Posts Tagged ‘Dark-Ambient’

Hallow Ground – HG1703 – June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

TAR is the fourth solo album by Tehran-based composer Siavash Amini, although he’s joined by Pouya Pour-Amin on electric double bass and Nima Aghiani on violin. Not that the individual instruments are readily recognisable in the thick sonic swirls which combine to forge the ever-shifting soundscapes of TAR at least in the main. But when Aghiani’s violin weeps and bleeds emotive from amidst the amorphous aural clouds which turn and taper, billowing and rolling, throbbing and pulsating.

‘A Dream’s Frozen Reflection’ begins droney but gentle, but inside the first two minutes breaks into a serrated sonic tempest. Music that sounds for all the world like a circular saw accompanied by a saw played more conventionally (does anyone play the saw any more? Or has it more or less gone the way of the comb and the washboard?) isn’t an easy sell, but Amini creates an intense aural experience that immerses the senses. But for all the harsh tones, there are contrasts in abundance, and through forging a shifting soundscape, the atmosphere changes, sometimes almost subliminally over the course of the piece.

‘Rivers of Tar’ plunges into murky, dark territory, but crystalline glissandos cascade through the eddying clouds of sulphur, while graceful strings rise and sweep expansively. It’s hard to determine whether or not it really carries an emotional resonance, but as a listening experience, it’s got more than enough range and features some passages which do have that vital drag.

At times, ‘The Dust We Breathe’ is barely there, delicate contrails of soft ambience washing in and out. There are periods dominated high-volume undulations of grating, snarling noise early on, but over the course of its fourteen-minute duration, the track drifts quietly and softly into the background.

It’s Amini’s ability to manoeuvre, effortlessly and almost untraceably, the trajectory of the four compositions from head-crushing abrasion to lulling calmness which is the greatest achievement of TAR. It’s an ambient album which carries a sting in the tail sharp enough to hurt, while equally massaging the mental receptors with its delicate tones.

The extent to which TAR translates Amini’s desire to explore ‘the fragile tensions between and individual and collective subconscious’ is largely irrelevant: TAR is an unexpectedly dynamic work, brimming with texture and contrast.

Siavash Amini – TAR

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Reject and Fade – 28th February 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Tim Hann used to front a Leeds-based alternative rock band called I Concur some years ago. I forget exactly how I discovered them now, but they were really, really good, one of those bands you would see play liv and think ‘Fuck. How are they not immense?’ One of the most precise and exhilarating live acts around, they were in another league, and it felt wrong to see them play as a support at the 450-capacity Brudenell Social Club. With the NME and Huw Stephens backing them they should have been huge. Sadly, the show I caught at the Packhorse in Leeds in 2010, where they tried out some of the material that would appear on the 2012 album Burial Proof would be one of their last, and Burial Proof would effectively be their sign-off. Life had already got in the way prior to the album’s release: ‘the usual thirty-something excuses of jobs, kids & houses’, as they put it on Facebook. And so it goes: ambition and dreams crushed by reality. The guilt and the money-pit of leaving your wife to deal with the children, while you go out on tour, pursuing the life of a young, single man.

I get it. Bands slog their guts out for fuck all. So do music reviewers, it so happens. ‘It’s not work, you don’t get paid for it,’ Mrs N retorts as I wade through the thirty or so emails which have crashed into my inbox while I’ve been at the day-job. Don’t free CDs, downloads and gigs count as pay? I’m not going to argue: I take the point. At least I get free stuff in abundance. Bands just hand out free stuff to buggers like me in the hope they’ll get a review. I review maybe 20% of the material I receive these days. It’s not because I’m a shit – no, it’s not the reason – it’s because I simply can’t do any more. The point is that being in a band is hard. It’s no life for a grown adult with mouths to feed.

A brief backtrack: in my endless quest for self-promotion, I used to run round slapping stickers and postcards everywhere every time I attended a gig. I didn’t sell many books off the back of it, but I did get an introduction to Tim’s younger brother Michael, a writer and soon-to-be head honcho at experimental Reject and Fade, a label devoted to dark ambient and generally weird, dark electronic-based nastiness. It’s a small and sometimes wonderful world. Were it not for all of this backstory – and I make no apology for the anecdotal meanderings with their Sartrean, Robbe-Grillet tinted reflections – this review would not exist. You should be grateful for the existence of this review because this offering by break_fold – Tim Hann’s latest project, released on brother Michael Hann’s Reject and Fade imprint is an inspired underground work, which, by its nature is unlikely to receive much mainstream critical coverage, deserves your attention.

break_fold represents a significant departure: there isn’t a jangly guitar to be heard here, not a single emotive swell, and no vocals: in other words, nothing remotely resembling the conventions of rock. This is music produced slowly, during moments away from life. And it’s music made by one man, at home, likely in the small hours, without the need to rely on the input of others. Hann clearly has music in his blood, and possesses an incredible focus when he’s making it. As a dark ambient work, amorphous, intangible yet curiously challenging, it’s an outstanding release and one which displays a meticulous attention to detail. The tones, the texture, the crispness of the beats and the overtly synthetic elements, in contrast with the swirling background elements is quite something.

About the title: 07_07_15 – 13_04_16 is pitched as ‘a record of memories and time stamped bursts of creative activity, captured and crystallised in glacial beats, foggy textures and electrified rhythms.’ The track titles are, in fact, the dates on which the individual track were started. As a whole, it’s a document of a specific time-span. There is something simultaneously resonant and alienating about this location in time, in that time is both universal and personal. Events take place at given times which are known globally. Other events are strictly personal. But our location in time is often marked not by the event but by our reaction to it. Take, for example, the announcement that the UK had voted to leave the EU. Many, if not most, UK citizens will forever have the fateful events of the 23rd June 2016, and also the 24th (very much the morning after) etched into their memories. But their responses will vary wildly, and the memories will inevitably be shaped by that immediate reaction on hearing the result.

07_07_15 – 13_04_16 is a journey into the break_fold mind-space, but without context in terms of the events of the dates in question. This accentuates the sense of dislocation already present in the music itself – music which conveys emotional tension, conflict, unease through the medium of rumbling, uncomfortable layers of sound which drift and hang like mist or toxic gas. Murky, impenetrable, tense and dubby, it’s a challenging journey into the unknown defined by low, strolling basslines streaking, slow-turning ambient tension and clamorous beats swathed in echo.

 

break_fold

Malignant Records

Christopher Nosnibor

You know this is going to be not so much dark, as positively black, right? Look at the cover art: there’s a fucking goat on it. Nothing say terrifyingly, inhumanly bleak, satanic metal noise rage like a horned goat on an album’s sleeve. Ever since Bathory’s gut-churningly nasty, backer-than-back, dredged from the bowels of hell debut, the goat has been the signifier.

Monocube know all about dark atmospherics: the album begins with ominous fear tones hanging in a shroud of creeping mist. They’re master of the slow-build, too: the album’s first track, ‘Visiones III’ is nine minutes in length, the whispering ambience and contrails of darkness hovering in the air as the listener is led through uncertain, uncharted territory as the nebulous sonic cloud lowly turns in space. This isn’t nearly as gnarly as the cover art suggests though. What’s going on?

‘Drowned Sun’ lunges into the subterranean realms of dark ambience and burrows its way toward a chthonic unpleasantness. With a heaving (heat) beat and yawning undulating drones it’s wholly uncomfortable listening. ‘Downward’ follows the same dark ambient path, inching into the bowel-trembling depths of Sunn O))) and Earth in their dronetastic first iteration. The low-end frequencies hurt, while the shifting higher levels disorientate and unsettle.

It’s becoming apparent that this is no thrashy, guitar-based black metal effort – although it is seriously fucking dark. The weight of the endless, grating drones which swirl and eddy menacingly is monumentally oppressive.

Perhaps you, like me, have deduced that the goat was a lie at least on a superficial level. Monocube aren’t a band you’ll find lurking in the woods, daubed in corpse paint. They aren’t about making heavy guitar noise and snarling like extras from ‘The Walking Dead’. Perhaps because of this, rather than in spite of it, they’re a whole lot scarier.

 

Monocube - The Rituals

empreintes DIGITALes – IMED 17141

Christopher Nosnibor

The background:

The exhibition Broken Ground looks at seven cities over ten years, and how redevelopment infrastructure changes our perception of cityscapes. These cities could be anywhere (everywhere). Reconstructed from the opportunities of street level construction, I treat the sites more like stage sets, where there are props, actors, entries and exits, and evidence through the debris, disarray, shadows of figures and randomness throughout.

In our contemporary world the works have taken on hybrid references of displaced people from war zones, or natural disasters that fill nightly newscasts in the media.

The review:

It’s an unsettling work. An apocalyptic, post-nuclear work. An album that lurks under the shadow of the bomb. It’s an album for unsettled times, a soundtrack to a return to the distrust of cold war politics and a global culture defined by social and political division, fear, uncertainty and mass murder. Broken Ground is a dark album for dark times.

From the very outset, Bouchard manipulates dark, throbbing layers of undulating, yawning drones and grating tidal waves of noise, dragging them across birdsong-like tweets of analogue twitters, sounding like a corpse in a tarpaulin being hauled down gravel drive at sunset. Yawning, drawling harmonica-like notes drift lazily, and somehow awkwardly, stretched and distended, over groaning low to mid-range backdrops: almost-familiar sounds are bent out of shape and rendered unfriendly. ‘Intergranular Attack’ goes in low, snake-like whispers and bleak monotone narrative samples deliver reports of atomic science with a detached clinicality, and the theme is revisited in the fragmented, fractured post-apocalyptic time capsule that is ‘Resistant Materials’.

Dark tones creep and hover, while washes of snarling noise and contrails of feedback linger amidst screeds of sharp-edged sheets of sound and washes of nebulous noise. Glitchy, crackling beats thud disconcertingly through a stammering hum on ‘Hysteries’, and the scratchy oscillations of ‘Voids Patterns’ offers a fresh take on spacey / spaced out reverby darkness.

Broken Ground finds Bouchard exploring well-trodden experimental fields and offering something new. Charming chimes assume an ominous demeanour; voices drift, detached in empty space. There is no comfort or solace to be taken from their presence: they’re distant, disconnected, out of reach, perhaps by light years. You may be receiving, but there’s no way to make two-way contact: you’re lost in a wave of pink noise and a fizz of rolling static.

As in space, so on earth: each person sitting, alone, boxed in: connected in the virtual world but never more alone and isolated now. Tapping out comments and messages, condolences and sympathy for the displaced and the damaged reported by the media: it’s merely mechanical. You feel nothing for them, you feel nothing for yourself: you’re numb, a drone. You don’t really connect. You’re floating in virtual space.

The voices, stammering, echoing in fractured snippets of different languages from the speakers are no more familiar than the voices from around the world, beamed to your computer and smart phone. This is the world of dislocation and dis-ease Bouchard depicts with such precision on Broken Ground. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, but looking in the mirror always is.

Christian Bouchard – Broken Ground

Hallow Ground – HG1606 – 28th October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Reiner Van Houdt presents an interesting proposition: a classically-trained pianist who’s worked with John Cage and Luc Ferrari, he also plays in Current 93 and has worked in collaboration with Nick Cave, John Zorn and Antony Hegarty. The fact this release is on the Hallow Ground label should perhaps give an indication that this is no soft neoclassical effort – although I’m in no way criticising neoclassical music here: I’m simply saying that this dos not sit within the field, and is harder, harsher, heavier, at least in places. There are no neat melodic structures to be found on Paths of the Errant Gaze, and no instrumentation which sits within the classical bracket: this is very much an electronic album.

On the face of it, there isn’t much to this. Paths of the Errant Gaze is an album which is extremely quiet, sparse, minimal, and the detail – and the quantity of source material involved in its creation – are not immediately apparent. Just as Burroughs and Gysin theorised on the power of ‘The Third Mind’ through the act of collaboration, so Van Houdt believes the act of recording creates a ‘third ear’. And so it is that Van Houdt built Paths of the Errant Gaze from myriad recordings gathered from a near-infinite array of locations.

‘The Fabric of Loss’ creeps ominously, scraping strings like creaking doors echo in the still air as dust motes descend silently, ‘Orphic Asylum’ introduces the first semblance of rhythms, murky, clanking, developing to extended bursts of bass-end noise and a thumping, trudging beat which plots treacherously through an unnervingly dark sonic labyrinth. Even when near-silence encroaches, there remains a dark, oppressive atmosphere in the air. Sparse piano notes and a Scott Walker-esque vocal emerge briefly from the dense sonic fog on TR 5, but neither does much to orientate or ground the listener.

There is no indication of the sounds captured by Van Houdt being your common or garden field recordings – in fact, the ‘everyday objects, situations and moments’ which Van Houdt records obsessively are all but lost amidst the process of forming a sonic melange. Nor does Van Houdt utilise these soundpieces in a conventional way: one does not get a sense of Paths of the Errant Gaze existing as a collage work. Paths of the Errant Gaze is not a work which is encumbered by a sense of pretence, and nor does its theoretical or conceptual framework impinge unduly on the end product.

The ten-minute ‘Transfinite Spectre’ is an all-out sonic assault worthy of Merzbow, as laser-guided blasts crackle and fizz, top-end treble drilling directly into the brain through the ear to create maximum discomfort.

 

Reinier Van Houdt - Paths of the Errant Gaze

Hallowground – HG1607 – 28th October 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Danny Hyde is probably best known for his work producing and remixing Nine Inch Nails and Coil, Depeche Mode and Psychic TV, amongst others, although he also remixed Adamski’s ‘Killer’ and has co-produced Pop Will Eat Itself. A varied career, and no mistake, but one which has always leaned toward the darker side of the musical spectrum. He’s also operated a handful of his own musical projects, and Electric Sewer Age is his outlet for creating ‘contemplative mood inducing’ music, as he phrases it on his website. Bad White Corpuscle is the second album under the Electric Sewer Age banner, and is being re-released on vinyl and as a download (with different cover art) after being discreetly released by Italian label Old Europa Café on CD only in 2014. Its predecessor, Moon’s Milk in Finale Phase featured the late Peter Christopherson of Coil, and perhaps not entirely surprisingly, it’s being hailed as a continuation of his work with Coil or even as evoking the spirit of a ‘lost Coil album’. But regardless of associations, Bad White Corpuscle is a strong – and extremely dark – album which stands on its own merit.

The cover art is, however you look at it, pretty grim, in a ‘what the hell is that?’ sort of a way, and the music it houses is equally sinister and inhuman. Chthonic voices whisper and growl blindly in the darkness. Occasionally spiralling out into gravity-free galactic drift, with twinkling synths providing minuscule points of light on ‘Corpuscular Corpuscles’. The ‘Amber Corpuscle’ turns slowly in suspension, insect flickers echo before the ‘Rising Corpuscle’ brings forth booming bass frequencies and nagging, rippling. I find I’m beginning to feel quite spaced out and nauseous: no, I’m not hungover: the frequencies are low, and the sound possesses an uncomfortable, gut-rumbling density which resonates mentally and physically. The experience is sinister and vaguely terrifying.

There’s no escaping the album’s theme as rendered explicit through the track titles. What is Hyde’s obsession with blood? Specifically, the notion of a ‘bad white corpuscle’? The white blood cell is the cell of the immune system: what can be bad about a blood cell which defends the body from invaders? I’m drawn to the idea of the mutant and he virus, perhaps the deficient white corpuscle which fails to fulfil its duty as sentry, or otherwise the virus in disguise, the bad guy dressed as a good guy or the mutating virus which sustains itself while sapping the host undetected. I’m speculating, of course, while the dark sounds drag me down… down.

The soundscapes are simultaneously vast and microcosmic, evoking cellular shapes from a microscopic perspective; traversing the corpuscles, the listener becomes the cosmonaut of inner space. The mangled digital vocals on the alien synthpop incantations of the title track float, disembodied through an analogue circuitscape of liquid metal.

The vinyl-only track, ‘Redocine (Death of the Corpuscle)’ does mark something of a departure with the introduction of more readily identifiable moments of melody – countered by extraneous noise and echoed, distorted robotix voices – propelled by some powerful, stop/start beats and building a deep, dislocated groove. Beneath the shine, the synaptic explosions and dark rumbling vibrations are symptomatic of cellular collapse.

Bad White Corpuscle mines a deep, dark sonic seam, and does so with a real feeling for unsettling sonic terrains. There’s certainly no inoculation against the effects of this album.

 

Electric Sewer Age

My Proud Mountain – 22nd July 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It takes a while to get going: the first minute and a half is simply drifting sound, like the distant sea. But Lash Back is an album that takes it time to build atmosphere. Parker may be the lauded producer and electronics wrangler behind some of metal’s more intriguing contemporary acts, but Lash Back is certainly not a metal album. But it is dark and as innovative an album as you’re likely to hear this year.

Stammering snare drums add an element of unpredictability to the sedate and solid bass-led rhythm on opener ‘Psychic Driving’. As the layers of sound overlay one another, forming a towering sonic cathedral, one is increasingly moved to awe. The stark industrial electronica of ‘Knuckle Crossing’ hangs over a slow, deliberate beat, shifting shapes and textures shading shadows and conjuring an air of coldness and dislocation, while ‘Slow Children’ broods ominously. Parker’s compositions, and their execution, show extreme restraint, the emphasis very much on building tension rather than looking to grant its release. Just as the invisible monster is always scarier than the one which reveals itself, the undefined threat and menace that lurks on, and beneath, the surface of the tracks, is more powerful than their realisation.

There are sustained sonic attacks, and plenty of them for those who relish the blistering noise assault: the aforementioned ‘Slow Children’ does eventually burst into a steely crescendo, and the slow surge of all-engulfing noise that is ‘Low Gaps’ is breathtakingly dense, with heavy hints of Prurient in its tone and the juxtaposition of synth sounds more commonly found on commercial dance albums, with mangled industrial noise, and the sonorous mechanical grating of ‘Sheep Slaughter’ is every bit as abrasive as the title suggests; it’s a soundtrack of pain, of death, of mass-scale killing.

Lash Back is by no means an accessible or easy album, but then, it isn’t meant to be, and Parker has produced something that is unusual and unsettling, and which conforms to precisely nothing.

 

sanford-parker-lash-back-1