Posts Tagged ‘Avant-garde’

30th January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

On the strength of the cover, with its sombre-looking black and white image of a fledgling gull (I think – I’m not David Attenborough) perched atop a post with the sea behind it, all the way to the horizon where it meets a brooding sky, you would expect The Earth Swan Sings Again to mark a turn towards serious, introspective and altogether less hectic approach to music-making. And in some respects, it is.

While still incorporating the wildly disparate elements of his recent previous albums – of which there are many, and then some (he’s put out a full dozen in the last decade) – The Earth Swan Sings Again feels less manic, more refined, but no less magpie-like in its amalgamation of a broad range of genres. And on this outing, Reaks has gone even further out on the jazz trip he embarked upon with Track Marks last year. This may seem strange for an artist who doesn’t really like jazz, but Reaks is an artist who doesn’t allow genre prejudice to contaminate his creative process. This is postmodern art at its intertextual best: everything is equal, and it’s all material. What counts is how that material is used, recycled, adapted. Etc.

This all makes for a more accessible set of material, but of course it’s all relative, and songs with titles like ‘I Stroked Her Like a Leper’, ‘Her Body Convulsed’ and ‘Today Hurts More than Mercy’ are never going to have the commercial appeal of the mediocre shit of Ed Sheeran or Bastille or whatever cal R1 is spinning on an endless brainwashing loop these days, and that’s before you even get to the music itself. ‘She stretches open like a parasite’s echo,’ Reaks sings by way of a refrain on ‘She Stretches Open (Like a Parasite’s Echo)’. It’s vaguely disturbing, and entirely surreal, but in keeping with his abstract / cut-up approach to the creation of art.

Bringing a more low-key vibe that’s dominated by a post-punk atmosphere, The Earth Swan Sings Again is darker and challenges in different ways from preceding efforts. The basslines are still dubby but less rampantly wild, and more about driving by stealth. The guitars are still choppy, but veering toward the picked and understated – apart from the immense and brain-meltingly OTT jazz/prog wigouts that splurge all over the place unexpectedly and incongruously – they’re altogether more subtle. Well, the guitars, maybe: the OTT jazz/prog wigouts are maybe less so, but they work, and there’s a sense that Reaks knows all of this. As one of the most singular artist practising at this moment in time, Reaks knows what he’s doing, and also knows that one chooses art of commercial success. And this is art.

The Earth Swan Sings Again is dark and stark, low-key yet eclectic, and at times inexplicable. Of course it is: it’s an Ashley Reaks album, and when it comes to walking the line between genius and madness, Reaks has forged a career by joyously straddling it and raising two fingers to convention of any kind. Outré creative talents like Reaks are few and far between, and while the mainstream grows ever safer, ever more diluted, ever more background and by-numbers, the need to artists who rub hard against the grain grows ever greater.

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Ashley Reaks – The Earth Swan Sings Again

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5th February 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Sidestepping any comparison of the title to Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water and perhaps clocking a nod to Cinema Cinema’s Manic Children and the Slow Aggression, The Tattooed Aunts and Mice on Speed stands not only as one of the most intriguing juxtaposed item album titles I can think of, but is probaby one of the best you’ll hear all year.

It’s been some time in coming, but Rick Senley’s fourth album under the I Am A Man with a St Tropez Tan guise. He has many, including musicforvoyeurs, alongside his work as a photographer, journalist, writer, teacher, actor and guitarist in a number of bands. I Am A Man With a St Tropez Tan is – according to Senley himself – ‘the sound of aggression borne of death, mental health struggles and addiction. It’s also a project centred around one man and his Dictaphone, a magpie-like approach to lifting and combining snippets of sound to create a nasty, messy and quite abrasive collage.

The biographical context to The Tattooed Aunts and Mice on Speed is genuinely harrowing, and I shall quote without abridgement: ‘After the death of his girlfriend and an accident left Rick housebound for months he channelled his rage and despair though electronic sounds and screams – a Chemical Brother nightmare put to sleep by Apex Twin’s downers, a bed-bath by Depeche Mode with Nine Inch Nails glaring through the keyhole and The Prodigy banging on the door.’

It’s a challenging mess of splintered noise, fragmented and disjointed, with pumping technoindustrial beats and dark club-orientated grooves pounding insistently beneath it all.

The whole thing has a nightmarish quality about it. Warped vocal samples taper in the way for a juddering beat and warping bass groove on the first track, ‘Killing Seals’, and thins become only more challenging from hereon in. the second Senley seems prepared to offer an inroad, an accessible structure centred around a solid rhythm and consistent bassline, he tears it to shreds and throws it all up in the air.

Senley pitches the album with the summary ‘Bursts of Burma, Thai ladyboys, Egyptian dogs and kittiwakes from Iceland join forces in equally disturbing measure.’ It’s perhaps a slanted perspective of the actual contents of The Tattooed Aunts, but it does give some indication of the wide-ranging sourcing of material Senley has engaged in in order to formulate this near-Burroughsian cut-up collage of sound. It’s disruptive, disturbing, a soundtrack of dissonance and dislocation. And it very much captures and conveys a mood of a difficult headspace, making for an album that’s at times tough, but ultimately rewarding.

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I Am A Man - Tattooed Aunts

This is it Forever – 28th February 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Capac are an electronic duo, currently based Athens and Bristol. But geography is a state of mind, and while details about the context and circumstance surrounding Through The Dread Waste are limited, the music stands for itself. Yes, it’s supposed to contain ‘ten interpretations of the coldest traditional winter music in the form of dark drone and atmospheric ambience’, but without a priori knowledge of the original versions, all that is left is drone and ambience.

The ‘dread’ ascribed to the ‘waste’ is entirely redundant: waste is surplus, unnecessary, for disposal. Why dread it? The sense of portent, of impending doom… Yes, in a world where there is no time to waste, no money to waste, we may rightly dread it. And yet. The waste: anything waste is unnecessary, and should be confronted, not dreaded or feared. And without value or purpose, anything is waste.

On the subject of disposal, the order page for the physical edition of the album is most telling, containing as it does the following: ‘The physical form and true embodiment of the concept behind Through The Dread Waste… You receive a fire log with a metal plate hidden deep inside. After burning the log, among the ashes you will find your metal plate revealing instructions to access the original constructions of the traditional pieces of music, prior to their deconstruction. Destruction, after all, is a form of creation.’ This echoes a classic and fundamental tenet of the avant-garde, namely the premise that one must destroy in order to create anew.

Postmodernism’s defeatism and acceptance of the death of originality is either the last gasp of the avant-garde, or the point at which is necessarily destroys itself to re-emerge, the creative equivalent of stubble-burning at the end of the cycle of growth and croppage. It would be easy to deride the ‘fire log with a metal plate’ but this is art, and there’s precious little the production and release of music by and large, especially in the mainstream. And this is art which is more than merely willing to be ephemeral, and actually invites its own destruction.

The album’s ten compositions are by no means indicative of a conventional, square set-up, as longer tracks are separated and segued by fragmental pieces. And over its duration, there is a lot of piano, and a lot of space. A lot of space. Through The Dread Waste is a sparse, ominously atmospheric set. This is music to stare into space to. At times, its presence is so sparse as to be beneath detection. The lilting piano, the endless resonant air between them, is captivating, yet so understated as s drift into the ether.

The overlaid and unintelligible snippets of voice on ‘Winter Morning’ call to mind the scratchy, pre-fade in discord of ‘Disintegration’ by The Cure. But here, there is no swampy tune riding in on oppressive drums to hammer it all home. Instead, it drifts into another space, and we consider valiant spaces and parallels. Elsewhere, monasterial voices hover in fogy darkness and drones crackle, from eternity.

As such as it’s a spiritual, transportative, and eventually an immediately accessible release (and not in the same sense of ‘accessible’ which is at the centre of the divisive and heated debate which is raging in the poetry sphere right now). Through The Dread Waste has infinite inroads, and is not abrasive or overtly difficult. Yet equally, it’s not dull or unchallenging. It has melody, and drifts in a way you can get lost in.

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Capac – Through The Dread Waste

Crónica 136 – 9th January 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s something seriously awry with my promo download of the album. The tracks won’t play any audio, and instead flit by as if scrolling, searching through a menu on fast-forward. It’s a disorientating experience, and frustrating. But my curiosity I piqued, and so I feel compelled to piece together a review from the sources I can access, starting with the album’s BandCamp page on the label website.

The genesis and evolution of this collaborate project is described in the most factual of terms in the accompanying blurb.

To start AMT and Tarab exchanged materials and objects. AMT exchanged a single sound sculpture for Tarab’s collection of small objects. This material exchange led to activity. AMT manually manipulated, Tarab also, but more often than not he placed the sculpture in situations and let them work on it. Once again exchanges took place, this time of audio material. Elements where then selected and arranged and further rearranged; some left untouched and some where [sic] transformed.

I know little about either act, beyond the sketchy bios which accompany the release. On the evidence of the contents of this curious split album, Artificial Memory Trace – a project by Slavek Kwi, a sound-artist, composer and researcher interested in the phenomena of perception as the fundamental determinant of relations with reality – create fragments of sound, with seemingly random bumps and scrapes and whistles and near-mic distortions and whatever snippets come to hand tossed together to make bumpy, jumpy sonic rides. Very brief, bumpy, jumpy sonic rides at that: the seven AMT contributions to this release are under the minute mark, but what they lack in duration is countered by their intensity. They don’t make for easy or smooth listening.

Tarab’s seven pieces are lengthier and present a very different approach to composition and arrangement. Scuffling shuffling scrapes and thumps congeal to render soundscapes that couldn’t possibly sit within the ‘ambient’ bracket. It’s altogether too jarring, the intrusions unexpected and sometimes surprising. You can’t settle to this, you can’t mellow out or relax. If fact, this is a sonic experience that provokes twitchy, tetchy reactions. It’s not music to ‘like’ but to appreciate artistically. Its challenge is its strength.

None of this is to pitch one act against the other as being more ‘evolved’: if anything, their contrasting styles and near-duality is integral to the appreciation of this release.

How seriously should it be taken? Probably quite seriously. Nothing about Obex intimates an explicitly light-hearted release, an album geared towards ‘fun’. And yet amidst the dark, ponderous clanks and rumbles, something about Obex suggests an entertaining aspect, and also hints that this is art for the love of art over and above any grander narrative. And, context / no context, this is an interesting, textured work, rich in texture and dynamics.

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OBEX

Klangbad Records – 20th October 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one difficult album to digest. It’s hard to assimilate, or even comprehend precisely what Audiac are aiming to achieve here. At first, the title track comes on like some kind of electro-soul effort with a soft-focus, analogue-hued retro vibe, augmented by some doodlesome 80s synths. But then everything goes haywire with eternal delay overlaps and there are overloading circuits and the soul turns to strain and… oh, it’s bending my brain.

Thankfully, the album’s second song, ‘People Going Places,’ is a relatively conventional piano-led post-rock ballad, with heartfelt vocals and soaring, quasi-operatic backing vocals. It perhaps goes without saying, then that conventionality is relative. It’s brimming with theatricality and bombast, a wildly extravagant composition

And back and forth it goes, alternating between weirdy and vaguely fucked-up experimental electronica and relatively straight piano songs with odd twists. There are moments of absolute beauty here, moments which not only tug on the heartstrings but nag at the corners of the soul. Audiac’s website places them as having ‘roots in the German Romantic Lied, chansons, theatre music traditions and the burlesque’.

‘Not Bound to Anything’ is scratchy and soulful: grandiose and , and there are hints of Scott Walker circa Tilt on ‘Doberman’, a bleak, piano-led piece that’s less post-rock drama than a warped and intense sonic smorgasbord, while the soft-edged ‘Dreamadream’ borders on the dreamy lounge side of synth pop. And then there’s ‘When You Say My Name’, which is subtle and sensitive, with its acapella opening and soft piano that gives way to brooding atmospherics before things get dramatic and a bit odd. JG Thirlwell’s post-millennium Foetus releases are something of a touchstone here.

Audiac could only ever hail from Germany. There’s something about the way they’re unbound by convention, about the undocumented, unspoken undercurrents of their sensibilities which belongs to Germany. Ultimately, though, So Waltz is an album that exists out of time and stands free of geography.

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Audiac – So Waltz

Störung – str011 – 7th July 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

I need to work a better filing system for my to-review albums. As it stands, it’s literally a pile, with new deliveries being tossed on top of the pile or otherwise littering the floor next to my desk. The chaotic disorder doesn’t sit comfortably with my innate sense of order and organisation, but the pile has a life of its own. Logically, new arrivals should go to the bottom of the pile, but lifting the pile, precarious as it is, is a risky operation. The teetering stack reached a height and degree of instability this morning that lifting the disc and accompanying press release from the top caused the whole thing to slide in several directions at once. Gathering the strewn and scattered discs and press releases, many of which had become separated from one another, I happened upon The Broken Glass. This seems to be something of a recurring theme, with Miguel Frisconi’s Standing Breakage standing out as a work centred around the exploitation and exploration of a cracked glass bowl. Rather later, I located the press release, too.

The pieces on The Broken Glass aren’t nearly as haphazard as my filing, but there’s a loose and spontaneous, improvised feel to much of the album, whether the composition is a sparse (dis)arrangement of electro / acoustic instruments (‘The Broken Glass v1’) or rippling, rhythmically pulsating electronica (‘The Broken Glass v2). There is a strong sense of variation and variety between the two complimentary yet highly contrasting versions – so much so that it’s difficult to discern how it’s the same piece performed differently. On the face of it, their commonality lies in the organic incorporation of Asférico’s field recordings and the subtle washes of sound.

The album’s third and final track (a CD-only bonus), ‘Sonidos del Subconsciente II’ (‘Sounds of the Subconscious II’) is different again, and has a running time of some forty minutes. An exploratory piece which evolves gradually and naturally, it begins with what sounds like the sound of the wind, a hushed and distant rumble. way off, distant machines clank and grind, the sound of heavy industry blown many miles on the breeze Brooding string notes creep in. The low tones surge and grow and build… and then there is silence. Abrupt, unexpected and unexplained silence. It simply arrives after nine minutes. The disc is still playing. Straining my ears for the faintest hint of sound above the whirring of the CD player and my hard-drive. I stop typing, so as to listen for sounds buried by the clatter of keys. But no: there is nothing.

Is this the sound of my subconscious? How long do I resist skipping the track forward thirty seconds, a minute? Why does the silence unsettle me so? Suddenly, I’m called to leave the room. On returning, the track is at the fourteen-minute mark, and there is sound. I skip back to discover where sound resumes I turn up the volume, to discover that there had been no silence, only extreme quiet. I go back to the beginning.

And from the so-quiet calm slowly, almost imperceptibly builds a funnelling storm of noise, a howling gale of tempestuous noise, amidst which crashing explosions of metallic noise, like sheet steel against sheet steel, reverberate. And the volume and intensity continues to grow and swell, to a level that’s difficult to bare. It’s no longer mere sounds, but a physical force. It’s all-encompassing, and I find myself cowering as though on a small boat in the middle of a violent storm, while the only land is an erupting volcano.

And yes, sometimes my subconscious does sound like this: a raging barrage of relentless, surging noise, amorphous, indistinct, it’s abrasive and it hurts. Not so much the sound of breaking glass, but sound to break the psyche.

AAA

Mia Zabelka & Asférico – The Broken Glass

Bearsuit Records – 1st December 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The album’s acknowledgements indicate that the little Edinburgh label has some high-profile and well-respected champions, including Stuart Maconie, Tom Ravenscroft, Gideon Coe, Mark Riley, David Stubbs… and some guy called Nosnibor. I’m deeply flattered to find myself in such prestigious company. It’s no secret that as a music writer, I’m a fan first and foremost, and Bearsuit stand out for their unswerving commitment to the weird and the wonderful – and, indeed, the wonderfully weird.

From minimal, brooding electro-pop to experimental avant-folk via haunting, spectral gothtronica, and space-prog in waltz-time, it’s all here on this latest compilation. Psychedelic dreampop, scratchy, glitchy trip-hop, stark post-industrial noise, and a jumble of all other elements which should never meet cozy up side but side and on top one another. Quirky isn’t in it.

Luscious, sweeping strings glide over a softly pulsating throb, and it’s all very cinematic, very John Williams on ‘Fulfilling Eclipse’, Alexander Storadiau’s contribution to this collection. No two ways about it, it’s a grand opening worthy of JG Thirlwell. But then PoProPo bring a busy mess of high-friction jazz-funk-punk, which just wouldn’t be complete without the wibbly Theremin wails. The weirdy, sultry cabaret of Martian Subculture’s ‘Chewing Gum’ contrasts again.

The reason I love Bearsuit isn’t because I love every tune they release, but because every tune they release opens my ears to something new, and because they’re fearless in pushing the most far-out stuff from the deepest underground. Tthere are some truly ‘what the fuck?’ moments on here. ‘Tous Les Rochers’ by Yponomeutaneko leads the way. Swaggering brass and monotone spoken word breaks into discord and a load of crazed shouting. I haven’t a fucking clue what they’re shouting about, or why, or why the track even got recorded, but the fact it did, and that it’s on here is utterly brilliant. The sing-song vaudeville oompah of ‘World Travel of the Piano Tuner’ by Shinnosuke Sugata is music completely out of time, complete with muffled wax cylinder production.

The Moth Poets offer up some glacial post-punk disco hybrid collision with operatic bombast. Swords Reversed bring a palace of oddball melody and thumping beats, while Petridisch – one of three acts with two tracks featured – cultivate an air of otherness. No two acts featured are alike, and yet they compliment one another perfectly. Sequencing matters as much as selection on a compilation album, and The Invisible & Divided Sea flows nicely.

It’s a gloopy, tangential, often disorientating concoction of disparate sounds that somehow stands as the perfect representation of both the artists involved and the label itself.

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Bearsuit Comp Cover