Posts Tagged ‘Elecronica’

Gusstaff Records – 2nd September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

It may have bene groundbreaking and have acquired a legendary status, but I have to confess to being unfamiliar with Mapa’s previous album, Fudo, released some nineteen years ago. That said, No Automato is billed as being quite an evolution and reveals a newfound simplicity and sense of minimalism.

Not that you could exactly call any of the album’s nine compositions simple or minimal, because there’s a lot going on, but there is a directness and energy which emanates from the music. Stylistically, it’s all in the mix, incorporating elements of punk, avant-garde jazz, instrumental hip-hop and experimental electronica.

There’s a playfulness about the way they forge juxtapositions: slow, ritual percussion booms and rattles tribalistically as if marking the pace of a funeral march deep in the jungle. In contrast, warping bass tones and flickering, glitchy electro whirs and bleepy scrapes shape the sound: this is ‘MPA Jazz’, and this is how Mapa introduce themselves on No Automatu, and it’s clear that working with Marcin Dymiter brings out a different side of Paul Wirkus.

The mad, lo-fi disco of ‘Burnt Tragiczny’ transitions into the world of the weird as the juddering retro beats slip their sprockets, and the rapid-fire retro snare explosions which pin the woozy bass undulations of ‘Heute Tanz A’ in place evoke a bygone era of experimental electro recordings. ‘Heute Tanz B’ juxtaposes surging waves of analogue synth with a beat lifted almost directly from Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Nag Nag Nag’, and it’s the primitive drum machine sounds that define the album’s sound throughout.

‘Rudyment’ may be instrumental, but its sparse plod is harrowing and oppressive, and it’s clear that Mapa are abundantly capable of forging an atmosphere more or less out of nowhere and pulsing throbs build the backdrop of the infinite layers that build on top. The title track is the album’s closer, and it’s a dense, relentless attack built around motoric drums and woozy, abrasive synth-bass.

Mapa are all about the clatter and clang, and No Automatu is a curious album whichever angle you care to view it from. Messy, noisy, unpredictable, the range of atmospheres and vibes packed into the album keeps it moving at pace, and means it’s never less than fascinating.

AAA

mapa-no-automatu

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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

Edition Beides – beides 2 – 9th December 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Why am I enthralled by a deep, churning low-end rumble that sounds like a slowed-down washing machine with pops that sound like a ping-pong ball being smacked around? What is it that’s so compelling about a distant sound that may or may not be a sustaining guitar that suddenly breaks into ear-shattering strains of feedback? It’s uncomfortable, it attacks the senses. Perhaps it’s a deep-seated defect which lurks like a parasite in my psyche, and gnaws away invisibly, driving me toward audio works which induce discomfort, craving a psychologically twisted, deviant form of amour. Perhaps I’m just wired differently. The answers to these questions do not lie in Paul Wirkus’ ‘psycho-acoustic essay’, described as ‘a consciously digital ambient album between laptop electronica and field recordings’, which is forged with ‘mental strolls… are combined with real strolls through the green fields of the summery, loud city on the search for security, calm, and a chance to exhale’.

The four tracks on Discours Amoureux offer little sense of comfort, of respite, of security or calm. In fact, it’s a fairly dark and oppressive work from beginning to end, although a sense of exploration, of discovery, does still linger in traces in the corners of the uncomfortable, claustrophobic sonic spaces created by Wirkus. There’s something reluctant, grudging about Wirkus’ stance in relation to his art, and just as there’s little sense of concern for the listener’s reaction to it, there’s equally little sense of context or framing.

Welcome to 1982. I can only assume, in the absence of information, that the track’s title – and the titles of the other tracks – are dates. This first track on Discours Amoureux is in the same kind of difficult noise field as early Whitehouse (although not nearly as trebly and harsh as their work of this time), Prurient, and Merzbow, and as such, evokes the spirit of the emerging underground scene of power electronics as it was in 1982 or thereabouts. Or maybe not. Nevertheless, it’s abrasive and disturbing. The origins of the sounds are unclear, and the sleeve divulges precisely nothing beyond the artist’s name, the album title, record label and track listing. But there’s an organic feel to the slowly-evolving layers on the individual compositions. From the amorphous, shimmering wall of sound emerge moments of outstanding beauty, towering, glistening…. Yet still rough-edged, rusting, with a sufficiently abrasive surface as to scour the senses.

‘1499’ is more overtly electronic. At its foundation, the piece explores resonating notes ringing against one another, the undulating pitch creating a strangely harmonious melody. Incidental clatters and clangs – spanners against scaffolding, the chank of glass – interrupt the flow, and the notes increase in pace and the mellowness gradually is lost to rising tension and ultimately, echoes into the void of a sea of static.

The more overtly ambient ‘2016’ takes the form of a sound collage, with found sounds and field recordings assembled over random percussion and multitonal hums and drones. A gloomy, dense atmosphere descends, encapsulating in sound the long shadows which have cast themselves over the world during a year marked by catastrophic political, economic and humanitarian events. Back to a golden age, and much happier times: 1888. The year in which the great blizzard hit the US, Jack the Ripper began his notorious spree, and the first (known) recording of classical music was made, is represented by a long, sonorous, humming drone, its surface distorted with crackling, clicking. It seems reasonably apposite, intentionally or otherwise. Distant voices, slow, warped, intimate a dark spirituality and an even darker future.

What kind of perverse amour is this? How do Wirkus’ sonic explorations move you? Discours Amoureux is an uncomfortable, unsettling experience which speaks of a dark love, a brutal and torturous love, a love which causes pain, physical and psychological. Yield to it.

 

Paul Wirkus – Discours Amoureux

Antime – Antime#018 – 14th October 2016

James Wells

There’s something perversely apt about the fact that members of Soft Grid, Jana Sotzko and Theresa Stroetges (ala Golden Disko Ship) met in an abandoned hospital ward. The album begins with the slow, dense electro-throb of ‘Herzog on a Bus’. Hefty percussion underpins looping, layered vocals. From the mechanised murk emerges a rolling, picked guitar line, delicate and tranquil. Harmonies play a major part in the album’s overall focus and form: while there are huge ruptures of noise and bursts of dynamic drum and guitar, in places reminiscent of latter-day Swans, it’s the vocal harmonies which really captivate and provide the focal point.

The twelve-minute ‘Minus Planet’ provides the album’s towering centrepiece, with a mellow electronic pulsation reminiscent of Tangerine Dream breaking out into a surging crescendo before taking a sharp turn around the mid-point and swelling into a The stripped-back and downbeat ‘Two Barrels of Oil’ is low, slow and haunting, a sparse bassline providing the backing to near acapella vocals. The final track, ‘Corolla’ has elements of folktronica and flamenco, and again, through a kaleidoscopic Krautrock transition, the sound builds to a shimmering crescendo.

Corolla is the sound of a band who take the progressive ethos rather than the vintage 70s sound, and actually make music that’s forward-facing and inventive.

 

Soft Grid - Corolla

Lado ABC – Lado A/18 – 21st March 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s all about the retro vibe. And it’s all about messing with the listener’s brain. Described as ‘an attempt at finding the perfect balance between beautiful and unbearable music,’ the Polish duo’s latest effort, Żony w pracy (trans. Wives at Work) Bringing a carnival of analogue synths to the party in a celebration of the machines of the East (Korg) and the West (Moog). Unfortunately, Żony w pracy often fails to find the balance it seeks, and ends up sounding more like a deranged duel than the homage it’s intended as.

Beneath a throbbing bass track, the time signatures of the percussion on the albums first track, ‘Brasilia’, are ever-changing, slipping the groove with to disorientating results. The track bubbles along nicely, mellow, jazzy easy-listening synth muzak until it sinks underwater into a muffles murk. So far, so middling analogue experimentalism, the likes of which has been done countless times before. It’s fun, it’s clever, but it’s awkward and twisty and difficult to really get into the groove.

But then things go crazy on ‘Torreador Janusz’, a frenzy of synths stab and loop and warp deliriously, descending into a riot of bleeps and squiggles flying in all directions. Wibbly, wobbly and whimsical, it’s smart and techy. But like so much music that’s smart and techy, regardless of genre – from jazz through avant-garde and experimental to post-rock, tech metal and prog rock – the mastery of instruments and a penchant for messing about with convention and form amounts to so much showing off. Yes, you can play – but how about some tunes? Still, XLMP manage to stay on the right side of the precipice that is unlistenable smug muso wank with just enough attention – or concession – to listenability.

‘Kosmos, Teil 1’ is perhaps the album’s most linear piece, a soaring, surging rush of synths in space that hints at Krautrock leanings. There are undeniably rather hipsterish overtones to it all, but it’s well executed and there is a sense that there’s an element of knowingness and self-aware humour at play here: Piotr Zabrodzki and Macio Moretti state that Żony w pracy is an homage to the real working wives, Anna and Zofia, and write, ‘Żony w pracy apart from being an homage to the homages, also, or even above all, ask one question of the “fundamental” sort – “How are you gonna play that live?”.

I’m not going to make any public judgement based on their latest promotional shot, and will keep my attention on the album itself and so, I will say this: guys – maybe you should listen to your wives. Żony w pracy has an indisputable novelty value, and does offer moments of fun, but how enduring its appeal is, well, that’s something that seems less certain.

 

XLMP

 

LXMP on Bandcamp