piano sounds like a piano.

The first track, ‘Mirror’ is a sedate, rolling piece which is as much about the way the notes sustain and the spaces between notes as the notes themselves as he skips between the octaves unexpectedly, Shea exploiting the full span of the keyboard. The imaginatively-titled ‘Suite Pts 1-8’ manifests as a sequence of elegant, delicate pieces, the majority of which are short and fragmentary, yet feel like more than mere sketches. ‘Magnet’s represents the least overtly ‘pianific’ piece on the album, with a sighing, quavering drone.

The album’s second ‘set’ of compositions, the four-part ‘Tribute to Mancini’ (Henry, not Roberto) reflect a different style, also demonstrates not only the versatility of the piano even when played conventionally, but also Shea’s awareness of and ability to utilise the instrument to convey different mood.

At times, the lilting flow of the playing halts abruptly, and the sense of real-time playing, of rehearsal, is conveyed, and this gives the album a strong sense of intimacy. While Shea explains at length that he does not consider himself to be ‘a pianist’, the performances here demonstrate he’s an adept musician.

 

 

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Karlrecords – KR025 – 23rd September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

If you though that free jazz couldn’t be brutal and punishingly aggressive, you clearly haven’t heard Painkiller. A three-way collaboration between three legends in their own rights – namely Bill Laswell, John Zorn and Napalm Death’s Mick Harris, the three albums they released in the early 90s represent the work of a true supergroup: not just a coming together of names, but creative powers combining convergent forces to forge something exceptional. Guts of a Virgin and Buried Secrets, both released on Earache Records, melded grindcore and free jazz to devastating effect, but it was their final album, the double-CD sign-off that was Execution Ground (1994) that saw them take things to another towering level.

That 1994 is now 22 years ago is hard to digest: not only are there kids listening to Nirvana who weren’t born when Kurt Cobain ended it, but adults too. Nevertheless, it’s 22 years since Execution Ground was released, and only now is it receiving a vinyl pressing, in a limited run of 500 (with the obligatory download code). And yes, an album of such sonic depth more than warrants a vinyl edition, and Karlrecords have done themselves proud, with the 180g double vinyl mastered and cut by Rashad Becker in Berlin. There’s a slight change to the original running order here, with ‘Pashupatinath’ being cut from the vinyl and tacked on at the end of the download, but nevertheless it works, and the key point to note is that this doesn’t sound like an album from 22 years ago. But then, it doesn’t sound like an album from any time.

Zorn’s alto sax playing in the opening minutes is beyond wild, and it’s underpinned by a thudding, gut-rumbling bass. Everything about the album is immense: ‘Parish of Tama (Ossuary Dub)’ works the full sonic spectrum and distils the most potent elements of grindcore and jazz, while bringing down the pace to a glacial grind. Simultaneously frantic and pulverizing, it pulls the listener in two different directions, and possesses a dark turbulence powerful enough to tear you in half.

‘Morning of Balachaturdasi’ begins with a slow, heavy drum beat, joined next by a dolorous chime of a repeated bass chord. Half Swans, half Shellac… and then the sax. Fuck, the sax! Its shrill, it has attack, and while the rhythm sections gradually dissolves into a sea of echo, quintessentially jazzy grooves rise up and the playing really wigs out. Over the course of its quarter-hour running time, it builds to punishing crescendos, drops back down to almost nothing, with extended semi-ambient passages which in turn yield to shrieking sonic assaults with the brutal rhythm section producing some deep, dark dub vibes.

The ‘ambient’ versions are darkly menacing, and swampy echoes drift and swirl, offering little by way of comfort. In the distance, sax honks parp and bray like a wild beast begging for mercy from within the belly of a whale. Drum breaks erupt and vanish into think, murky air, while tortured voices howl in agony from the depths. The bass is so low and edgy it’s positively stealthy and almost subliminal in its attack. But attack it does, as it nags away, strumming and thrumming and skipping and dipping. Thirteen minutes into ‘Parish of Tama (Ambient)’, a crescendo of crashing drums and satanic thrashing and gnashing offer a view into the black heart of purgatory.

It’s certainly not ‘ambient’ in any conventional sense, and nor do these epic sonic expanses conform strictly to the tropes of ‘dark ambient’, instead making for something altogether dense, more oppressive and more sinister.

It’s a brain-frying and utterly monumental work of epic scope, depth and dimensionality. However far genes cross, you’d be hard-pressed to find a work which pushes forward across seemingly incompatible genres, and even more hard-pressed to find one which succeeds like Execution Ground.

 

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2nd September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

With seven tracks and a running time in excess of half an hour, it’s one hell of an EP. ‘Elderflower’ is also a whole lot more than the prescriptive ‘post-rock’ tag attached to the duo. Much as I appreciate labelling as much as the next time-pressed music journo struggling to place a band and clutching for pointers for pitching a band in a review, and much as I like a lot of what slots into the post-rock bracket, Defy the Ocean are a band who create music that simply cannot be readily classified on their expansive and accomplished new release.

For a start, it’s more rock than post rock. It’s pretty loud. It’s pretty heavy. There are a lot of vocals. None of these are bad things, and ‘Elderflower’ is a work of depth, range and power. From the get-go, they demonstrate a knack for shifting between segments and moods with real panche, dragging the listener along with them: ‘Rest’, the first track may only clock in at two minutes and fifty-five, but it’s got more twists and turns and ideas and emotional range than some bands’ entire albums.

‘Veils’ is restrained, darkly atmospheric, moody and is perhaps the most post-rock track of the set. But it’s got a bleak, metallic edge that also tips a nod to the mid 90s alternative rock sound.

The title track breaks into full-on grunge mode, the quiet / loud dynamic and brooding atmosphere more Alice in Chains and Soundgarden than I Like Trains, and the crushing power chords are thick and heavy, and paired with a drawling vocal delivery, it calls to mind Melvins – the mellow piano breakdown notwithstanding. ‘Brine’ is serpentine, stripped back, and provides a distinct contrast with its chiming guitars which does call to mind I Like Trains – but then again, the burst of powerchords, distorted vocal and full driving climax, alludes to millennial progressive acts like Oceansize, Amplifier, Porcupine Tree, Anathema, and if anything, ‘Vessel’ amalgamates neoprog with the desert rock vibe of Queens of the Stone Age and their ilk. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s all well-assembled and musically articulate.

Everything about ‘Elderflower’ points to a band who aren’t confined to any one format or bank of instruments, which makes for a refreshingly varied collection of songs, and one which demands repeated listening in order to reveal its full richness.

 

Defy the Ocean EP

Twin Paradox – TPR003

Christopher Nosnibor

You might be forgiven for thinking that everything that could possibly be done with a piano has been done. Played, played harder, played drunk like a percussion instrument until the fingers begin to bleed a bit, stood on, worked from the inside, dropped from a high window, freewheeled down stairs, digitised and manipulated in every conceivable way by digital and analogue means, prepared, choked, treated, mistreated in every way imaginable. And then along comes composer, pianist, producer, sound artist and improviser Angelina Yershova. Classically trained, and with a degree in Electronic Music from Conservatory of S. Cecilia in Rome, she’s discovered a ne avenue of exploration for this timeless instrument.

Piano’s Abyss is described as ‘a vertical and progressive immersion within the “abyss” is the piano, an exploration of the expressive soul of the instrument through electronic synthesis, towards the discovery of an evocative and mysterious world that is exclusively constitutes by the drone of the piano.’ Who knew the piano droned? After hearing this album, there can be no doubt as to the claim. Like a micro-camera inserted into the body, or a deep-sea exploration, the audio reveals a slow suspension of ever-shifting sound, deep and low.

Yershova’s studies have been extensive, focusing on the vibrations of the strings, the instrument’s resonances, the mechanical noises of the hammers – the mechanics and inner workings of the piano, in other words – and these hidden aspects of the sound have been manipulated, processed and accentuated, amplified and extended. The results are fascinating and unexpected.

Up above, on the surface, notes recognisable as those of a piano can be heard, clear, but distant and quiet. They resonate and slowly fade into the rumble. The soft tinkling compositions are washed with a liquid tone which envelopes it. Delicate harmonies drift gently – the piano playing itself is beautiful, but the listener’s appreciation and understanding is altered through the alternative vantage point, which places the background sound in the foreground and vice versa. Spurs of sound grate and scrape while strings pinkle amidst a rumbling swell of sound akin to distant thunder or a strong wind funnelling down a bleak valley in winter. The piano sighs, it moans quietly. It breathes, long, elongated breaths. It drones. This is music with a cellular, atomic feel. Hear this album, and the piano will never sound quite the same again.

 

Angelina Yershova – Pianos Abyss

Norwegian prog outfit Seven Impale have announced that they will release their new album ‘Contrapasso’ on 16th September via Karisma Records.

The band have also shared a brand new track, ‘Languor’. It’s epic and bombastic, and you can listen to it here:

 

 

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