Posts Tagged ‘Sunn O)))’

Composer and curator Greg Anderson (Southern Lord Recordings; Sunn O))), Engine Kid, Goatsnake & more) has unveiled a new song as a part of his forthcoming explorative compositions and collaborations as THE LORD available on Bandcamp.

The first track to surface is the thunderous song “Needle Cast,” which features BIG|BRAVE guitarist/vocalist Robin Wattie.  Wattie’s striking, shimmering vocals pair perfectly with Anderson’s multi-faceted instrumental approach.  Anderson comments: “I’m extremely honoured to have been able to collaborate with Robin Wattie on this track.  I’m a massive fan of BIG|BRAVE especially Robin’s emotive vocals and infectious melodies.  Immediately after composing this track I was envisioning her dynamic vocals within the piece.  The performance she recorded went beyond what I had imagined. Robin also created the amazing artwork that accompanies the music."  All proceeds from “Needle Cast” will go directly to The Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.

Listen to ‘Needle Cast’ here:

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"Needle Cast" cover art by Robin Wattie

Engine Kid, the 90s post hardcore collective featuring Greg Anderson (Southern Lord label owner, also in Sunn O))), Goatsnake & Thorr’s Hammer) share the previously unreleased track "Angel Dust" appearing on their special Record Store Day 6 x LP boxed set release Everything Left Inside

About this track Greg Anderson comments, "during the process of unearthing Angel Wings master tapes a previously unreleased/unheard track from the session was discovered.  Our recollections of this song were extremely foggy and the reason it was left off the full-length album remains a mystery! Vitality was injected into the track by wizard producer Brad Wood."

The boxed set includes other unreleased/unheard recordings as well as hard to find/sought after albums including the “Novocaine/Astronaut” 12”, Bear Catching Fish 2xLP, Angel Wings 2xLP and Split w/ Iceburn / Everything Left Inside 12” – all remastered and with an extensive 12-page booklet.  A black vinyl version of the box is set for RSD on June 12th (not available outside the US) with additional versions of the record for the rest of the world to arrive at a later date TBC. Digital for the time being available via bandcamp:

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Editions Mego – EMEGO298 – 16th April 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

As the title perhaps suggests, Cylene Suisse Redux is a document of the tour of Switzerland undertaken by François J. Bonnet and Stephen O’Malley in December 2019, following the release of their first album, Cylene. That said, it’s no straight live recording, as the two longform tracks – naturally corresponding with a side of vinyl or cassette each – were edited and manipulated respectively by Jim O’Rourke and Ryoji Ikeda, ‘giving them carte blanche, and each in turn chose a distinct personal approach’.

The two musicians chose to entrust sound material recorded on the tour to the expert ears of two friends and great musicians Jim O’Rourke and Ryoji Ikeda, giving them carte blanche, and each in turn chose a distinct personal approach.

For Ryoji Ikeda, it was a question of finding a moment, circumscribing a fragment of time through his listening, with minimal intervention. For Jim O’Rourke, on the other hand, the live recordings became material to be deconstructed and reassembled, to tell, according to his musical sensibility, a path of metamorphosis for Bonnet and O’Malley’s music.

According to the press release, ‘Cylene Suisse Redux is a prismatic substrate of a series of concerts surrounded by friendship, lakes, mountains, and by nightfall’. But how does that translate as a listening experience?

O’Rourke conjures an ominous sci-fi soundscape, abrim with other-worldly odyssey, as spooky-sounding mid—range drones hover and twist in a haze of reverb. This is the sinister soundtrack to a sinister movie set in a barren wasteland in an alien climate, as clouds of red dust drift through the thin, inhospitable atmosphere. Something is awry: danger is omnipresent, and anything could happen at any moment. Sonorous tones echo out into the emptiness, accentuating the bleakness of the sonic expanse in which we find ourselves. There is nowhere to hide, and there is nothing solid or familiar, only an ever-shifting drift of layer upon layer of sound without and signposts or markers, nothing to orientate oneself with. You feel isolated, alone, exposed, vulnerable, as you advance, with trepidation, onwards through this nerve-jangling eighteen minutes.

Ryoji Ikeda’s approach is quite different, and so is the end result, which starts out like a distant freight trail screeching to a halt with the scrape of metal upon metal, and it continues far off in the background as insistent drones, broad and bulbous, hover and turn, twist and whine, evolving over time. This is more what you might consider ‘typical’ ambient drone, favouring neither lightness nor darkness, and with neither a leaning toward bass not treble, and therefore not challenging and sensory aspect too hard. It’s still ominous in places, but not overtly unsettling or uncomfortable. Because there’s some sense of linear trajectory, it growls louder and darker as it progresses, swelling in volume and intensity, while the soft-edged drones develop sharper edges and become increasingly shrill, howling dissonance and pain before gradually tapering down, albeit with some afterburn.

You’re left wandering, aimless, vacant, in no-man’s land, wondering precisely how you should feel and how you should react to what you’ve just heard – and that’s as it should be. François J. Bonnet and Stephen O’Malley create music without boundaries or definition, and that indistiction is further accentuated by O’Rourke and Ikeda. It’s for the listener to do the work, to explore and to find the points of resonance. There is much space to explore. Go forth.

Ideologic Organ – SOMA034

Digital release date: July 3/10 / Physical release date: mid August 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Ideologic Organ label owner Stephen O’Malley effuses over Ai Aso’s ‘immaculately crafted form of minimalist pop music skirts the edges of tensity with the manner and with the skill of a tight rope walker, calmly balancing repeatedly at every step, with a combination of surety and the risk of a slip, a fall, and an unknown uncoiling of events’.

Pop may not be a genre commonly associated with he label or the Sunn O))) founder, but Ideologic Organ do have a track record for venturing beyond the expected and showcasing some unusual talents, and Ai Aso is definitely one of those, as the nine tracks on The Faintest Hint demonstrate. Legendary Japanese rock band Boris accompany Aso on two of the pieces, but if you’re expecting powerchords, keep moving on.

Picked acoustic guitar alone accompanies Aso’s voice for most of the first song, ‘Itsumo’, and indeed, much of the album, and even with the multi-tracked vocal, it’s a simple, spartan, and intimate recording. The guitar and voice are in the room with you. And they touch you accordingly.

‘Scene’ is more post-rock, a slow, quivering bass chord echoes out against chiming guitar notes and Ai’s soaring ethereal voice calls to mind Cranes at their most delicately haunting, but also at times is simply a shy humming that’s endearing in its understatement and apparent reticence.

Sometimes, quietness and sparseness simply seem to equate to sadness, and the low, mumbling low-note repetitions of ‘Gone’, despite the words being unintelligible, emanate an aching sadness, while in contrast, ‘I’ll do it My Way’ carries something of a playfulness, not to mention a certain Young marble Giants lo-fi bedroom indie vibe. The straining electric guitar discordance that disrupts the singsong easiness of the song toward the end is a nice touch. She trills, swoops and croons on ‘Floating Rhythms’ in a way that sounds like she’s singing to herself – and this intimacy provides a large part of the appeal.

If there’s anything about The Faintest Hint that may suggest ‘amateurish’ to some, that’s certainly not the reaction from my ears: Aso’s minimal approach to songwriting and performance gives a rare immediacy, and it’ss unhampered by conspicuous production. It’s touching, intimate, and special.

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Géante 4 is a graphically scored piece that I’ve illustrated/written of about 10-12 minutes in length that I was hoping you could tackle as a solo piece. It involves between 3-7 voicings per section over 5 sections, in total around 10-12 minutes. I had the Japanese guitarist Michio Kurahara do a version of this last autumn when we were doing some basic tracking for this session in Tokyo.

We also did a 90-minute version in Norway last summer with 2 double bass players, a haldorophone, piano and sine wave/tape. I’d love for you to approach this very much as you like, based on the rough parameters of the score. I imagine that the common aspects to Kurahara’s version would be the sustained tones and the transitions, as well as the modes you’re transitioning between.”

So begins O’Malley’s missive to Stuart Dempster, trombonist (or, as his brief bio states, ‘Sound Gatherer – trombonist, composer, didjeriduist, et al, and Professor Emeritus at University of Washington’) with avant-garde collective Eye Music, who are here represented as an octet.

O’Malley’s directions are simultaneously clear and vague, and the same is true of the blank ambience this release contains: namely, two versions of the same piece, meaning both the four- and five-layer mixes are 12:41 in duration.

The elongated notes of echoing drones, dense, sinewy, turn gradually fade in and hover… and hover… and swirl. The overall blend of sound bears no resemblance to the sum of the parts, and electric guitar, flute, cello, trombone, harmonium, field organ, synthesizer, and bowed stringboard with metal slide and blur and melt into a broad, organic-sounding wash that paints in broad watercolour strokes.

I’m not so anal as to sit and compare the two tracks intonation by intonation, and I haven’t attempted to play them simultaneously. The 5 layer mix does feel deeper, denser, slower, darker, but it cold equally be my variable and gradually declining mood, as happens some evenings. Many. No doubt a detailed comparison may prove illuminating, and prove of some value to someone somewhere, but no-one needs it here as part of a review, and besides, I’d hate to spoil your fun.

Fun isn’t top of the list with this release: beat-free, sans overt structure, and ambient with some more brooding tendencies, the atmosphere is cloudy, overcast and hints at a turbulence that never actually arrives, but is always bubbling over the horizon: the soundtrack not to a storm, but a preceding pressure drop.

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Southern Lord – 25th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The appearance of a new Sunn O))) album just six months after Life Metal represents a significant upsurge in their usually steady output. But then, as much as it is a standalone document, Pyroclasts exists in many ways as a companion and counterpart to Life Metal, which in the slow-moving scheme of Sunn O))) represented a seismic shift on a par with Monoliths and Dimensions in that it brought a new focus. The question posed by Life Metal centred around what precisely could Steve Albini bring to Sunn O)))’s eternal drone guitar noise. In the event, his ‘stick the mics in front of the amps at a precise distance and angle and let the tape roll’ approach brought new sonic dimensions (but no monoliths) to the fore, giving the band a new and unexpected richness of sound. It’s this clarity and depth that also defines Pyroclasts recorded during the same sessions.

An element of ritual is integral to much of Sunn O)))’s work, and while this is perhaps nowhere more evident than in their live performances, the very nature of the music, the image, and the titling of their albums alludes to a certain type of repetitive organisation and (pseudo)spiritual convention. The origins of Pyroclasts is rooted in that ritualism, as is explained in the press release:

‘The Pyroclasts album is the result of a daily practice which was regularly performed each morning, or evening during the two week Life Metal sessions at Electrical Audio during July 2018, when all of the days musical participants would gather and work through a 12 minute improvised modal drone at the start and or end of the day’s work. The piece performed was timed with a stopwatch and tracked to two inch tape, it was an exercise and a chance to dig into a deep opening or closing of the days session in a deep musical way with all of the participants. To connect/reconnect, liberate the creative mind a bit and greet each other and the space through the practice of sound immersion.’

And so the four pieces on Pyroclasts last between 10’54” and 11’04”, and being aware of the time constraints imposed by the players, the endings make sense: the first track, ‘Frost’, is close to what sounds like a natural ending as the drone hum hangs, but fades uncommonly fast when ordinarily they’d let the note hang for an eternity. Likewise the last of the four, ‘Ascensions’, which starts higher, faster, more aggressively than is usual for Sunn O))), and ends abruptly as though the tape was simply stopped dead – which it probably was.

Given the band’s maximalist tendencies and a propensity for sprawling sludgescapes spanning fifteen to twenty minutes this discipline and concision offers a new insight into their methods. Four tracks and a running time of circa forty minutes is tight for Sunn O))), and it works remarkably well.

Pyroclasts is exploratory and experimental in context of Sunn O))), and in revealing new facets while at the same time mining the same seam the band have explored since their inception, it’s an interesting and highly necessary document of their evolution and practises. Moreover, it’s another booming slab of texture-heavy droning doom and absolutely classic Sunn O))).

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The Pyroclasts album is the result of a daily practice which was regularly performed each morning, or evening during the two week Life Metal sessions at Electrical Audio during July 2018, when all of the days musical participants would gather and work through a 12 minute improvised modal drone at the start and or end of the day’s work. The piece performed was timed with a stopwatch and tracked to two inch tape, it was an exercise and a chance to dig into a deep opening or closing of the days session in a deep musical way with all of the participants. To connect/reconnect, liberate the creative mind a bit and greet each other and the space through the practice of sound immersion. The players across the four pieces of Pyroclasts are Tim Midyett, T.O.S., Hildur Guðnadóttir, and as always Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson.

Pyroclasts was recorded and mixed by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio on two inch tape July 2018, and mastered by Matt Colton through all analogue AAA process at Metropolis July 2019. The album is released via Southern Lord on 23rd September.

While you’re waiting, you can check the trailer here:

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Editions Mego – EMEGO264 – 5th July 2019

Australian avant-gardist Oren Ambarchi has enjoyed a varied career spanning over three decades, and includes among his associations Sunn O))), Merzbow, and Burial Chamber Orchestra. To describe his output as ‘prodigious’ would be an understatement.

According to the press release, ‘Simian Angel finds Oren Ambarchi renewing his focus on his singular approach to the electric guitar, returning in part to the spacious canvases of classic releases like Grapes from the Estate while also following his muse down previously unexplored byways’.

It continues: ‘Reflecting Ambarchi’s profound love of Brazilian music – an aspect of his omnivorous musical appetite not immediately apparent in his own work until now – Simian Angel features the remarkable percussive talents of the legendary Cyro Baptista, a key part of the Downtown scene who has collaborated with everyone from John Zorn and Derek Bailey to Robert Palmer and Herbie Hancock’. Some of this has meaning: a lot of it doesn’t. I don’t know everything, and nor have the time or inclination to research. Jobbing reviewers crib from press blurbs and make like they know stuff. The majority are lying.

Neither Brazilian music nor guitar are overtly apparent on the two long-form tracks which make up Simian Angel: the sixteen-minute ‘Palm Sugar Candy’ consists of supple, trilling organ notes drifting across clopping, loping, irregular wood-based percussion which fades out to nothing leaving only soft, whisping tones which weave in and out of one another.

The title track is vague, piano notes rising into a rarefied air. It builds gradually into flurries of notes which flutter like snow in a breeze, skittering unpredictably. Baptista’s contribution is remarkable in its subtlety: a sedated heartbeat pulse which occasionally stutters and stammers. Around the mid-point of this twenty-minute mod-inspiring epic, the piano halts unexpectedly and an upward gliding drone alters the previously straightforward trajectory of the composition. Simmering down into twittering gentleness, subtly twisted with the slightest hints of dissonance and eventually transitioning into some mellowed-out semi-ambient reinterpretation of minimalist jazz – which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. Instead, the slowly insistent beats force something approximating a solid frame on which all the other abstraction hangs – and it works.

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Oren Ambarchi – Simian Angel

Southern Lord – 26th April 2019

A new Sunn O))) album is still an event, even after all these years as the leading exponents of droning doom, a field now crowded with imitators and influences. The sense of ceremony is a major factor: Sunn O))) appreciate and command ceremony in every aspect of their exitance. As good as so many who have emerged to follow in their wake may be, there really is only one Sunn O))). The thing with Sunn O))) is that while they very much do mine deep into their self-made seem, each release offers something different, a variation on that consistent sameness.

And so it is on Life Metal that co-founders Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson set themselves a production-orientated goal for realising their immense sound, namely to have their playing captured by god himself, Steve Albini. The story goes that Steve took the call, and said ,“Sure, this will be fun. I have no idea what is going to happen.”

The resulting four tracks, which evolved through time in rehearsal, and with collaborative input from Anthony Pateras, Jóhann Jóhannsson collaborator Hildur Guðnadóttir, guitarist / bassist Tim Midyett, and live mainstay T.O.S bringing Moog action, were laid at Albini’s legendary Electrical Audio studio, and the end product (at least on vinyl) is pure analogue, with an AAA rating.

And it certainly brings the band’s earthy qualities to the fore: the richness, the density of the speakers vibrating in their cabs as displaced air emerges as sound in its most overtly physical manifestation is all captured in a way that conveys the immersive, all-enveloping experience of being a room with the band. As is also the case with Swans and A Place to Bury Strangers, the intense volume isn’t a gimmick but a necessary part of the sound and the experience. Some frequencies simply don’t exist at lower volume, and tones resonate against one another in a certain and quite different way when everything is turned up to eleven and then maximum gain applied. And the effect is transcendental. And whereas its predecessor, Kannon was comparatively concise, with its three tracks clocking in around the half-hour mark, Life Metal goes all out on the expansive, the four pieces running for a fill seventy minutes.

It begins with a distant rumble, before, after just a matter of seconds, the first chord crashes in: thick, dense, so distorted and low-registering as so almost collapse under its own density. But from the slow-crawling swamp-heavy ooze emerges individual notes, the makings of a melodic lead guitar line, and from the darkness radiates a gleam of light. Feedback… soaring notes… grandeur on a galactic scale. And then… Guðnadóttir’s voice. Detached and somehow simultaneously clinical yet emotive, assured yet utterly lost, it possesses an other-worldliness as it drapes dimensions across a simmering drone forged from a lattice of layers reminiscent of sections of Earth on Earth 2.

‘Troubled Air’, which features Pateras’ pipe organ work heightens the impact of volume as well as the ceremonial, ritual undertones which run through every Sunn O))) composition. By turns beauteous and beastly, shifting between moments of monumental grace and churning discord.

The nineteen-minute ‘Aurora’ goes low and slow, a single chord hanging in the thick, muggy air for an eternity until it twists out of shape and becomes a whine of feedback. And then it goes lower and slower still. The suspense builds between each chord, which elongates out to a droning sustain, and when the next lands, it’s with the force of an imploding black hole. Because Sunn O))) don’t do things on a small scale or in light: instead, they amplify darkness until it goes beyond critical mass to become all-consuming.

It ends abruptly in a peak of feedback before a deluge of grinding guitar, overdriven and distorted to a point beyond devastation hits like a tsunami to open the twenty-five-minute closer, ‘Novae’. Again taking clear cues from Earth 2, it’s a heavy drone that occupies the full sonic spectrum as howling strains of feedback whine over bowel-rupturing lower frequencies. Nothing much happens: it doesn’t need to. This is about taking a concept and pushing it as far beyond its logical end as possible, something Sunn O))) have effectively made a career of. And it still works.

And if ever a single album encapsulated the fundamental concept of Sunn O))), Life Metal would be a strong contender.

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Midira Records

Christopher Nosnibor

The press release informs us that Four Movements Of A Shade is the second solo album by Sarram, and that it ‘features four haunting tracks, that move through different genres like doom, drone, ambient and somehow minimal post-rock, played with just a guitar and some synths. The idea behind that album was to go to the studio without having tracks, just an idea and the mood he had in mind to play an improvisational session. The result was recorded in one day and turned out as a very dark and intense soundjourney. You can feel the temper of the recording session by listening to that record. Sarram recommends very loud volume.’

I can’t recall an album that mentions volume which actually recommends playing at a reduced level, although increased volume can definitely increase or even optimise the level of impact and appreciation, depending on context. Music played and recorded at high volume is definitely best heard at the volume intended: there’s a distinct relationship between volume and frequency, and certain frequencies and notational interplays only occur with the amps up. Many of the bands which stand out as purveyors of dangerous decibels – MBV, Sunn O))), Swans, A Place to Bury Strangers – simply wouldn’t work quiet: and I say that as having witnessed Swans’ show at Leeds Cockpit (no longer in existence) a few years ago. At regular gig volume, they sounded like a band rather than a transcendental sonic force capable of shattering atoms.

Listening to Four Movements of a Shade, the benefits of increased amplification soon becomes clear. It’s got some heft, and while these are countered by extended quieter passages which are often delicate and nuanced, and chime along nicely at ordinary levels, it’s when the crescendos climax that Sarram’s music really needs to be felt vibrationally as well as sonically.

The first movement begins quietly, rising to a bowel-trembling wall of low and mid-range dark ambient droning sonic cloud. Big, barbed, sonorous swells of sound scrape sharp edges, while other aspects of the resonant whirling blackness cast sinister shadows, long and deep: hints of the billowing drone of Sunn O))) build into tempestuous thunder and rumbling, grating storms that cast unsettling atmospherics into the psyche and resonate around the gut, but this is very much a composition of ebb and flow. Nevertheless, while the underlying menace remains undiminished, around the mid-point the darkness yields to dappled sunlight and soft strings, hinting and optimism and freedom. For a fleeting moment, one actually feels somehow lighter, despite the inescapable sense that it’s only the calm before the next storm – an instinctive drag that proves – of course – to be correct. It’s always a matter of when, rather than if….

The album’s second half – comprising the megalithic, fifteen-minute third movement and the final, eight-minute forth – focus on the atmospheric layers and the drifting clouds of drone on drone, occasionally straying into expansive post-rock territory.

If it feels like the grip of darkness is being released, the dying minutes swirl into a deep, dark vortex that leave the listener drained, shattered.

The success – and ultimate power – of Four Movements lies in Sarram’s attention to detail and the compositional awareness: it’s not just the way the crushing weight contrasts with the graceful levity, but the timing of the transitions. Everything is exquisitely poised and placed to yield the greatest effect – cerebral, emotional, physical – and that effect is most moving.

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Sarram – Four Movements of a Shade