Posts Tagged ‘Album Review’

Room40 – EDRM419 – 30th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Despite having released about a thousand albums since first emerging in 1979 (Wikipedia states ‘over 400 recordings’, which still makes for a completists impossible dream), a new Merzbow album still instils a certain glimmer of excitement and anticipation. Perhaps it’s the fact that while Masami Akita’s work sits squarely in the domain of ‘noise’ and the element of surprise is limited when it comes to a new release – there’s no dropping of a sudden and unexpected pop or country album, for example – his capacity to push the parameters of a genre he almost singlehandedly defined means that there’s always something to warrant interest.

Writing on MONOAkuma, a live recording made in Brisbane in 2012 at the Institute Of Modern Art, Lawrence English, the man behind the ROOM40 label, recalls ‘this was the second time I had the pleasure to present him live in Australia. To me, this performance epitomises the physiology of Merzbow’s sound work. He creates in absolutes; sonically he generates a tidal wave of frequency that sweeps across the spectra with tireless frenzy. Merzbow’s capacity to conjure a massive swirling mesh of analog and digital sources is without comparison. His work is one of physiological and psychological intensity; a seething, psychedelic and utterly visceral noise-ocean.’

English continues by noting that ‘2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the commencement of Merzbow. This recording, which epitomises Merzbow’s 40 years as arguably the most important noise musicians of our time, demonstrates the intense and complex audio world Merzbow has created. It’s the perfect starting point from which to wade into the noise ocean that is Merzbow’s vast output.’

Sidestepping the fact Merzbow has been in existence almost as long as I’ve been alive, I’d be inclined to agree: MONOAkuma is quintessential Merzbow and encapsulates all of the defining features of said vast output.

I’ve personally only witnessed Merzbow once, performing in Glasgow in 2004 – a set which saw him split the signal between the PA and a massive – and I mean immense stack of Marshall cabs. Akita was barely visible, perched atop a wall of speakers that made the combined backline of both Sunn O))) and the Quo look like they’re travelling light. The sound he produced through this set-up was a face-melting, brain-bending, tone-shifting wall of noise. I’m not sure I’ve ever been quite the same since.

MONOAkuma, then, contains 50 minutes of classic Merzbow. It begins with s few seconds of scratchy feedback. It tweaks at the nerve-endings. And then the levee breaks and the sonic deluge explodes. All the frequencies, all the tones, all the textures erupt simultaneously and blister and burn and fire in all directions. It’s so dense, so immense, so all-encompassing and immersive: the experience is overwhelming. There is noise, and then there is Merzbow. There is so much detail here… although it’s almost impossible to absorb even a fraction of it with so much, and delivered at such volume. Everything is tossed and churned in a barrelling tempest of relentless abrasion that scours the skull’s interior – select cement mixer / blender / washing machine / oil drill / swirling vortex / apocalypse simile of choice here. Whiplash blasts of funnelling distortion howl and scream in a churning tunnel of overloading distortion, and within six minutes it’s hitting the lower levels of pain and by 21 minutes aural and psychological ruination is achieved. The power lies in the ever-changing textures and tones: there isn’t a second were the sound doesn’t change, and it’s this constant shift that makes it so powerfully challenging, with layer upon layer of howling racket tearing the air to the point of atomization.

Few artists – if any – have the capacity to inflict brain-pulping anguish like Merzbow. This isn’t just nose: it’s all the noise. All at once. Amplified to the power of ten to create screeding, screaming, multi-tonal, multi-faceted blitzkrieg. There is no respite, no space to make shelter. It hurts. And until you’ve experienced Merzbow in full effect, you really haven’t experienced noise. And MONOAkuma is relentless in its assault. This is total noise, relentless, obliterative, devastating.

But as punishing and oppressive as it is, there’s something cleansing and cathartic about it. And herein lies the pleasure of the pain and the ultimate joy of Merzbow.

Please note: All proceeds from MONOAkuma will be used to fund research and preservation attempts for the Tasmanian Devil, which in recent years has suffered greatly due to effects of a transmissible facial cancer.

Merzbow - Mono

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Christopher Nosnibor

Fibonacci Drone Organ: three random words spliced together, unshackled from the constraints of context to allow free association to determine interpretation? Or a descriptive indication of what Dave Procter’s second- or t(h)ird-latest (this month saw the debut of HUNDBAJS, which is Swedish for dogshit, the absolute latest) of his myriad projects which include the Wharf Street Galaxy Band and Legion of Swine? The cassette release contains precisely no information whatsoever, even down to a track listing, but a spot of digging reveals that it’s the latter – which should come as no surprise, given that the man behind FDO curated a ‘10 Hours of Drone’ event a while back. The album contains two pieces, each occupying a side of the tape, and they’re formed around droning organ notes. Long, long droning organ notes.

And my (rather limited but suitably fruitful) research uncovered that FDO ‘uses the Fibonacci Series as part of the compositional process,’ that ‘the notes are chosen via dice rolls and coin tosses,’ and that ‘the durations of the notes are chosen by the Fibonacci Series. Notes are added at the appropriate time.’

From this, I infer that in technical / theoretical terms, FDO compositions emerge from an intersection of John Cage-inspired randomness and the mathematical precision of Fibonacci. What this actually means, ‘m not entirely sure, and thankfully, the technical aspects don’t impinge too heavily on the output from a listening perspective. Ultimately, it’s all drones. And on this outing the ‘appropriate’ time for adding noes is seemingly after an eternity.

This means that across the tape’s duration, not a lot happens. Notes may be added, but at such distance that the layers build so gradually that the pieces are over before much depth, resonance or layering has occurred. This is all testament to Procter’s unswervingly uncompromising approach to music-making, and encapsulates the reasons I personally hold him in such high regard (and it’s fair to say that if there’s one person I’ve worked with who’s intuitively understood my vision for creating spoken word with the most hellishly mangled noise, it’s Dave who’s been behind the majority of my best and most exhilarating collaborative live work). With more projects, pseudonyms and releases to his credit than seems humanly possible, he’s practically a one-man underground scene in his own right. Look up ‘northern avant-garde’, and you’ll likely find a picture of Dave Procter – or a bloke in a lab coat sporting a pig’s head or something.

Procter gets art, and is an artist, but doesn’t espouse the pretentious trappings of being an ‘artist’ (or, worse still, an ‘artiste’). Which means he can not only get away with releasing a tape containing 40 minutes of theory-backed drone without appearing a tit, but delivers some of the most brilliantly self-aware electronic drone you’re likely to find.

Side two (not that the sides are marked) brings a quavering decay to the elongated drones – which hover toward the higher frequencies – by way of contrast to the strong, stable drones of side one. The effect is cumulative and ultimately soporific, and it’s definitely the music and not the beer as I listen to the spindles rotate on my tape deck and the notes drift from the speakers. Sometimes, there’s no shame in sleep.

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AA

Panurus Productions – 19th November 2018

The title connotes very little that’s immediately apparent. A mass of zombies in The Walking Dead? The blank faces milling around in Asda on a Saturday afternoon? More than anything, I’m inclined towards abstraction, which is precisely what dominates this unusual assemblage. It’s pithed as ‘an 8 track dreamlike journey through electronics, looped field recordings and sampled textures’. It’s a fair summary, although it fails to convey the subtlety and nuance that define Loser Herds, which explores some highly detailed sonic canvases and probes the corners of those spaces.

“This is a test. 1, 2, 3, 4, Error.” It’s a striking start. The voice is close to the mic, and it’s a dry sound, somehow amateur-sounding… It’s at odds with the soft interweaving chimes that slowly rise up in the mix and gradually form supple rhythms that ebb and flow organically. The tracks segue together, shimmering with delicate, subtle ripples cascading multifaceted sonic tapestries. The higher frequencies shine opalescent refractions of light, spinning radiant atmospheres. Welcome to the world of Chlorine, the musical vehicle of northeastern visual artist and musician, Graeme Hopper. Citing Susumu Yokota or Tim Hecker as reference points, Loser Herds is an immersive, layered collection of compositions – although it’s perhaps more accurate to describe it as a single piece in eight parts.

The album takes a strange and ugly turn halfway through, when following the soft glissandos of ‘A Westerly Wind’ and ‘Buskers Night’, a screed of gnarly electronic grinding more reminiscent of Merzbow or Whitehouse clanks in under the guide of ‘Spotify Are Bunch Of Fucking Criminals Who Need To Be Crushed’. It might not be speaker-shredding torture, but it’s likely to be pretty unpalatable to most, especially those seeking the comfort of semi-ambient sonic drifts, the likes of which occupy the rest of the album’s space.

In combining samples with electronics, acoustic instruments feature quite prominently at times, although not always in the most conventional ways. Bewildering and intersecting time signatures paired with warping notes abound on ‘The Distant Breach’, before the epic finale, ‘Forever is Not Long Enough’ draws together all of the aspects of the album to create an immense sound collage that begins gently, but builds incrementally with burrs of distortion and increasing density. Cracking, fizzing overload, woozy cyclical grooves and grating, churning extraneous noise congeal behind an obfuscating gauze of soft-focus fuzziness. It concludes an immersive experience with greater immersion, rounding of a wonderfully wide-ranging work.

AA

Loser Herds

7th December 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Irk have been tearing it up on the Leeds scene for a little while now, and are a band at the epicentre of the DIY scene surrounding the CHUNK studio / rehearsal room space, tucked away in a rough and dilapidated industrial estate a good half-hour hike out of the city centre. It’s an apposite location for the thriving creative community of metal / sludge / noise bands.

The band describe themselves as ‘three polite wee rascals…. who make ugly, angular, noise-fused, math rock, consisting of drums, bass, and vocals’, and as such, belong to the city’s now well-established post-millennium tradition for producing seriously noisy bands who are bloody good. Many have fallen by the wayside, but a lineage of acts that includes Blacklisters, Hawk Eyes, That Fucking Tank, Holy State, Hora Douse, and yes, we’ll throw in Pulled Apart by Horses here, because they’re hardy quiet or genteel, speaks for itself.

I’ve caught them live a few times in the last couple of years, and have even performed on the same bill, exchanging books with front man Jack (I think Life Pervert is ace; I’ve no idea what he makes of The Rage Monologues). I’ve never once been disappointed by their performances, and it’s a reasonable expectation that Recipes from the Bible should sound like the work of a band who’ve been honing their material live for some time.

But by Christ, Irk really give it some here, and forge the title: this is a sonic concoction that cooks up the most unholy racket going. ‘I Bleed Horses’ begins with a howl and a barrage of frenetic drums and a mass of guitar racket. While you’re picking your jaw off the floor, check that tight, compressed, springy bass sound and the churning throb it produces that just about holds the whole squalling mess of discord together. Less that two and a half minutes in duration, the bled horses bleed out into ‘Life Changing Porno’, another unintelligible blizzard of noise that’s so chaotic it’s not always entirely clear if they’re all playing the same song: the tempo lurches unpredictably and whole racket collides in a spectacularly ugly explosion.

The seven-minute ‘The Observatory’ built around a choppy, cyclical riff reminiscent of Bleach era Nirvana, and again, it’s the menacing bass that dominates as they forge a suffocatingly claustrophobic density. It’s about as close to respite as it gets: with the only other exception being the verses of the lumbering ‘The Healer’, Recipes from the Bible is relentless in its screaming mania and brutal angles. The wild sax action on ‘You’re My Germ’ could be free jazz in another context, but here, it just adds another level of crazed hysteria to the mix.

Taking obvious cues from Shellac and Blacklisters, it’s a set of sharp-cornered, serrated brutality that stops, starts, shudders, judders, jolts and jerks – but unlike Shellac, Jack’s raving, gibbering, rabid vocals break free from the tight limits of the coiled tension of math-rock tropes and instead cut loose and careen into the wild noise of The Jesus Lizard. Snarling, howling, drawling and slavering, there’s something cracked, even psychotic. In combination, it’s a tense, intense set that sound deranged, dangerous: at times, its really quite uncomfortable. That’s a clear measure of success.

Chances are, reviews will tout this as being ‘uncompromising’, not least of all on account of it’s being self-produced by the band (of course). But Recipes from the Bible goes beyond that. Way beyond. It harnesses the full force of the band: so often, bands draft in producers only for the sound to be polished, slickened, rendered overtly ‘studio’. By keeping things in-house, they’ve retained the rawness, and the sheer velocity and unbridled power that defined them, and the sonic vision remains unadulterated. And beneath all of distortion and dirt, the ragged, jagged edges and the feel of a style of playing that’s loose and uncontained, there’s a remarkable and deceptive degree of precision.

It’s hard to find fault with Recipes from the Bible: there isn’t a weak track or an ounce of fat. There’s no filler, and no slack. There’s not a moment of tameness or timidity, and instead, they bring top-level ferocity and relentless fury, and the chances are you’ll be hard-pushed to find a better noise-rock album this year.

AA

Irk - Recipes

28th September 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Disjointed. Fragmentary. Fractured. Sketchy. Incomplete. The ten pieces (untitled other than by numbers 1-10) on Refound are vague in structure, minimal in form, non-linear in trajectory, and often unclear in purpose. Hardly surprising, given that they emerged from improvisational sessions made with electronics and ‘inside piano’. I’m not sure if this is becoming increasingly popular as an instrument of choice in avant-garde circles, or I’m simply evermore aware of its use in the making of experimental music since I received a copy of Reinhold Freidl’s immense Inside Piano double CD four years ago.

But what are they doing to the piano to achieve these sounds? Precisely what ‘inside piano’ actually is remains is shade unclear. The liner notes to Friedl’s debut solo which effectively set the mark for and so defined the technique, is spectacularly oblique and vague in its definition of ‘inside piano’: The good old grand piano plays aggressive noise attacks, choir-like symphonic movements, strange complex sound fibrillations, sometimes lighting up single prepared piano notes, juxtaposed with the tremendous bass of the nearly three-meter long strings…

For Refound, Neumann and Neilsen’s improvised experimentations were remixed and realigned by the two contributing artists themselves to create something… well something. I was tempted to say that conveyed their joint vision, although what that vision is, assuming there was a vision beyond seeing what their playing together produced, is unclear.

Refound manifests as a succession of tweets, hisses, rumbles… skittering, bird-like treble and yawning mid-tone feedback. There’s no discernible trajectory, the pieces break off and stand separately from one another as a series of sketches rather than as a coherent, cohesive album.

 

 

AA

 

Andrea Neumann Mads Emil Nielsen – Refound

2nd November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Not so long ago, I began a review by saying I felt sorry for Jo Quail. That was no slight on her musical output, but an observation that as incredible performer, it seemed wrong that she should be put on so early that her set was a third of the way through before the doors even opened. On listening to Exsolve, my awe of her musicianship is greater than ever, which only renders the injustice worse. To get the point: this is an incredible album, a triumph of musicianship and vision in tandem to create something not only greater than the sum of the parts, but beyond imagination.

The accompanying press release informs us that Exsolve is comprised of three tracks, with each one being broken down in to sections and movements across 45 minutes. Mastered by James Griffiths, himself a film composer, there is, the blurb notes, an almost symphonic quality to the album. This is true, but there is so, so much more, much of which defies conventional description: it speaks not to the domain of words, but the psyche.

The bald facts are that Jo Quail plays cello, and does so through a raft of effects to create sounds a million light years removed from the cello, looping bangs on the mic to create thunderous percussion and conjuring eerie moans and grating tempests of sound. The result is pretty heavy, not to mention intense.

Eight minutes into ‘Forge of Two Forms’, Quail is conjuring blistering interweaving prog riffs against a swirling backdrop of noise and thumping beats. Epic doesn’t come close. It sounds like a full band pushing into new realms of enormity, and with a blistering distorted picked motif that sounds like a crisply-executed lead guitar line, it’s easy to forget just how this music is made. Twelve minutes in, it’s tapered down to nothing and actually sounds like subdued, low-tempo orchestral dronings, creeping atmospherics and melancholy. The transitions are seamless, invisible, but definite as the extended soundworks transition between segments.

‘Mandrel Cantus’ sends sonar echoes across low, slow ripples of mellow cadences, and somehow builds into a monumental emulation of a guitar solo of monumental proportions. How did this happen? From whence did this immense sound emerge?

Everything coalesces on the third and final composition, ‘Causleens Wheel’ which begins delicately, builds to a rolling, roiling, sustained crescendo. It’s a multi-faceted composition, tonally rich and also moving, not just by force but by expression.

Powerful, graceful, compelling and dramatic, Exsolve is a remarkable album of rare quality.

AA

Jo Quail - Exsolve

Supernatural Cat – 8th November 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Eerie strings streak across an ominous low-end throb, transitioning expansive vaporous drones with serrated edges on the album’s first track, ‘Hefy Lamarr’ and it sets the ominous tone for the rest of the album, as piano notes hover in rarefied atmospheres with a slow-decaying sustain carried on a cold, dry echo. It’s minimal, sparse, dislocated, disconnected. There are no sonic hugs on Doppeleben. It’s an album that builds walls, force-fields. Nihilism, isolation, introspection… these are the moods of Doppeleben.

So what do we know about the artist? The Mon is the solo name of a new project by Urlo, best known as the lead vocalist, bass and synth player in heavy trio Ufomammut. Doppelleben is The Mon’s debut album, and, as the press release notes, ‘where Ufomammut create mind-expanding, heavy psychedelic, almost other-dimensional sounds, The Mon by comparison is far more intimate, looking inward, as Urlo explores and examines his inner most thoughts through music.’

And Doppeleben is very much an introspective set, which is far from heavy and as such, it is very much a departure from Urlo’s work with Ufomammut. But heavy is relative, and ‘Relics’ still manages to come on like Ministry on ketamine, with distorted, raw-throated vocals hollering out against a backdrop of plodding percussion and howling feedback. It’s representative, but it isn’t: the atmosphere of Doppeleben recreates the claustrophobic intensity of The Cure’s Pornography, while drawing on the stark discomfort that pervaded the alternative scene circa 1979-1983.

Fear chords ripple, delicate notes drip and drop over slow surges of dark density which rise and swell through interminable sustain. ‘Hate One I Hate’ sounds like Earth circa 1992 covering ‘One Hundred Years’ by The Cure. Devoid of percussion, the glacial synths and thick, crawling guitars coalesce for create a spine-stiffening tension.

With clattering metallic drums battering away in the background, ‘Blut’ grinds hard at a bleak post-punk seam, landing somewhere between Movement era New Order and Downward Spiral era NIN, with hints of Visage’s ‘Fade to Grey’ thrown in for good measure. It’s compellingly intense and makes optimal use of a handful of chords in a descending sequence.

In contrast, ‘Her’ offers a bend of shoegaze haze and Bauhaus-hued art rock as it washes blank curtains of synth and monotone vocals before a cascade of slide guitar swerves its way into the mix. And yet never could it be as far removed from country as the notes bend and glide and slide to fade.

Low, slow, and dark, there’s an oppressive density to Doppeleben which is hard to define and even harder to let go.

AA

The Mon – Doppeleben