Posts Tagged ‘Avant-garde’

24th July 2020

This Valley Of Old Mountains is a collaboration between Taylor Deupree and Federico Durand, which the press release informs us, ‘quietly creates the folklore of an imaginary land. From a hemisphere apart, share simple sounds with complex stories. Their music balances an edge between translucency and exploration, focusing on obscurity, repetition and a shared

fascination of the mountains between them’.

The album’s thirteen tracks are sparse and lilting, and oftentimes intimate a certain oriental influence as the notes – picked and struck – ring out into a confined-sounding space. For the remainder, they simply hover and hum, an easy, effortless wash of sound. You don’t you just sit as the glitches play out, twisting your psyche fleetingly, and wonder where it’s actually going as you venture into your own head.

Not a lot happens here, but then again, this isn’t about events, and more about atmosphere. Listening to This Valley of Old Mountains, there are moments where I can’t tell if I’m listening to the album or just the throb of the extractor fan in the bathroom next to my office. In a way, it doesn’t really matter either way.

‘Honii’ brings trilling twitters of birdsong to join the slow, echoing chimes of dulcimer and similar, while ‘Wintir’ is minimal, atmospheric, and exemplary of sparsely-arranged warps and wefts. ‘Polei’ is a slow, soporific tinkling piece, and fits with most of This Valley of Old Mountains’ mellow mellifluousness.

This Valley of Old Mountains is background, is barely-present, is vague in structure. It’s a perfectly ambient work of ambience, and works perfectly.

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1st May 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Pocket Signs is Sly & the Family Drone’s Matt Cargill and UKAEA’s Dan Jones, and according to Matt’s mail, Signs of the Times was ‘fired out in an afternoon with the aid of lager and pepsi max. Lights out, volume up, watch yer face bins.’ He describes it as the result of ‘plugging in all the objects and making a haunted, sprawling, disorientating racket. Blown out electronics, lacerated drums, churning bass and crumbling voices’. Which means I know I’m going to love it, along with at last 50 other people.

The album features two longform tracks, each a magical, mystical 23 minutes in duration, and like the times in which they were created, they’re a confusing mess of incoherence, a fractured and nonsensical sonic collage.

‘What About Obedience?’ starts out with what sounds like an engine roar – but not a real engine, so much as an engine on a racing console game. Then a deluge of clanks, bleeps, whirrs, clicks, pops, shoot-‘em-up laser guns and twanging elastic bands melting in a nuclear storm all pile in, more or less simultaneously and it feels like watching the news while scrolling through social media (as I do around five every evening while cooking dinner). The experience is utterly bewildering and to even attempt to unravel it all is futile, because the world has truly gone mad.

Searching for structures in this chaotic morass of noise is like trying to find logic in the UK government’s strategy for loosening lockdown, but there are some amazing moments to be found here, as snippets of tunes and spacey krautrock synth motifs emerge briefly from the blistering howl of undifferentiated nose that funnels like a gale.

Gurgles and glops and electronic extranea combine to forge an aural blitzkrieg that could easily be the soundtrack to a digital apocalypse. Everything swirls and melts into a maelstrom that builds a physical mass and hits with an impact that’s more than simply sensory.

Where do you go from a piece that concludes with a sustained squalling blast of white noise that leaves you with the sensation of the end of days? More of the same, of course: ‘How to be Saved’ begins with a series of murky vocal samples, echoed and overlaid, atop burrs of electronic discord, and in no time at all, later upon layer of dissonance has emerged to forge a raging torrent of noises. Feedback strains and scrapes, sharp and metallic with knife-like edges while surging currents gurgle and synth sounds squelch and quirt, titter and tweet around a vortex. Abstraction and chaos reigns, pulsing, bouncing, screaming and bumping in all directions. At time, the melee is impenetrable, bewildering, as it echoes around your cranium. Voices emerge and fade again at random: seemingly, everything is at random, and it’s a glorious headfuck. Not so much a dronewerk as a metadrone assemblage, it’s a wild and brain-frying journey, this may just be the perfect soundtrack to the now – or it may just tip you over the edge.

Oh, and the cover art is truly special.

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Industrial Coast – 20th March 2020

Please Call Me Fuck In Front Of My Friends, the latest dispatch from the prodigiously prolific Theo Gowans, aka Territorial Gobbing, finds oodles of discombobulating discord and dissonance thrown together in a set of skewed sound collages. As such, it’s business as usual. TG’s wildly experimental approach to rendering and processing sound by means not just of founds found and myriad effects, but the (mis)appropriation of random objects means you never know what the hell you’re actually listening to: loud crackles and scratches are probably the sound of sweet wrappers and paper towels being scrunched up close to the mic. It’s supposedly Theo’s most ‘organised’ work to date, and maybe it is, but of course, it’s all relative and one man’s organised is another man’s chaos – as anyone who’s seen my office will probably appreciate.

Amp hum and scrambled tape loops twist and entwine into a massive twisty knot of noise, a clashing conglomeration of aural chaos, a crazed cataclysm of random elements thrown together in the most haphazard of fashions. This shit’s impossible to pin down.

Garbled groans and wheezes, bleeps and blasts of noise collide with static and radios being tuned detuned, and retuned; there are prolonged periods where not a lot happens, which are annihilated by brain-bending bursts wee everything happens all at once.

‘Pyrex Chalice’ is representative, with something that sounds like bottles and cutlery being used as an improvised xylophone while dustbins clatter in a city alleyway and someone close to the mic stifles the breaths of a crafty wank.

Metallic scrapes and clatters coagulate into messy improvised chimes, and there’s some kind of whispered, gallic-sounding sleaze that descends into sobbing and is backed by clattering pots and pans on ‘Massage the Scar, Five Minutes, Five Times’. If none of it makes any sense, then that’s entirely the point.

Playful but bleak and as twisted as fuck, Please Call Me Fuck In Front Of My Friends again suggest that Territorial Gobbing is one of the acts closest to the spirit of the other TG, and Genesis P-Orridge’s absorption of the influence of William Burroughs’ cut-ups. The Industrial Records release of a collection culled from Burroughs’ archives of tape cut-ups on Nothing Here Now But the Recordings marked a direct link: Territorial Gobbing very much continues the trajectory in creating music that discards linearity in favour of simultaneity.

Weird times call for weird music, and Please Call Me Fuck In Front Of My Friends is the perfect brain-bending soundtrack and exactly the distraction you need.

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Bearsuit Records – 20th March 2020

Because I like my shit weird, I’m always thrilled to receive new releases from Bearsuit Records, and Harold Nono’s latest is one of a brace of fresh releases – brimming with weird shit, of course.

The title We’re Almost Home suggests a relaxation, an easing into the home straight. Instead, what Nono delivers is a brain-bending sonic tempest, with ideas lifted from all corners of the planet.

Nono’s straight in with insistent stuttering rhythms that pound systematically over the point as the title intimates, against a jolting japandroid clash of fragmented robotix. Like all of Nono’s previous releases, it’s a whimsical culture clash, stop-start chillout dance grooves are juxtaposed with trilling synths, samples, scratchiness and warping

‘Shaking on an Iron Bed’ is a calamitous crash of wild jazz horns and cymbal bursts that give way to pulping disco with orchestral strikes, while the jazz tones keep on coming. All the ‘what the fuck?’, all the ‘why?’ and all the ‘no need!’ and yet, despite everything, it’s all the reasons Nono is worthy of you ear. It shouldn’t work, and on paper doesn’t work, and even at times in actuality is kind of off the mark, but the transitions are so rapid that it’s doing something else completely different before it’s even registered.

There are moments of Stereolab-like mellow doodling to be found in places, as on ‘Let the Light In (Prince of Darkness)’, heavy dark ambience, as on ‘Ron’s Mental Leap Coach’ and tripped out semi-ambient space electronica, as on ‘The Fall Reprise’. There is oddness and drama, and a whole bunch of abstract glitchiness, and it’s all characteristic of both Nono and Bearsuit. If you’re curious to take a walk on the weird side, then this comes recommended. If you’re not, then you need to expand your horizons, and this is still recommended.

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Harold Nono – We’re Almost Home

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s all about the work / life balance, right? That’s what I tell myself, and my colleagues, an anyone who will listen. The truth of maintaining a work/life balance often – at least in my experience – means killing yourself to meaningfully fulfil the life element. Because life isn’t about resting, it’s about doing the things that matter, pursuing your passion, not binging on Netflix. That isn’t life, that’s hiding from work, finding a mental space in which to escape and decompress. But no-one ever lay on their deathbed saying ‘I wish I’d watched more TV’. I haven’t watched a single episode of ‘Love Island’, ‘The Voice’ or ‘X Factor’ and am fairly confident my life isn’t in any way deficient because of it. Being a writer is more than tapping out a few jolly lines while sitting on the sofa watching a nice rom-com with the wife after the kids have serenely taken themselves to bed straight after dinner, and being in a gigging band, however infrequently you may gig, takes some serious effort, especially in addition to full-time dayjob and family commitments and all the rest.

And so I disembarked in York, where I live, after a two-day work trip to Norwich, and seven minutes later was on a train to Leeds. Some people are accustomed or otherwise adjust readily to travel: I’m not among them. People laugh at me when I use the term ‘train-lagged’, especially when in the context of a day-trip to Sheffield from York, but believe me, I feel it on a molecular level or something.

Another thing I’ve discovered recently is that reviewing and performing are very different disciplines, more so even than leading a meeting and taking minutes – which is pretty much what I’m attempting here.

Performing requires beer, and I had a couple on the train, and a couple more while grabbing some food and plotting a vague strategy for mayhem before going to set up. Unusually, we had a proper soundcheck, although I hate vocal soundchecks. As long as things work, I’m more concerned about volume and tonal impact than mix, given that what happens during the performance rarely resembles the soundcheck anyway, and the while white noise and shouting only works at speaker-shredding, tinnitus-inducing volume. You don’t need to hear the words, you just need to feel the force, ad anything less than freight-train impact falls short. We made noise. We nodded, retreated to the back with more beer.

The Truth About Frank’s set started unusually gently, with an ambience that wasn’t even particularly dark, before murk and muffled samples edge in. Before you know it, the PA is blaring a surging swell of beats and a wash of noise, oscillating washes of discoordinated sound layers meld with off-kilter techno. This is one of TTAF’s more structured-sounding sets, and it builds well and culminates in a fragmented flurry of fractured noise.

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The Truth About Frank

…(something) ruined crash-landed by happy accident, and once again, in the squall of brutal noise, I ruined myself. This simply seems to be how it is. This was probably our strongest and most brutal, tinnitus-inducing set yet. I told the sound guy during soundcheck that I wasn’t fussed if my vocals got buried in the barrage of noise, and unlike some, he respected that. There are fantastic audio and video recordings of the set: I’m barely audible for large portions, but Paul Tone is on absolute A1 peak form for brutal electronic noise, and the volume, it would seem, was pretty much excruciating. So I’m happy.

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…(something) ruined

My sketchy notes state that Black Alert play Tangerine Dreamy Krautrock with samples. It’s an evolutionary electro set that’s heavy on vintage synth and drum sounds, with the drums pumped up in the mix. It’s a nice contrast, and the emphasis on melody is welcome at this point in the evening.

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Black Alert

And then there’s Un Sacapuntas. The solo noise project of Alice Nancy, this performance – and it’s all about the performance – is something else. There’s a reason I prefer to play early, an acts like this are all the reasons why: you wouldn’t want to follow this. Alice is mesmerising and intense as she fastens a contact mic to her throat while unlacing her shoes. What follows is an intense and hypnotic show, both sonically and visually: burrs of treble and shrieks of feedback break through a dank rumble while she shrieks unintelligibly and wafts around the stage, a ghostly presence.

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Un Sacapuntas

It’s a superb end to a great night which is exemplary of the Hogwash experience: Dave Procter’s curation is both considered and intuitive, bringing together a road range of unusual non-rock acts from near and far. With a respectable and enthusiastic audience, Leeds underground scene is very much kicking.

Christopher Nosnibor

The Wonkystuff nights to date may have been a shade sporadic, but that’s what happens when the organisers have day-jobs and families, and more importantly, what they’ve lacked in regularity, they’ve more than compensated in quality, and that’s a major reason why there’s such a respectable turnout to a gig midweek, mid-January, in York. There’s also the warm, welcoming vibe: these nights may be musical showcases, but they’re also a coming together of an oddball community, where we’re all misfits together and it feels good and feels like home. Tonight’s lineup – as usual – demonstrates John Tuffen’s skill for bringing together acts who provide a satisfying balance of contrasting and complimentary.

It’s the Wonkystuff House Band – a collective rather than a fixed entity, tonight comprising Tuffen alongside Ash Sagar and Simon Higginbotham – who warm things up with a set consisting of permutational repetitions delivered by multiple vocals, delivered in a drab monotone over repetitive beats. Comparisons to Can, Cabaret Voltaire circa ‘Nag Nag Nag’, The Fall, Flying Lizards, Girls vs Boys, Young Marble Giants, and the more contemporary Moderate Rebels all make their way into my notes as I watch them crank out vintage synth and drum machine sounds. Cyclical bass motifs and whizzing diodes fill the air as they sit and twiddle knobs and read lyrics from clipboards and the historical leaps into the present for a while.

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Wonkystuff House Band

The start of TSR2’s set crackles and pops fireworks. The trio hunch over customised kit with wires all over to create warped undulations and machine gun fire beats that batter the speaker cones. The set builds into a dense, murky trudge. The second track, ‘What will be’ is more co-ordinated than the opener, and is solidly rhythmic, mechanoid and spacious, and metamorphosises into some kind of glam reimagining of Kraftwerk via DAF. Heavy echoes and tribal beats dominate the third track, and they very much find their groove at this point, at least for a spell, before the construction grows shaky despite solid foundations. Perhaps it’s the sheer ambition of layering up so much at once that’s difficult to keep together. Despite this, the discord and dissonance are part and parcel of an intriguing set.

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TSR2

Rovellasca takes the stage, quietly and understated and stands behind a bank of kit. So far, so standard. The set begins with deep, dark, rumblings, and very soon builds into something shatteringly immense. It’s dense. It’s loud, and fills the room like a thick, suffocating smog. The sound is thick, immersive. Time passes. Unexpectedly, elongated mid-range notes sound out and the underlying dense noise builds. I’m no longer listening: my entire body is enveloped. This is the effect of sonic force. Noise wall without the harsh. Burrs of static, pink and brown noise lurk in the immense billowing noise. The shifts are subtle, and gradual, but present over the course of the single, continuous half-hour piece. People start to become visibly uncomfortable after a time others vaguely bored. I’m loving it, and could listen all night. A slow fade to finish. The hush is deafening.

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Rovellasca

It’s a hard act to follow, but See Monstd – the new musical vehicle of radiofreemidwich’s Rob Hayler is an inspired choice, in that it represents something completely different that thus prevents any risk of comparison. There’s a lot going on here: the set starts with a sample, then breaks into what my notes describe as ‘wtf noise’. It subsequently settles into heavy harsh ambience, with dense, grating drones providing the body of sound, with swerves off trajectory for spells of audience participation, with a phone being passed around for members of the crowd to repeat lines from the sheets circulated prior to the set. This is one of those performances where you never know quite where it’s going to go, and is all the better for the element of unpredictability.

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See Monstd

And this, in a nutshell, is everything that’s great about the Wonkystuff nights.

Editions Mego – 1st November 2019

The 80s was an exciting and revolutionary time, and UK label Some Bizzare gave a platform to some of the more unusual exploratory and experimental acts around the middle of the decade, meaning that while acts like Depeche Mode and Soft Cell were mainstays that brought in funds, they were able to release albums by Soft Cell offshoots like Flesh Volcano, as well as work by Foetus, The The, Coil, Einstürzende Neubauten, and Cabaret Voltaire. Their reputation may have slipped in later years following various stunts and a major falling out with Neubauten over unpaid royalties, but the legacy very much remains strong.

The Elbow is Taboo was Renaldo & The Loaf’s fourth and last album of their initial phase prior to their return in 2010, which was released by and Some Bizzare in the UK and Ralph in America in 1987. Marking a significant expansion and evolution on their previous outings in compositional and instrumental terms, and the result of three years’ work, it’s considered to be ‘the definitive statement by the group in this early period’.

There was a 2016 reissue, with a stack of ‘elbonus’ material and I’m sold on the pun alone, but this Editions Mego reissue has to be the ultimate, as in addition to the elbonus stuff, the first 300 vinyl copies and digital editions also include bonus bonus 7” tracks ‘Hambu Hodo’ live and a remix, ‘Hambu Hoedown’, which ultimately sees the album’s original nine tracks expanded to twenty-two. Comprehensive is the word.

But is it any good?

It’s leftfield, weirdy and experimental: the album’s first piece, ‘A Street Called Straight’ melds medieval folk with tribal drumming and something pan-pipey and hints at neofolk but then goes off at some odd tangents, before ‘Boule’ does some kind of quirky somersaults across traditional Japanese music and sparse, clattering electronica. It’s the stuttering, busy-yet- rattly percussion that defines the oddball and off-kilter compositions, from the wonky country twangery of the title track to the marching Krautrock groove of ‘Hambu Hodo’ that lands somewhere between the pulsing electro of DAF and the zany mania of early Foetus. ‘Critical/Dance throws some jazz and atonal bleepings into the mix. It’s this offbeat eclecticism paired with an emphasis on rhythm that renders The Elbow is Taboo simultaneously compelling and bewildering.

The slew of bonus material on Elbonus ranges from fragmentary loops to fully realised versions and songs, spanning disorientating sound collage to audio collisions which are simply dizzying, not to mention quite inexplicable.

If ever an album qualified as a lost classic, it’s The Elbow is Taboo. So if the 80s underground is your scene, you need this. And if it isn’t, then it’s time to get educated.

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Renaldo & The Loaf – The Elbow is Taboo

Christopher Nosnibor

This one’s been languishing in the vaults for a while now, but one of the things about recording prolifically is that sometimes it takes time to catch up on the release schedule. And so Gintas K’s variations in a-moll for a granular synthesis gets to see the light of day in the middle of a solid and steady release schedule which has seen the release of one or two albums a year for the last three.

Of the six sequentially-numbered tracks, all but one are well over the ten-minute mark, and the shortest is over eight minutes in duration.

Not a lot happens, at least initially: repetitive synth stabs on a single note with varying levels of force shift into different notes. They begin to overlap, and a fuzz of distortion decays the edges. Gradually it slides into a mess of overloading noise: the synths crackle and burn among a billowing walls of darkness.

Across the album, scraping granularity and stuttering dominate the foreground. It difficult to settle to a constant flickering, a crackling distortion of interrupting signals, and the sensation is disorientating, dissonant, disruptive. By the third piece, the sounds has degraded to a rumbling crackle. This sonic disintegration could likely be taken as a metaphor for something. But for what? Well, from a reception theory perspective, you can insert your own metaphor as appropriate. To me, it feels like a sort of glitched-out panic attack, a mental collapse as a response to the crumbling culture at the tail-end of 2019. A decade slumping to its bitter end in an amorphous mass of fragmentation, with rhythms reduced to swampy surges back and forth, and fractal notes dance skittishly.

The fifth piece introduces some softer tones, an ambient wash that’s cracked and damaged, bur nevertheless hints at something mellow… and then it tears apart from the seams as a heavy fog of noise descends, and the final composition splinters and breaks, the shards bursting apart in slow-motion to leave rubble and dust.

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Gintas K – variations in a-moll for a granular synthesis

Icarus Records i008 – 1st December 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

This is one of those albums, recorded live, that contains continuous sound. This makes sense in context: when improvising a set that’s determined by duration rather than compositions. There is necessarily an element of artifice and restriction around time-constrained ‘slots’. This isn’t necessarily the issue here: Icarus is a radio show, a concert organisation and a record label that focuses on experimental music, contemporary classical and electronica. For more than 10 years, this weekly radio show on Urgent.fm, a university radio station in Ghent, Belgium, invites artists to record live sessions on a monthly basis. Over the years, more than 60 Icarus Live Sessions have been recorded, and the library is still growing.

Five-piece instrumental collective BOW – who play a selection of cellos violins, and, as the name suggests, bowed instruments – played Icarus’ 59th live session in March 2019, and is the first to be released, as a cassette and download.

At times truly beautiful, at others dark and difficult, with manifold shades in between, many of which explore dissonant, challenging sonic spaces that test the listener’s capacity in a host of ways as things veer out of sumptuous classical territory and into dramatic discord, Bow lead the listener through succession of passages. The final minutes are laden with drama, transitioning from a soft jazz swing into a raging tempest of scraping string-bleeding trauma, a surging crescendo that assails the senses with a sustained intensity. This is improvisation at its best, where a collective can read one another and the immediate space around them to not only coalesce each segment and segue between them naturally and intuitively, but to form an overall structure from beginning to end that feels planned, arranged, co-ordinated.

There’s a bonus track on the cassette release: another half-hour of difficult, dissonant drones which begin as a brooding chamber orchestra work and evolves – or perhaps more accurately mutates -into something less graceful but altogether more powerful.

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Buh Records – 20th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Apophenia: the tendency to perceive connections and meaningfulness in random noise, e.g., clouds resembling animals or human faces. Ale Hop’s Apophenia, which we learn ‘suggests possible and reimagined South American geographies’, contains an abundance of random noise. Ale Hop, we find, isn’t a band as such, but ‘a Berlin-based artist, researcher, and experimental instrumentist (sic) from Peru. She composes electronic music, by blending strains of noise, pop, avant-garde, ambient and a complex repertoire of extended techniques for electric guitar and real-time sampling devices which she uses as her sound vocabulary to craft a performance of astonishing physical intensity, saturated of layers of distortion and stunning atmospheres’.

And on the strength of this outing, she grasps atmosphere in a major way. These pieces are hefty, deep, and often dark, not to mention challenging. Ale Hop doesn’t do easy accessibility, and that’s a good thing. This is one of those releases I’m proud to say is about art. I can’t truly fathom it, and certainly can’t justify it.

The press release pitches ‘atomized field recordings and sound samples. recollected from video archives from her homeland, Peru, the composer interweaves unknown territories, by mimicking mountains and oceans, but also grey skies and violent cities, with droning and shrieking textures of electric guitars mixed with spoken chatters and sizzles’.

Somnambulant drones and ethereal elongated notes which hover and hum dominate the album’s eight compositions. There are no easy inroads here. In fact, there are no inroads at all.

‘Side Effects’ is an odd piece of spoken word with extraneous noise, and the mix oddly pitches background sounds to the fore to disorientating effect. It’s only three-and-a-half minutes long, but it’s three-and-a-half minutes of warping drones and static hiss and crackling.

There’s dark turbulence on ‘Lima’, which plunges the listener into subterranean spaces of disquiet and discomfort, while ‘Onomatopoeia’ appropriately brings a gloopy, swampy soup of sound, and the title track – a succession of scraping shards of electronic feedback.

And what does it all mean? That I fail to sense ‘South American geographies’ doesn’t mean they’re not present in every moment, but reminds us that artistic intention and the artist’s spheres of reference and influence often differ from those of the audience, who can only truly receive art from their own solipsistic vantage point. As such, dissemination and reception rarely correspond, and this is never more apparent than when considering the experimental and the avant-garde, where theoretical context counts for nought to much of the audience.

The sign of artistic success in this context is not whether or not the audience grasp the context or intention but whether they connect with the work – on any level – despite a lack of a priori knowledge.

Apophenia is a challenging listen, but is an album that holds up and ‘works’ when removed from its context. It’s all about atmosphere, and the universal language of sound.

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