Posts Tagged ‘dark’

Kranky – 23rd February 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Tahoe is the second album from Northern California producer Fred Welton Warmsley III in his solo guise as Dedekind Cut. It’s named after the mountain lake town where he now resides, and it’s fitting that an album of such grandeur should relate to a vast expanse of natural beauty. For all the ruination mankind has inflicted on nature, however badly we as a species have damaged and decimated resources and scarred the landscape, hunted species to extinction and generally fucked everything up, the fact remains that nature will always win.

Over millennia, ice ages haves come and gone, mountains have emerged and heatwaves have created new deserts. We may have all the television, cars, space stations and satellites, but nothing man-made can protect against a volcanic eruption, flooding, landslides, mudslides, avalanches, blizzards, wild fires, earthquakes and tsunamis.

The eight compositions on Tahoe are centred round drifting, wafting drones and soft-edged, vaporous tones. It’s as ambient as the breeze, as the rippling of water in a slow-moving river. It’s the sound of drifting clouds, of tranquillity. Tahoe is an album of space, of distance, of earth and air.

It’s on the album’s three longer tracks, each of which extend beyond ten minutes that Tahoe reveals the full extent of Warmsley’s attention to detail and nous for texture ad layering. The second of these, ‘MMXIX’ picks up the pace and accentuates the dramatic tension, and it’s surge and swell arrives quite unexpectedly after the mellowness that is the title track. It’s overtly beaty – shuddering, juddering, thuds hammering dense and muddy through a bassy cyclone and booming low-end notes that hover into the abyss dominate – and the piece is just more up-front overall. Contrasts abound and the textures become more prominent as the track progresses, with skittering melodies and twittering notes flitting in all directions. The third, ‘Hollow Earth’ stretches our dark rumbles over turning air and a sense of foreboding over twelve and a half minutes, with interweaving lattices of aural contrails providing the core tone of the piece.

For all of its space, the exploratory sonic expanses conjured by soft, sweeping tones, and for its cinematic softness, Tahoe is not an ambient album. It is not background or wallpaper. It’s an engaging, detailed and in places gripping piece of work. It’s really quite something else.

AA

Dedekind Cut – Tahoe

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Crónica 138 – 6th February 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Mark E Smith has died. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. In fact, the surprise should be that he didn’t die sooner. But I can’t help but be shaken by the news. It doesn’t feel appropriate to post any music reviews: my social media streams are aclog with tributes to Smith, and it feels wrong even to add to the noise. Part of me feels I should revisit a slew of the old favourites, but they’re so engrained in my mind, I don’t really need to hear them, especially not now.

And so I immerse myself in Témoins, the latest offering from Mathias Delplanque, whose work I’ve previously enjoyed. The three sections of Témoins (including the digital bonus track ‘TU)’ are a world away from the ramshackle three-chord stomps and lyrical derangements of The Fall: these instrumental works – sound collages laid over difficult hums and drones – present a very different kind of abstraction. And it reminds me, vitally, that life goes on. Music goes on.

The sparse arrangements – often, they barely feel like arrangements – are as much about space and silence as sound. The sounds – the whirrs, the drones, he hums, the hisses – are interrupted, disrupted, broken – by seemingly random elements. Birdsong, lowing cattle, slamming doors, clatters and bangs, thumps and crackles. These are amidst the irregular extranea which form the fabric of the material of Témoins.

The atmosphere shifts and moods emerge most unexpectedly from seemingly innocuous sound pairings and juxtapositions. Late in the second piece, ‘Bruz’, thin, tentative notes hover long in the air, needling the senses while unexpected bumps and knocks at close proximity are enough to make you jump. Muffled conversation carries on all around. Here, Delplanque expertly recreates the conditions and sensations of the anxiety of agoraphobia. It grows chill, and it’s difficult to not feel tense are wary. On ‘TU’ – by far the shortest piece running for less than ten minutes – a ghostly piano drifts into the damp air while scraping footfalls combine to create an unsettling, spine-tingling atmosphere.

With Témoins, Mathias Delplanque delivers an hour of understated yet quietly compelling ambient dissonance.

AA

Crónica138_front

Unknown Pleasures Records – 14th February 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

Given the band’s name and that of the label they’re signed to, it’s only fitting that they’re exponents of bleak synth-driven post-punk. Sure enough, as the Italian five-piece’s biography notes, Stefano Bellerba (vocals, guitar), Leonardo Mori (synth), Matteo Luciani (bass), Saverio Paiella (guitar), and Daniele Cruccolini (drums) formed in 2010, and united over their love of Joy Division, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and Depeche Mode. The bio adds that ‘their music is also strongly influenced by Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Japan, The Damned, Interpol, Suicide, CSI, CCCP, and Massimo Volume.’

One of my favourite poems of all time is Philip Larkin’s ‘This be the Verse’, and the fact they put it to music for single release in the summer of 2017 -and made a decent job of it – got me on-side ahead of the new album.

The album in question, Santa Sangre is a lot more guitar-orientated and edgier: while the synths are still very much in the mix, the sound is dominated by brittle, metallic-edged guitars drenched in reverb and flanged hard. It’s the sound of 1982-1985. I’d be hesitant to use the term ‘gothic’ or any variant, despite the snaking atmospherics of tracks like ‘Rejoice’, with its strolling bassline and vocals all but lost in an ocean of echo, which allude to the likes of The Danse Society and acts of similar vintage.

I make no apologies for being an old goth (although I’m not nearly old enough to be a proper old goth, having been born in 1975 and only discovered alternative music in any form in 1986/7). Similarly, I make no apologies for not being a purist, or for my knowledge of second-wave and beyond bands being limited. There’s so much else out there in the musical sphere. Yet, at the tail end of the year, feeling weary and wintery and withdrawn, I find myself here – as I did late last year, and the year before – with a crop of albums which betray gothier leanings which leap out as among the strongest and most compelling releases I’ve received all year.

Lead single, ‘Circle’ was a blast of buzzing bass and squalling guitars, with elements of The Jesus and Mary Chain and A Place to Bury Strangers, pitched with chilly synths and vocals with a grippingly desperate edge. It’s placed up front in the track listing, and serves the purpose of demanding the attention with its urgency and serrated edges.

Snaking basslines, choppy guitars and tribal drumming abound, but there’s a pop edge to a number of the songs: ‘Blown Away’ melds fractal guitars to an insistent flanged bassline that’s as pure Cure as the synths which eddy at a respectful distance in the background. There’s a certain bounce – and even catchiness – to the richly-layered shoegaze-goth of ‘For Every Flaw’.

When they do lugubrious, it’s as sparse and bleak as anything on Faith, and when they do slow-build, they really go for delayed gratification, forging a dense atmosphere along the way.

Santa Sangre is taut, tense and crackles with dark energy.

AA

Japan Suicide - Santa Sangre (cover)

Southern Lord – 24th November 2017

James Wells

When you’re presented with an album containing ten tracks, where only two clock in at over two minutes, you know it’s likely to be a pretty direct attack, and you don’t need a lengthy dissection to get the guts. In fact, you don’t need words, you just need to feel it kicking you in the guts, over and over.

No Cure For Death is a gnarly, guttural, snarling mess of feedback and noise. Savage, brutal, unrestrained noise: that’s what No Cure For Death throws down from beginning to end – not that it’s a particularly long period between the two markers.

Death, decay, despair ooze from every pore of this feedback-soaked frenzy of blistering noise. It’s dark, dingy, a seething miasma of gut-churning overloading, overdriven loathing of all things. It’s the world we live in, of course: it’s fucked-up and ruined. It’s everything it should be.

AA

Sect cover image for Haulix

Sargent House – 22nd September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Chelsea Wolfe is one of those artists who seems to continually grow with every release, and 2015’s Abyss was something special: a grand, powerful, and intense musical work that reached the parts other albums cannot reach. It’s fair to say that expectations for Hiss Spun were set high as a consequence.

As the accompanying blurb tells us, ‘the album was conceived as an emotional purge, a means of coming to terms with the tumult of the outside world by exploring the complexities of one’s inner unrest’.

Chelsea gets down to conveying this turmoil from the first bars: opener, ‘Spun’, is a throbbing deluge of dense, low-tempo, Godfleshy, bass-centric grind, a seething surge of low-end noise with an overloading, freewheeling lead guitar that’s not so much a solo as an out of control rollercoaster of fretwork that heaves and lurches every which way as if uncertain of its own direction but desperate to find a route to the end. ‘Particle Flux’ is also centred around a tectonic, subterranean low-end pulsation, and builds to a multi-layered, multi-faceted crescendo.

Single cut ’16 Psyche’ has the epic qualities of some of the strongest tracks from previous album Abyss – ‘Iron Moon’ in particular – and ‘The Culling’ repeats the trick of bursting into a crushingly powerful bloom from a quiet, delicate bud. But while nailing choruses of immense scale, these tracks also pound hard, sonically and emotionally.

Placing Hiss Spin side by side with Abyss is instructive: this latest work marks a considerable shift from the brooding industrial-edged gothic folk of its predecessor toward a much more metal-orientated sound that’s not only heavier and more abrasive, but more overtly challenging and confrontational. In fact, everything about Hiss Spun is more.

Following a heavy synth drone intro, ‘Vex’ brings blistering guitar dynamics and a shoegaze atmosphere to a twisted, reverb-soaked vocal that’s simultaneously emotion-rich and curiously detached. ‘Scrape’ draws the curtain with a dark, murky grind that’s as intense as it is dense, and Chelsea’s voice soars higher than ever, wracked with desperation. Thunderous tribal drumming blasts through the squalling guitars to render an imposing finale.

The production on Hiss Spun is immense. The percussion is enormous, every snare hit an explosion, every bass thump enough to trigger an earthquake or tsunami. Every beat, every note, strikes deep into the soul and drags at the deepest levels. To explain precisely how and why Hiss Spun resonates so deeply would be to ruin its magic: this is an album which connects subconsciously, subliminally, pulling as it does between fragility and fury, and with such stunning grace, and it drives, but as a slow pace.

Instrumentally, the dynamics are breathtaking. And never has Wolfe sounded so raw, by turns so fragile and so powerful, channelling emotions to utterly devastating and bewildering effect. Superlatives are inadequate: Hiss Spun is an album so strong as to be almost overwhelming and marks, my a mile, a new career high-point.

AAA

Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun Cover 3000x3000 300 dpi (1)

Hallow Ground – September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Hallow Ground is one of those niche little labels that exceeds in catering to a small but devoted audience. The quality is pretty consistent, and while you know broadly what you’re going to get from anything in their catalogue, there’s nevertheless a sense of challenge with each release. And so it is with The Expanding Domain, which is pitched as showcasing the way in which the producer’s ‘fascination with ambient becomes a blank slate upon which [he] and his collaborators serve shimmering Trance-derived melodies, murky Industrial grooves and all-consuming Harsh Noise attacks.’

If it sounds like a difficult and disparate blend, it is, making for 23 intense minutes, but it works. ‘Cold Bloom’ may be brief, but moves through a succession of quite contrasting passages, from ominous ambient rumbles and analogue tweets through expansive orchestral strikes lifted straight out of 90s clubland. As such, it condenses all aspects of the album into under two and a half mind-punishing minutes.

On the one hand, it seems like a bad idea and waste of energy to become overly concerned with genre definitions and intersections. On the other, The Expanding Domain seemingly less invites and more demands that type of scrutiny.

‘Lil Puffy Coat’ – which I’m taking as a playful reference to The Orb’s ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ amalgamates dislocated Krautronica with shades of abstract industrial to forge a sinister expanse of liquid concrete: grey, heavy, but tactile, its form transitional, not yet set firm, and therefore difficult to define.

The volume and aggression are ratcheted up on the heavily percussive attack that is ‘Fear in Reverse II’, the pounding barrage of metallic hammering reminiscent of Test Department providing the perfectly painful foil to the howling discord that screeches above it.

The title track is definitive: with Dominick Fernow (aka Prurient) and Death Grips drummer Zack Hill contributing additional percussion and Dirch Heather bringing the modular synths, it’s a perfect hybrid of delicate, semi-ambient electronica, gnarly, dark ambient that broods and churns, and throbbing industrial. The result is immersive and unsettling, an album somehow at ease with its incongruity which is melded into a perversely cogent form.

Dedekind Cut – The Expanding Domain

Ipecac Recordings – 1st September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Dälek have always been about progress and evolution, and not only remaining contemporary but pushing the parameters. Since they emerged in ’98, they’ve stood at the forefront of the challenging end of hip-hop, a genre which has witnessed immense expansion over the last two decades – but has equally seen its horizons shrink dramatically within the suffocating avenues of the commercial mainstream. One might say that this polarity is a key fact in the framing of Endangered Philosophies. The polarisation between the mainstream and everything else musical is representative of the world at large: the political landscape provides perhaps the most significant and substantial indicator here, with left and right parties both moving further away from centre and claiming almost equal ground in the process, and not just domestically here in England.

Endangered Philosophies is an album for the now, as the press release points out: ‘Within the context of the current political landscape, the title Endangered Philosophies certainly brings to mind pertinent issues of moment, notably the rampant rise of anti-intellectualism, as well as the all too rapid erosion of genuinely progressive values in the face of fearful reactionary forces.’

‘Echoes Of…’ launches the album with a nauseating washing machine churn that grinds along before the thumping rhythm crashes in. the vocals are low in the mix – rare and seemingly contradictory for a hip-hop album, but this is Dälek, an act as inclined toward rock and industrial tropes as conventional hip-hop stylings. It’s a gnarling industrialised trudge, and the whiplash scratching and other overt concessions to genre form are crushed hard against one another into an oppressive and intense slab of sound.

‘Weapons’ is woozy, dark, and suffocating. ‘Few Understand’ is less abrasive, but rides on a dense, pulsating swell of sound underpinned by a plodding beneath that carries a real weight. Sometimes, a live drum sound is all it takes to elevate a hip-hop track above the conventions and into fresh, liberated territories.

With the vocals enveloped in delay and heavy layers of extraneous noise, the lyrics aren’t always entirely prominent, but the sentiment is entirely clear at all times. The shuffling trudge of ‘Son of Immigrants’ is underpinned by an almost subsonic bass. In contrast, there’s something approaching a levity about ‘Beyond the Madness’, the semi-ambient synths drifting cinematically over the insistent rhythm, and the seven-minute ‘A Collective Cancelled Thought’ is monumentally weighty, the bass churning beneath a shifting, turning squall of sound. ‘Battlecries’ is slow and bleak, with lyrics about black males being murdered and the state of culture and society providing the message to the work of the mixed medium.

It’s the contrasts which lie at the heart of the compositions on Endangered Philosophies which make it the album it is, and which render it so compelling.

Dalek_EP_Cover