Posts Tagged ‘Album Review’

Discrepant – CREP53

Christopher Nosnibor

This double album gathers two previous CD-only releases, both of which focus on Laurent Jeanneau’s love/hate relationship with China.

Soundscape China comprises two side-length sound-collages, with long samples of songs and TV shows, including what sounds like an exercise routine, and street bustle and radio, children’s voices, are overlayed with sounds of the sea and myriad extranea. Jeanneau’s work under the Kink Gong guise is often described as ‘surreal’, as collage works so often are, on account of their tendency to collide incongruence. The effect of displacing objects or text (with sound and moving images included in this category… one could argue that anything and everything is text in some form or another) and relocating it to an unfamiliar setting or alien context has the capacity to instil a sense of the uncanny. ‘Soundscape China Part 1’ doesn’t produce this effect, and feels more like reportage, a work which captures something of the flavour of the county without making any inference or comment, and without affecting any discernible change to the material or what it represents.

The Kink Gong website carries the notice that ‘Under the name KINK GONG you find 2 activities, the 1st one is to record ethnic minority music mostly in south-east Asia, the 2nd is to transform, collage, recompose the original recordings into experimental soundscapes’.

The second piece fulfils these both: it is far more intense, with jarring juxtapositions, crashing percussion. The material is more overtly spliced, the collaging nature of the work more apparent, and the overlaid noise louder, more abrasive. Yet there is still no sense of location in either time nor space. Not that this is a criticism, or something that could be considered a failing of the work: it’s simply its nature, and, more likely than not, my personal reception – Jeanneau’s experience of, and relationship with, China is considerably more deeply engaged than my own virtually non-existent experience beyond television.

Destruction of Chinese Pop Songs, on the other hand, is indeed, surreal. In fact, it’s fucking weird. Recorded (?) between 2000 and 2002, made mostly from skipping CDs of Chinese pop songs and further recomposed in Kunming (China), Vientiane (Laos) and Paris.

Why would anyone do this? And then, why would anyone listen to it? I could defend my choice to stick the album’s full duration – and in a single sitting – as research in the line of duty as a critic, but the truth is, these skipping, jitter, scratched-up, fucked up defacements hold a perverse pleasure, and I listen with bemusement.

‘Car crash’ is a phrase that’s been overused to the point of cliché obsolescence, but it’s appropriate here: not only does it convey the awkward compulsion to continue listening despite the discomfort and the knowledge that it will be impossible to unhear this, but it also reflects the mangled musical wreckage that’s wrapping itself around your ears. That said, having driven past two accidents within a short distance of one another on the A1 on Good Friday, noting my wife’s irritation and snappy frustration at all of the cars slowing as they passed, I made a point of not looking to prove that it is possible to resist. I felt a little cheated at denying myself from observing the Ballardian spectacles, but have no such need for restraint in the face of this exercise in avant-garde appropriation and defacement.

And the collisions keep on coming. ‘Hit Qin Qin’ sounds like R2D2 in the middle of a circuitry meltdown in a sea of distortion and static, while plinky-plonky piano lift music rolls on, despite the notes warping and melting. It’s simultaneously comedic and horrific. Elsewhere, ‘Pingtan’ sounds like a string instrument being slowly pulled apart while a radio plays random stations in the background, and ‘Bai Street Dance’ sounds like it was recorded on a condenser mic and played back through a Walkman speaker with a torn cone.

Everything about these songs is difficult and obtuse. Even when the ‘songs’ aren’t devoured by stutters, glitches, sticks and all other kinds of sonic wobble that’s a variant on the digital stutter, or by distortion and static and fast-forwards – yes, even when the form and sound of the song beneath the fiddling is fundamentally intact and discernible – there’s other shit thrown in to interfere and interrupt it. So yes, it is surreal, and continues the lineage of William Burroughs’ audio cut-ups, while revisiting the questions of context, ownership and defacement raised by Duchamp and the Dadaists before.

It’s obscure, awkward, bizarre, messy. It’s disorientating, destructive and really rather silly, both in terms of concept and execution. But these are all the reasons to appreciate Kink Gong’s commitment to forging his own path.

Dian Long: Soundscape China / Destruction of Chinese Pop Songs present two very different – if closely connected in thematic terms – aspects of the artist’s work, and releasing them together as a single document makes perfect sense, so long as you’re amenable to experiencing a total mindfuck.

AA

Kink Gong - Soundscape

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Ritual Productions – 4th May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Silence. Hit play and get silence. This is a Bong album, and they’re in no hurry to get going. Why should they be? They have all the time in the world. And beyond.

For a band whose name suggests herbal inertia, and whose brand of stoner doom conveys the same elongation of time, they’ve hardly been slack in creating a substantial body of work since their formation in 2005. Over that time, they’ve evolved, developing from heads-down sludge toward more expansive territories. Thought and Existence is nothing if not expansive and exists in a territory somewhere between the infinite expanses of inner and outer space.

At first, the drone is quiet, distant. A voice rings out, monotone, ominous, ceremonial. The ceremony is about to begin. The guitars don’t so much kick in as glide, rising in thickness and volume, like a mudslide. It’s over three minutes in, but barely two bars have elapsed before the murky, muffled drumming arrives. A single chord hangs, sustaining forever. Slow is not the word: the pace is beyond glacial, as light years elapse between each beat, each cymbal crash ringing out like a supernova in a distant galaxy. Movement so slow as to be barely perceptible, yet strangely beautiful and utterly compelling.

The eternal drone condenses the weight of all matter. And the voice… The voice booms sonorously, elongated vowels protract each syllable to wordlessness.

Thought and Existence consists of just two side-long compositions, the second of which, ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’ (the title of which is taken from a work of speculative fiction by Jorge Luis Borges which is heavy on concept for its brevity) rolls in slow, deliberate waves, a simple riff repeating on, and on, and on. The effect is absorbing, hypnotic, immersive. It’s also curiously uplifting and transportative, a form of sonic meditation.

AA

BongThoughtAndExistenceCover

Kranky – 6th April 2018

It was Alexander Trocchi, often referred to as the ‘Scottish Beat’ with whom the phrase ‘cosmonaut of inner space’ who seemingly has the strongest connection, largely on account of the fact that this was how he often referred to himself. However, it was in fact coined by William Burroughs, who said, “in my writing I am acting as a map maker, an explorer of psychic areas, a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed”.

This is pertinent, as the press release which accompanies the functionally-titled No. 4 – Belgium-based composer Christina Vantzou’s fourth full-length for Kranky – explains how her latest work ‘ventures further into the uniquely elusive and evocative mode of ambient classical minimalism which has become her signature: a fragile synthesis of contemplative drift, heady silences, and muted dissonance. In regards to the new album she speaks of focusing particular attention on the effects of the recordings on the body, and of “directing sound perception into an inner space.”’

More often than not, I will dismiss the contents of any accompanying verbiage in order to engage with the music unswayed by sales pitch or theoretical position. However, there was something about the context of this album which resonated, and – not wholly intentionally, I should stress – informed my listening and analysis. One may assume that ambient music is ambient music. But no: there are those vast, swirling, cinematic ambient works which explore immense spatiality; there are those works which gather and collage sounds specific to a given time or place, or both, and which are concerned in some way with location, be it geographical or temporal; and then there are those inward-looking explorations which filer through the libraries of the mind and memory. This very much sits in the latter category, with Vantzou’s sparse, minimal compositions possessing deeply haunting qualities, with the notes echoing into the deeper recesses of recollection.

The titles ascribed to the eleven compositions which comprise No.4 are all vague yet strangely evocative. ‘Doorway’; ‘Staircases’; ‘Some Limited and Waning Memory’… so non-specific, and precisely for this reason, so resonant. Within the personal lies the universal and between the spaces between the softly echoed piano notes, the subtle, drifting strings, the soft washes of sound that drift like vapour and gradually dissipate into the air.

Tranquillity descends. Under Vantzou’s aural guidance, I find myself reflecting on my own inner space and conjure images and recollections of experiences linked – however tangentially – to those spaces named in the titles. A bulbous bass pulsates on ‘Garden of Forking |Paths’ and I’m transported back to my father’s long, sprawling garden – and because the bass sound is reminiscent of The Cure circa Faith – specifically Carnage Visors – I’m back to when I discovered this music, age fourteen or fifteen. I visualise dappled orchard sunlight and smell grass clipping. This will mean nothing to you, but by allowing myself to drift inside, I’m feeling that interiority that Vantzou’s work intimates.

In times past, I may have felt embarrassment as taking such a tangential approach to a review. But music – and the response it elicits – is not scientific. To analyse this objectively would be futile, and worse still to strip the soul from its very heart. No.4 isn’t an album to listen to, so much as to feel.

AA

Christina Vantzou – No.4

New Heavy Sounds – 4th May 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Grave Lines’ second album is… heavy.

From a personal perspective, they impressed me no end when I caught them supporting Black Moth when their tour for Anatomical Venus landed in their hometown of Leeds. Mostly, because their set was brutal in its weight, the howling vocals sitting in the mid-range and low in the mix against a tempest of low-end guitar noise.

Fed Into the Nihlist Engine doesn’t disappoint, and captures the essence of the live sound. It also opens in the most daring fashion, with a fifteen-minute epic that blends ferocity and dirginess to form a perfect balance: at first coming on like Amenra in their haunting, atmospheric passages, before erupting into a full-blown assault of rage. Its crawling pace and sinewy lead guitar parts, paired with dense, chugging rhythm with major emphasis on the bottom end make for a punishing experience. However, over the course of the album’s nine tracks, Grave Lines demonstrate a remarkable range and a deep-seated sense of atmosphere and texture. It’s heavy – seriously heavy, in fact – but it’s also light: ‘Shame Retreat’ is a delicate acoustic song, simple and completive, and elsewhere, there are some beautifully melodic passages.

In fact, much of the weight of Fed Into the Nihilist Engine isn’t about crushing guitars, overdriven and overloaded and labouring amp-blowing riffs – not that there isn’t an abundance of these. No, Grave Lines explore the brooding a the shadowy, the quietly intense, the darkness of the gothic. ‘Self Mutilation by Fire and Stone’ sees Harding adopt an almost crooning goth baritone in places. ‘Loss Betrayal’ – at least for the first minute or so – sounds more like early iLiKETRAiNS with its chiming post-rock guitar and reflective stance. And then it all piles in, while on ‘Silent Salt’, the guitars grind and churn relentlessly from the start. ‘Loathe Displace’ is similarly disarming, stripped back, a wheezing, undulating organ drone providing the instrumental backdrop to Jake Harding’s surprisingly sensitive and tuneful vocals.

But when they do hit the overdrive pedals, they really go in hard and heavy. The one thing they don’t do is uptempo. These are slow, deliberate slabs of sound that bludgeon the senses. This is the sound of anger. This is punishment. There’s a lot of grind and churn going down on Fed Into the Nihilist Engine: ‘The Greae’ has that early Melvins vibe about it, only shoutier, and it grinds on well past the seven-minute mark.

Fed Into the Nihilist Engine really works the contrasts and dynamics, but not in the way, say, Neurosis do – which I suppose is my way of saying not in a way that’s formulaic or predictable.

Ultimately, Fed Into the Nihilist Engine is a dark album. And yet, it’s a dark album that’s haunting, moving and achingly beautiful in its articulation of despondency and disquiet.

AA

Grave Lines - Nihilist Engine

Metropolis Records – 6th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

However much music you know, there’s always a near-infinite realm beyond your ken. Until now, German electronic crossover act Haujobb – a hybrid of electro, noise, IDM and techno, who lean toward the more mainstream electro-industrial sphere – have existed beyond my range of awareness. I can’t imagine why.

I would rarely recommend a live album by way of an introduction to any band, but then again, it was by listening to Concert that I found the motivation to explore The Cure in more detail, and it was Welcome to Mexico… which compelled me to listen to releases beyond Gub.

So, we’re presented here with ‘a career-spanning collection of the band’s most beloved songs, recorded at various recent concerts throughout Europe’, which, according to the blurb, ‘stands as a testament to the band’s live prowess and unique creativity’.

They’ve produced a vast body of work over the course of their 25-years existence, and Alive gathers 15 cuts from across it, opening with the slow-building ‘Machine Drum’. Lifted from 2011’s New World March, it’s brooding, dark, and angry. But – overlooking the absence of audience noise, which on one hand can interfere with the listening experience, but by the same token is also pretty much integral to the live experience, and I always eye (metaphorically) a live album with no audience noise suspiciously – the question of how representative it all is encroaches on the enjoyment of such a release. And sequencing matters: is this live collection in any way representative of the actual live experience? I suspect not. The sound quality is pretty consistent given that it’s a compilation culled from various shows, but then again, the slickness and uniformity mean it doesn’t feel very ‘live’, and equally, with so much of the instrumentation sequenced and preprogrammed, meaning that it’s a little hard, perhaps, to convey the band’s live prowess.

‘Renegades of Noise’ – and a fair few others, if truth be told – sounds like a Depeche Move studio offcut, as remixed by RevCo. Elsewhere, ‘Input Error’ is driven by a clanking industrial beat and a bucketload of aggression and anguish. As on ‘Let’s Drop Bombs’, The anger is palpable, while electronic stabs rain in like gunfire from every angle near the end. And while Haujobb occupy well-trodden territory, the semi-familiarity of the structures and delivery doesn’t undermine the fact they’ve got some strong songs and a mastery of driving beats and hypnotically looping sequenced grooves. In all… it’s not bad.

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Sound on Probation – SOP018 – 17th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Zonk’t is one of the many guises of polychrome composer Laurent Perrier. According to his biography, while many of these projects often share many common elements, they are all built on a strong individual identity, and are therefore distinct and different from one another. Thus, Zonk’t ‘has always been a way of exploring the most ambient fringes of dub, and the transition from the all-digital to compositions made entirely on modular synthesizers has overall not changed its approach in depth’.

The album takes its title from the cryptanalytic process developed by Alan Turing during the Second World War, which ultimately facilitated the deciphering of the coded messages the German military produced via their Enigma machines. The track titles all relate back to the theme of the title. However, this album seems more concerned with the evocation of messages buried or encoded than the application of complex formulae to the compositional methodology.

‘Square’ (which I assume to be a reference to the Polybius square, also known as the Polybius checkerboard, which in cryptography, is a device invented by the Ancient Greek historian and scholar Polybius, for fractionating plaintext characters so that they can be represented by a smaller set of symbols, at least according to Wikipedia). occupies the entirely of side A, almost 20 minutes of slow-paged ambient dub propelled by thick, heavy beats. Thin, twisting sinews of sound like strings stretch across the space and spin layers of texture.

Side B contains three more short-form compositions in the shape of ‘Chronogyre’, ‘Colossus’, and ‘Conditional Probability’. The first of these forges a low, deliberate groove that undulates at a deliberate pace, while erratic, glitchy beats and crackles of static flitter and clank through the swampy tones. ‘Colossus’ picks up the pace and the bass-centric density, thwupping and thrumming in waves. A stark synthesised stab echoes out before the final track – the most direct and beat-orientated of the set – conjures an immersive retro-futurist groove.

It’s the combination of space and bass-orientated groove dislocation that makes Banburismus worth the effort. It’s not immediately accessible, and doesn’t sit comfortably in either the ambient or dub genres. Crossovers as far removed from not only the mainstream but the mass market as this will inevitably slide into ultra-niche categories, but this by no means devalues the work. If anything, the existence of Banburismus only further illustrates the need for art more than mere entertainment.

AA

SOP018_front

Sett Records – 23rd March 2018

James Wells

Acquainting myself with the band, it transpires that they were founded in the 90s, and that this is the ‘post-punk rock-noir’ outfit’s first album since Return to the Breath in 2000. 18 years? What the fuck have they been doing? I remember the music press making a deal of the five years it took for The Stone Roses to deliver The Second Coming, although that pales against the eternity My Bloody Valentine took to record the follow-up to Loveless. And as for The Sisters of Mercy… Well, they’ve been holding out 27 years now. Something about a contract for a million quid not being forthcoming, or something.

There are some clear Sisters influences to be found in the mix of Chandelier. They’ve got that echoey, chorus heavy guitar sound down and it’s an interloping weave or notes against a strolling bass which heralds the arrival of Chandelier, and its opening track and single cut ‘Beginnings’. Part ‘First and Last and Always,’, part God’s Own Medicine era Mission, part mid 80s Cult… it’s all there.

The one thing that’s clear is that the last 18 years haven’t been spent innovating or reinventing their sounds or bringing a dynamic, unexpected edge to the classic ‘goth’ template. There’s nothing wrong with the songs or their execution, other than the fact they sound painfully studied and generic. So, the press blurb references a lengthy roll-call of The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Cocteau Twins, Sisters of Mercy, The Joy Formidable and Republica (I’m really not hearing any Republica in the mix, although the shadows of Rose of Avalanche and Rosetta Stone before they went all NIN loom large).

While the sounds – the echoic, fuzzy valvey guitars, for example – are vintage, warm, organic, and the mechanised percussion sound is par for the course, the emotive edge of Chandelier feels excessively studied and lacking in personality. From the drum reverb to the controlled flange, everything about the album is familiar to the point of déjà-écoute. It’s very much rote and by-numbers. It’s got everything, apart from passion and energy. And originality.

AA

Autumn - Chandalier