Friday, March 30, 2012

Hototogisu – Prayer Rug Exorcism

December 2005 • Heavy Blossom

Like drone, noise can seem like an easy genre to tackle but in reality it's very tough to pull off a good noise record, and all too easy to create something bland or unoriginal. Prayer Rug Exorcism is, of course, an example of the latter—an album that seems promising at first but is too homogenous and grating to deliver.

All four untitled tracks here are layers upon layers of dense samples and noise, creating a very thick and abrasive sound. It's pretty neat at first, actually, and there is quite a lot going on, so close listening reveals some interesting stuff like guitar feedback and maybe some screaming vocals. The problem, though, is that the sound doesn't really ever change; after about five minutes or so, the constant grinding becomes tiresome, the layers have dissolved into a formless mess, and my brain simply can't take it any more.

It's not that I can't enjoy this sort of intense music—quite the opposite; harsh wall noise can be pretty awesome sometimes—but to me this isn't a pleasing example. It's just so incredibly difficult to take it in all at once, and by the end of just the first track I'm already worn out, but there's another forty minutes to go. And every track is more or less the exact same thing, the same dense, grinding, muffled mess. I wouldn't mind if there was some variation in texture or composition or even just timbre, but there isn't any (well, each track is a tiny bit different, but barely). And the sound itself isn't close to being good enough to make up for the lack of diversity.

I don't doubt that there will be plenty of noise fans who will love this album, who enjoy the mentally-draining brutality. Nine times out of ten I'd be right there with them, but this is one album I'd sit out on.


Thanks for joining me for Bad Music Week! Next week, more bad music! And some average music, and maybe some good stuff too; who knows.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Abruptum – In umbra malitae ambulabo, in aeternum in triumpho tenebrarum

April 1, 1994 • Deathlike Silence Productions

Abruptum was one of the more "classic" bands in the original black metal scene from when it began to trickle into Sweden, although they seem to have taken a radically different approach to their music than their contemporaries. If their second album In umbra malitae ambulabo... is indicative of their typical style (and I hear that it is) then I'm not sure how they managed to garner any fame at all, as it is a very (for lack of a better word) stupid-sounding album, one that to me fails at everything it sets out to do.

The name of the game here is improvisation, coupled with a hefty dose of dissonance, all drenched in reverb. In fact there's hardly anything metal about it at all—with its slow, sparse, methodical drumming, off-kilter and even-sparser guitar, and deranged grunting vocals it is more of a dark ambient album made with rock instruments. But even after accepting that, it still isn't a good ambient album. While it is true that it has a decidedly gloomy atmosphere, it's thwarted by the fact that it all just sounds silly, especially the vocals. The wordless grunts and moans don't sound creepy, just ridiculous. Same thing with the guitar; it doesn't sound foreboding or scary, just like someone who doesn't know how to play it.

The other issue is that the album is so long and boring; for sixty minutes it's the same thing—the improvised guitar over either the slow drums and vocals, or nothing. It goes on and on and doesn't progress or build or express anything (except "oooh we are scary", which they're not), and after about ten minutes of the same thing it becomes pointless. I can see a heavily-abridged version of this working as a closer to a more typical metal album, but on its own it doesn't work at all.

While it fortunately never quite borders on being truly annoying, Abruptum is definitely dull and not something I want to revisit anytime soon. They didn't make a good dark ambient band and they didn't make a good black metal band. Although plenty of other groups have crossed that genre chasm successfully Abruptum just fell in, and I don't want to go in after them.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Gerogerigegege – Hell Driver

1999 • Dirtier Promotions

The Gerogerigegege is one of those bands that I tell myself I enjoy but is totally hit-or-miss: they can pull off some brilliant albums like Tokyo Anal Dynamite or Senzuri Champion, but sometimes their exercises in self-indulgence can completely flop. Hell Driver is one case which doesn't do anything for me; while it may have good intentions, it winds up being a complete meandering borefest when it's not trying to destroy my ears.

Don't get me wrong; I love listening to field recordings just as much as the next guy, and this band has put out some really nice stuff of its own (again, see Senzuri Champion). But field recordings have to be put to good use to make a good record, and here it all falls short. Take the title track, for example: it's fifteen minutes of wandering (perhaps improvised piano). Now, one could argue that this piece has a very marked atmosphere, one of solidarity, loneliness, agoraphobia, etc., and I can understand that. But to me, the track is simply boring. If it were half as long, I can see it maybe working, but I guess I lost interest in the track too quickly.

But the album's biggest flaw is its monstrous middle track "Moonlight & His Loser Knife"—thirty-five minutes of the most annoying buzzing noise I've ever heard. Even if the other four tracks were brilliant (they're not) this one ruins the entire album. Yes, it does have some semi-interesting snippets of clangings and voices in the background, but the buzzing is so grating that it's impossible to even think about what else is going on. I honestly cannot imagine why they thought this was good (then again, it is The Gerogerigegege; they've always had questionable motives and tastes). Perhaps they wanted to create a despairing and frustrated mood, in which case, congratulations.

The other tracks are mostly non-noteworthy, being more bland field recordings and grating noises that simply don't sound interesting and go nowhere. "Night Is Morning" is practically silent; "Pray Silently" is the same annoying scraping noise for seven minutes that almost redeems itself with some neat noise in the last few seconds; if only it had actually gone in that direction. The first track "_____" is the only enjoyable part of the album, being an unadorned clip of voices and city sounds; if more of the album were like it this review would be completely different. But it's a misleading opener.

My frustration with Hell Driver might partially have to do with the fact that I know The Gerogerigegege have done so much better with similar styles and this one simply sounds like a cheap knockoff of their better material. Some hardcore fans of the group will probably find value in this album, but I'm not into such musical masochism and I don't see it as anything except an irritating exercise in pointlessness. Fortunately, they have better material, and I'll stick to that instead.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Big City Orchestra – A Child's Garden of Noise

May 1994 • Drone Records

This release completely baffles me. No matter how much I think about it (though I try not to), I cannot figure out what the purpose of it is and how anyone at any point thought it would be appealing. Every bit of it is irritating and goes against all aspects of what good music should be.

Essentially, the A-side of this EP is a collage of spoken word clips and random noises (mostly sound effects, but some vinyl crackle and static as well). The spoken word segments seem to mostly come from educational records for young children about sound, and they are cut up in what I assume is an attempt at being creepy, which fails. They are sort of interesting at first, but eventually turn annoying as they repeat purposelessly. Nothing else happens.

The B-side is more sound collage, but instead of spoken word segments it mostly combines clips of things like piano recordings, various percussion mashing, and children attempting to sing. While the first side was tolerably bad, this side is completely horrid. The singing is atrocious and the instruments and sound clips don't attempt to justify it. And I cannot fathom the stupidity of including a typical parody of that Barney & Friends song every kid comes up with thinking they're clever; it wasn't funny when I was four and it isn't funny now.

Simply put, this EP sucks. I hated listening to it and I hated writing about it. Just about every second of it is completely annoying and an utter waste of time. Do yourself a favor and just forget you ever heard about it.


Monday, March 26, 2012

People Band – People Band 1968

Welcome to Bad Music Week! For the next five days I'll be revisiting some of the most abhorrent monstrosities in my library. So plug your ears and let's see if these are as bad as I remember!

1970 • Transatlantic Records

I don't know if my distaste for free improvisation comes from just listening to the wrong albums, but People Band 1968 isn't helping the case. Even with a bit of jazz flair, its formlessness and amateur-sounding improv style result in a hopeless, disappointing mess that I'm surprised I managed to listen to once, let alone twice.

Supposedly, a bunch of people were simply gathered and told to just play, without any sort of instruction or direction, and it totally shows. It's pretty clear that these people have no idea what they are doing. With the exception of the "Conduction" tracks, the instruments are all off in their own worlds, and not one takes a lead role in guiding the others along any common path. Instead, everyone just sort of hangs back, timidly banging away, and it goes on for nearly an hour without anyone figuring out how to command the group. That isn't to say there's no group mentality; they tend to do dynamics together okay, but that doesn't go far in making up for their lack of coherence in any other category. On the "Conduction" tracks, though, it actually doesn't sound too bad—with someone actually leading the performers, the result is way more listenable, although still not particuarly good, and those tracks are undeservingly short.

Here and there, though, are glimmers of what could have been decent music—a moment of cello droning, some neat drumming, etc. But these moments are brief and rudely interrupted by the random squealing and crashing that makes up too much of the album. The fact that there were almost some good sounds here makes the whole experience that much more disheartening. And, of course, the vast majority of the sounds aren't good; things like random yelping, violin screeching, harpsichord mashing, etc. would sound horrid on their own and they're even worse in a group.

It just goes to show that no matter how good a group of musicians you can gather, it doesn't mean much without preparation or leadership. With more "Conduction"-style tracks with actual form and dynamics, this album might have been redeemable, but the rest of it is just plain awful. I can't even bring myself to listen to the whole thing at once, as it would probably drive me insane, and I'm baffled at how the album's producers thought this was a good idea. The title "Skip to Part 3" is good advice, but I can do better: skip this album.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Edge of Forever – Edge of Forever Volume One

April 18, 2011 • self-released

Bandcamp is a fantastic website for amateur musicians to get a bit of a boost in exposure (it's worked nicely for me). I have been so far pleased with the artists I've found there. Edge of Forever is one of many I've stumbled upon through it, and while doesn't go much above most of the amateur music I've heard there and it isn't anything astonishing, it definitely shows a lot of potential for more focused future releases.

Volume One's style is probably best described as a sort of minimalist downtempo, almost to the point of ambient music. The artist uses a lot of very simple, monotonal synth lines but gives them a very spacy feel with echos and layered background ambience. This leads to the album's strongest suit, its firm handle on sound and texture. Different drum beats and a huge variety of synth voices are assembled with surgical care, with some samples, noise, and glitches sprinkled on top, and everything fits together brilliantly. Beats range from minimal glitching to more realistic kit sounds; synths are mostly the shimmering spacy type but there's a lot of variation therein. A good example is one of my favorite tracks, "Resonation", a more chipper tune that shows a considerable amount of Kraftwerk influence (yeah, more reviewer bias again) that has a relatively complex beat that balances out the layers of simple tones well.

My misgivings about this album mostly lie in the songwriting itself; it's very simplistic and repetitive and many of the songs get a bit stale by the time they're over. This is probably mostly due to the incredibly simple melodies that simply repeat over and over and lack of any progression or buildup in each song, although there is the occasional ambient bridge here and there to provide a bit of contrast. Unfortunately the one track that does have a lot of nice buildup is my least favorite, the eleven-minute "The Lake", which has a really annoying introduction and structure that jumps around a bit too much.

But like I said I'm pretty pleased with this album and it's grown on me quite a bit recently. It's best not too listen too carefully since the songwriting isn't great, but sonically and texturally it's wonderful. Here's to hoping Volume Two will show some improvement.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bodychoke – Cold River Songs

1998 • Purity

Post-punk and noise rock take a lot to impress me these days, since I'm not a huge fan of the genres, so take everything I'm about to say with a grain of salt. Cold River Songs is a pretty typical post-punk album that while on the surface sounds alright, it has been pretty hard for me to get into it. I'm torn as to whether or not I actually like it; it has a lot going for it but I feel a bit jaded listening to it.

Superficially it sounds pretty nice. While the production can get a bit sloppy at times (e.g. instruments just out of sync), their inclusion of a bit of noise is great. The noise sounds a lot like Sutcliffe Jügend, which of course is two main members' other group, and since I've heard their material before it's nice to have that bit of familiarity in Bodychoke's sound. I also love the use of string instruments (violin and cello), and would have liked to hear more of them; cello is sadly underused in rock music even though it often fits really well. It's the only thing saving "Ideal Home", that's for sure.

My problem with this album is that deep down there isn't much that's sonically interesting going on. The songs are all pretty similar to each other, with a tom-based drum groove, simple bass lines, and guitar feedbacking that is neat for a little while but gets less interesting as the album goes on. It reminds me a lot of Swans and Neurosis, two bands I've already played to death over the years and already really enjoy, so these songs feel a bit stale to me. It doesn't help that the songwriting is very repetitive and even after several listens it's difficult to tell most of the songs apart.

So in the end I'm pretty ambivalent about this album. It's definitely not bad, and it has a few great moments, but I can't help but see it as another noisy post-punk album to add to the heap. For fans of this sort of music, yes, I'd recommend it, but I'm satisfied enough with what I already have to be honest. Maybe I'm being a bit unfair, but such is life.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spires That in the Sunset Rise – Spires That in the Sunset Rise

2003 • Galactic Zoo Disk / Eclipse Records

One of my favorite things about music is how I can have a staunch opinion about something, and then find an album or artist that takes that opinion and punches me right in the gut with it. Take, for instance, any genre described as "free X", such as free jazz or free improvisation or free folk. I've never really cared for them, dismissing most as sounding purposeless and incomprehensible. Enter Spires That in the Sunset Rise, an album I was sure I was going to hate; instead I got in interesting exercise in folky deconstruction that has left me a bit disoriented yet humbled.

More often than not, whenever I hear "free X" music it often involves the musicians randomly banging away with no purpose or direction and making a horrid mess that sounds awful. For some reason, though, on this album, I'm feeling a lot less like that; despite the fact that yes, the music is often a horrid mess, it sounds right. There's a definite mood being played with here: it's ritualistic, pagan music, like an acid trip that takes you deep into the woods and never back out. In fact, I don't think having more "normal" melodies and harmonies would make the music any better. Sure it's chaotic and unnerving, but it's done in a way that clicks pretty nicely. It helps that there is actually a lot of rhythmic coherence, so the lack of melodic coherence isn't missed as much.

I also really like the variety of instruments used; there's lots of interesting percussion with bells, chimes, cymbals, and such all over the place (I think I hear a hammered dulcimer in there somewhere, too, which is really cool). Even the more traditional folk instruments (violin, acoustic guitar, piano) are played a little off-kilter to match the rest of the music.

None of this is to say I'm enamored with this album or anything; there's still plenty about it I'm not a fan of. The vocals are especially annoying, and even though they do fit the music really well, they can be a bit too much for me. They use several different vocalists (I think) but they all have the same style, which often borders on obnoxious. And there are plenty of times when the music doesn't click and it loses me (though to be honest, the fact that this relatively uncommon is an acheivement).

I'm not totally sold on this album as a whole, but it has definitely had an impact on my understanding of how this sort of music can be heard. It isn't for everyone, especially not those somewhat familiar with the weirder side of folk (though it does make a nice continuation of Comus' debut), but it's another album I'm glad to have heard.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Eric Fourman – Lyrica

November 24, 2010 • self-released

I hope I never get tired of ambient music, because as much as I've complained about the bad stuff before, when it shines, it shines. Eric Fourman's work is up there with my favorites, Lyrica being a prime example of how to pull off a great ambient work.

The sound itself falls pretty heavily on the lighter side of the Ambient Mood Continuum with light, blissful, layered drones, although there is always a bit of an edge present throughout, just a touch of noise to keep it grounded. It doesn't really evoke any particular mood, but wind and sunshine make good candidates. The layers themselves are really nice, an ambient baklava of synths, drones, and subtle static, which evolves ever so slowly but is somehow always able to capture my attention and reward close listening even though it doesn't do particularly much.

What makes this piece especially great is how it subverts pretty much every problem ambient can have. It's long, but not drawn out; it's layered, but not dense or complex; it's simple, but not homogenous to the point of banality; it's pretty without being too saccharine. Despite being improvised it's structured perfectly with a swelling, grandiose section and a perfect denouement. I can honestly not find anything bad to say about it: it opens up, does what it needs to do, and ends without becoming stale.

Okay, here's a complaint: Now I have to go digging through the rest of Fourman's extensive discography, because Lyrica is great but dammit it just isn't enough.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Hṛṣṭa – L'éclat du ciel était insoutenable

November 20, 2001 • Fancy

I ought to have learned my lesson about sideprojects by now. Sure, there are exceptions—the first Khoma album and some of A Silver Mt. Zion spring to mind—but with Hṛṣṭa I should have known better. Their debut is simply another ambient/post-rock that winds up being a bit dull and I don't see the point.

No, it isn't terrible. The post-rock sections have a nice folky twinge to them with the string section and other instruments, in an interesting contrast to how the strings made Godspeed sound orchestratic instead. I like that kind of flexibility.

But it isn't good either. None of the music ever does anything, and a lot of it sounds half-finished or like ideas that didn't take off, not even the tracks that break the seven-minute mark (with merely two exceptions). Nothing quite flows either, despite the ambient-rock-ambient-etc. sandwiching structure, further cementing my impression of the album as just a collection of unrelated snippets.

The sound itself is hit-or-miss. While the rockier sections can be pretty good, as I mentioned, plenty of the music leaves a lot to be desired. The ambient sections are particularly weak, with very simple textures that just sit around unprogressingly (and they don't even sound particularly good either, except for "Novi Beograd"'s intro which is actually really nice). The vocals are a mess. I guess in some deranged way they do fit, as they sound a bit off-the-rails and rough. Sometimes they sound like they fit, sometimes not ("Silver Planes" is the worst offender; vocals and ambient music rarely work well together).

Again, it isn't awful, and I can see it appealing to some bizarre demographic but that demographic does not include me. It's simply too dull and forgettable to even be worth it.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Elegi – Sistereis

June 2007 • Miasmah Recordings

Admittedly I have a soft spot deep down for Sistereis, it being one of the very first dark ambient albums I ever heard, but it still remains a personal favorite for me. Of course it isn't the greatest in the genre and it doesn't capture me the same as it used to, but it's still enjoyable.

The mood on this album is definitely one of the best I've heard. The combination of echoing drones, lonely piano, and creepy sampling gives the album a very desparing feel, like the album is an old house which is creaky and falling apart. It never gets to a point where the music is actually scary but it can get a bit unsettling at times, and there are even some places where the music is a bit hopeful (e.g. "Interbellum").

However the album does tend to drag on a bit and the tracks are mostly very similar, so attentive listening is very difficult. Even as background music, though, the album does still do a good job of quietly reminding the listener it's there. And let's be honest, ambient music isn't really known for being particularly interesting—if Brian Eno were dead, he'd be spinning in his grave at my suggesting otherwise.

So again, it's not close to the best dark ambient I've heard and I'm not as enamored with it as I used to be, but it does do just about everything right and makes a great introduction to the genre. Play it at your next Halloween party. No need to thank me.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Satory Ray – Выдох...

February 2009 • self-released

I feel like I shouldn't be encouraging bands to make more music in an already stagnant and oversaturated genre like post-rock, but I'm going to do it. Satory Ray, please make more music. Your only EP Выдох... is great and I'm disappointed to have a meager four songs from you.

No, this release isn't anything groundbreaking or totally mindblowing, but for a post-rock power trio, the band manages to pull off a surprisingly high-quality release with a diverse array of sounds. It's reminiscent not only of typical bands like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor (uh oh, reviewer bias!) but also '80s alternative rock bands, modern indie rock, even a touch of heavier rock in the closing track. Of course, the gratuitous (yet tasteful) use of sampling throughout really helps to add an extra edge to the music, even if it is a bit overdone (no one likes hearing crying babies, especially for six minutes). The half-ska, half-emo horn section in the third track is an especially nice touch that instantly makes the band stick out. The music itself is quite simple, but in a good way; it has an endearing quality to it (almost childlike on the aptly-named third track) that is really great.

Admittedly, it does have some pacing issues, in that one or two tracks are too short and another one or two overstay their welcome a bit. The first and third tracks especially, as the clear standouts, I wish didn't end so soon, while the second track is a bit too dull to fill nearly seven minutes well and the fourth repeats on and on a bit too long (although it is still a pretty good song). On the other hand, it is just an EP so pacing issues aren't a big deal, but it makes repeat listens a challenge without skipping around.

Still, though, this is a brilliant little EP that is surprisingly well-done and is definitely recommended. Hopefully this band gets around to putting something else out at some point, although I'm afraid they are one of those one-release-then-vanishing bands that like to infuriate me. In the meantime, at least we still have Выдох... to listen to.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pivixki – Pivixki

August 2009 • Sabbatical

This is one of those albums that is incredibly difficult to review, where I'm not sure if I'm not "getting" something of if it's just a deliberately confusing release. While I like to think I'm pretty comfortable with most forms of jazz by this point, Pivixki's self-titled debut has me a bit baffled.

In fact it's even hard to call it jazz: while a drums and keyboard duo is a good setup for jazz, the music they play steps so far out of normal jazz's repertoire that it has more in common with grindcore or the more avant-garde modern classical (which is in itself an improbable combination). The music is incredibly chaotic and free-form with its atonal keyboard ramblings and random drum riffings, which sometimes synchronize with each other and sometimes go completely off the rails.

That's not to say the music isn't interesting; far from it: the drum lines and piano riffs are actually quite varied. There is plenty of blasting to go around, for sure, but also lots of quieter solo bits, a steady rock beat in the third track, etc. Apart from the relatively consistent blastbeats, though, the song structure is of course very free-form and random, making it hard to get a grasp on any of the music as it blazes by. Obviously that's a major point of the album, so for a lot of people this isn't a bad thing, but it's not really for me.

I guess I'm simply just not into music with too much of a randomness factor. I'm sure with enough listens I could probably grow to really enjoy this, as there are a lot of sections that really aren't too shabby, but on the whole it's a difficult listen. Granted, its short length helps, and I am very reluctant to dismiss this album, but I can't honestly say I recommend it.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Procer Veneficus – The Cold Gloaming

August 14, 2007 • Students of Decay

In my enthusiasm for dark ambient and quest to build my collection, I've run into more than a few albums that exploit the genre's natural production simplicity—or what people seem to believe is simplicity. Uninteresting music is easy to make, and Procer Veneficus' millionth album showed promise but ultimately does little for me.

If The Cold Gloaming is anything, it's consistent: very low, subdued drones, processed guitars, and machine noises, all drenched in reverb, creating a very dark yet simple atmosphere. Each track is different in its texture; some are a bit noisier, some are more subtle. It sounds good in theory, and I did like this album at first, but its execution isn't great. The music just sits around, looping its drones without building any sort of tension or mood, as good dark ambient should. The music is definitely "cold", as advertised, but it stops there. It doesn't evoke any other emotion—it's not sad, it's not gloomy, it's not hopeful... it just sits there.

That's not to say the sounds aren't all bad; I really enjoyed the prominent bass frequencies on "Subcurrents" and "Deadmoon Summoning" (probably my favorite track) and headphones can't do them justice; they really should be listened to on good speakers. The glitchy atmospheric noise in "Everpale Mourn" is pretty nice too.

Sadly there isn't much else to say about this album; it is fairly uninteresting and while it happily doesn't drag itself on long, neither is it memorable in the slightest. As background music, it's alright, but it absolutely cannot hold itself up.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Les Aus – Haranna hanné

May 1, 2006 • Simple Social Graces Discos

Another long-unheard album comes out of my music vault today: Spanish band Les Aus' Haranna hanné, which I think I listened to once and never revisited. I'm disappointed that was the case because it's actually a pretty solid album, even if it could still use a bit of work.

Most of the songs on this album are a sort of folky noise rock, very reminiscent of bands like Raccoo-oo-oon, also with the tried-and-true guitar-and-drums power duo setup. Like how Raccoo-oo-oon sometimes draws from American folk, Les Aus' music contains a strong influence from Spanish folk music, with the occasional acoustic guitar, folky tribal drums, and flutes.

The drumming is pretty superb throughout the album, with a lot of spastic fills and complicated grooving which is really cool to listen to. The guitar fits in the cracks nicely although the songwriting is a little uninspired. Most of the tracks are over before they have a chance to get off the ground, and the guitar sounds like it's just noodling along most of the time. That's not to say there aren't bits where everything clicks well with a nice guitar line here and there, but I wasn't impressed often.

Unfortunately the folkier bits and the rockier bits stay mostly segregated, and while this allows for some nice interludes, it hardly sounds like the same band is playing on the whole album. But on the more folky rock tracks, such as "La obaga porta a soril", it works brilliantly; that song is probably my favorite because of that. I wish there had been more of the fusion between the two styles because it's apparent that the band can make it work; they just chose not to do so for whatever reason.

So while Haranna hanné isn't fantastic, it's still very listenable and I'm glad I gave it another shot. It's a good reminder to me of how I really need to start looking more into European folk music, something I've neglected for a long time.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Kylie Minoise – Kylie Minoise Fucking Hates You!

July 18, 2008 • Kovorox Sound

I have my doubts as to whether or not Kylie Minoise actually feels so strongly about me, but he is definitely bringing an appropriate punishment on this album. We are presented with some fairly typical 2000s-era digital harsh noise, which is certainly brutal and also surprisingly good. I didn't care for this album the first time I heard it but somehow it's grown on me over the years without me even listening to it.

Compared to a lot of noise releases I've heard, this one is pretty diverse: sounds range from heavy wall noise to screeching feedback, grinding sample-laden layering, and a good bit of ambience. It all manages to sound pretty consistent as well, unlike some albums that mix things up so much they sound like various artists compilations. Here, every track has its own style and feel but they do hold each other up well and form a cohesive whole.

While that's a good thing, each track by itself is a tiny bit disappointing; there's practically no mood and little atmospherics to be had. I'm not going to fault the album too heavily for that—it's difficult to do things like that in noise—but sometimes the tracks feel a bit flat. The monolithic closer is a nice exception, though, as it builds tension throughout its first half very satisfyingly and its ambient second half is nice and dark.

Another thing about this album I do enjoy is that Minoise knows exactly when a track is long enough; unlike a lot of, say, Merzbow tracks that drag on forever, here the tracks are all pretty short (with one obvious exception). So the harsher pieces don't have time to get stale and the tracks I don't particularly care for aren't as bothersome as they could be. While I try not to have a short attention span (I did listen to all ten-plus hours of Merzbient, after all) this is a huge plus and I'm not sure why most noise artists don't seem to have picked up on it yet.

To be honest I'm a bit mad at myself for so casually shrugging off this album with a 2.5-star rating so long ago; it's a great example of how a noise album should be arranged, without a lot of the pretense and wankery. Sure, it has its flaws, as any album will, but I'd still recommend it to any noise fan.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Zonderland – Oidipus: Motherfucker

November 25, 2007 • Self-released

Post-rock is such an oversaturated genre these days that it's surprising when a new album comes out that isn't a total rehash of something old. Even in the mid-2000s this was the case, and I was already getting tired of all the underground copycat bands. Zonderland isn't much different; their particular brand of minimal ambient post-rock isn't terrible, but rather underwhelming and amateurish.

The formula is simple: one guitar, one drumset, and a smattering of noises and samples filling in the gaps. It's a combination that can work well for this sort of minimalist rock, and for the most part the band handles it pretty well. The distorted guitar can be a bit too overwhelming, especially in the second track where it tends to nearly drown everything out. But on the whole, the sound is actually pretty decent. The noise is tastefully done, usually subtle enough to add just a touch of atmosphere, and I especially enjoy the ritual ambient atmospheres at the beginning of the third track.

My main issue with this album is the songwriting. Each track consists of several sections which alternate between ambient parts (which are so ambient they verge on complete silence) and rock parts, which I am slowly becoming convinced are just improvised for this recording. Of course improvisation isn't a bad thing but here it sounds like they didn't much care about the direction the songs took. The guitar mostly plays the same thing over and over in each section, with variations, but there isn't any buildup or direction to it. Often when a section starts to really take off, it just stops abruptly halfway through, like the train fell off the tracks on its way to the next station.

There's a lot of potential in bands like this, and with some more focused songwriting Zonderland could have really impressed me, but it didn't happen on this album. Fortunately the last decade churned out enough bands that I'm not too upset about finding one that is a bit dull.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Gate – The Dew Line

1993 • Table of the Elements

There is an unfortunate fact concerning drone and lo-fi music: it can sometimes be very easy to make, which sadly results in a lot of really crappy music being churned out. Gate's The Dew Line is one of these albums, a lumbering, sloppy exercise in poor production that is a chore to listen to.

My distaste for this album is partially attributable to the fact that I find guitar-based drone and noise to be incredibly dull, and that's all you'll get on this album. The music alternates between very simple chord patterns and meandering noise, neither of which are interesting. For example, "Have Not" is thirteen minutes of the same two chords over and over, which slowly devolves into pointless, random notes. "Venerable Clouds" is an overlong improvisation over just a few notes. Every track has a different style and a different way of being played, but somehow not a single one of them works.

Making things worse is the total lack of timing or cohesion. Everything sounds very sloppy and nothing lines up at all, so when there are two instruments overlaid they often clash horribly. Even in non-rhythmic music it's important to make sure all of the instruments and sounds meld well, but here it's a mess. Guitar lines smash into each other, electronic noises sputter around aimlessly, and the vocals come and go without any respect for the music at all.

On that note, vocals are just one more thing this album didn't need, and they sound just as bad as everything else. With the singular exception of "Have Not", there seems to have been no actual effort put into them: no melody, no rhythm, no emotion, not even any apparent enthusiasm; it's just mumbled, uninterested groaning that cracks and stumbles its way through each song. It's almost embarrassing to listen to, and I can't imagine why anyone would have thought they were a good idea.

Of course I could be totally wrong about my interpretation of this whole album: perhaps it's an exercise in despair, a deliberate attempt to create a sound that is alienating and frustrating. If that's the case, then Gate was successful. Considering that I seem to be in the minority in disliking this album (albeit not a small minority) that could well be the case.

But I don't see The Dew Line that way; to me it's just unappealing. Fortunately the album is too subtle and uninteresting to be overly obnoxious or grating (at least most of the time) so it's not one of the worst things I've listened to, but it's definitely bad. Perhaps it's stomachable if ignored as background music but I wouldn't do that to myself on purpose.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Plebeian Grandstand – How Hate Is Hard to Define

March 2010 • Basement Apes Industries

This album is another entry in the long list of furious, chaotic, pounding mathcore albums that follows in the steps of bands like Converge and Botch, and while it follows the formula pretty closely and doesn't bring anything terribly new to the table it's still a pretty solid album in its own right. I'm nothing of an aficionado of this style, admittedly, but How Hate Is Hard to Define stands up alright.

Like the aforementioned Converge, Plebeian Grandstand's sound employs a nice blend of fast technical riffing and somewhat milder, yet still brutal, breakdowns. The band's performance is pretty tight throughout, making the constant changes in tempo and time signature seem simple; there are also some more consistent songs like the sludgy "Easy to Hate / Hard to Define", showing that the band does have a bit more diversity in them than it would first seem.

Like a lot of music in this style, though, the songs can be difficult to follow at times and so the album can be a fatiguing listen. There are only a few places that the audial face-stomping finally lets up (the interlude "Pie in the Sky" is a welcome respite) and to me a lot of it still sounds kind of messy. I don't mean this in a technical sense (as I've mentioned, the musicians are quite proficient); rather, the music itself is just all over the place and it's hard to find footing in what I'm listening to during the more chaotic parts. But there are a few places where the riffs really click—the start of "Are You Angry?" has a really nice groovy rhythm to it of which I would have liked to hear more.

So while the album isn't really my style, I can appreciate it alongside the rest of my tiny mathcore library. While it's not something I'll be revisiting very often, truer fans will probably enjoy it, and that's at least a mild success.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Coil – The New Backwards

April 18, 2008 • Threshold House

For some time now, The Ape of Naples has been one of my all-time favorite albums, and Coil one of my favorite artists. Their brand of brooding industrial/electronic music was right up my alley. When I discovered The New Backwards I was at first disappointed to hear that it was basically a remix album of an older set of Coil demos with some Ape of Naples samples and references, it does have its own charm that gives it a certain replay value even if it isn't as good as most of Coil's discography.

Normally, I'm not really that much into remixes, but Coil has built a lot of their material around reworking songs in both the studio and on stage (I probably have at least three versions of "Teenage Lightning", for example, from various official releases) so by this point I'm used to hearing redone versions of their songs. This in particular is Coil at their most electronicky—more consistent drum patterns, lots of glitchy, techno-influenced, noisy samples, looped samples of a wailing, muttering, pitch-shifted Jhonn Balance. To me it seems like a somewhat dancier followup to Black Antlers, with a similar claustrophobic pseudo-industrial sound. "Backwards" in particular has a really nice heavy grinding beat which sounds great, and we are also treated to some other neat sounds like the trumpet solos in "Princess Margaret's Man in the D'Jamalfna". It's definitely holding up Coil's standards of diversity in their sound.

So the sound is overall pretty similar to Coil's other work, which implies that the remixers did a decent job at cleaning up the demos for this release (I would hope so, since one of them was of course Peter Christopherson, the other half of Coil) and it fits well into their existing catalogue. I was at first put off by the amount of vocals on the album; there's definitely more than on their last few albums (maybe even the live ...And the Ambulance Died in His Arms, but I could be wrong), but now I see them as being very appropriate; it's an extrapolation of the repetitive mantra style used in their later releases (especially ...And the Ambulance Died in His Arms) and actually fits the mood quite well.

But even so, as much as I try to make myself see The New Backwards as a collection of remixes and not a standard studio album, it's very difficult; if this were a studio album it wouldn't work terribly well, but as a remix album it's up there among the best I've heard. It offers a taste of a sound we'll sadly never hear more of from the band and a reminder to treasure what we do have.


Friday, March 2, 2012

The Contortionist – Apparition

September 25, 2009 • self-released

They said deathcore was a genre that couldn't be saved. Every album in that style ever released was just a rehash of the same old chuggy breakdown clichés and it all sucked and nobody cared anymore. Emmure, Suicide Silence, it didn't matter, it was all the same crap. For a while I was one of those people.

Well, they must not have heard The Contortionist. Because this release totally turned everything around for me.

Sure, the typical deathcore elements are there—throaty and not-noticably-good vocals, detuned guitars playing muted and rhythmic riffing, breakdowns galore... but there's something about Apparition that makes it stand out. There's a certain atmospheric quality to it that saves it driven by exploration with other genres. The EP has a definite progressive influence, with a lot of melodic lines and some complicated guitarwork to complement the heavy breakdown riffs. "Eyes: Closed" has a melancholy, almost post-rockish bridge, in between some heavy but still emotional melodic lines. The band winds up throwing a lot at the listener, changing it up pretty frequently: a crushing, slow segment here, a quick break to clean, jazzy guitar, then a complicated polyrhythmic riff. It's the kind of erratic mishmash of style that I normally don't care for, but here everything comes together excellently in a way that keeps the listener on their toes.

Even though there are still a lot of typical breakdowns, the music comes off a lot more intelligent and interesting than your typical Emmure ripoff band, which is why I keep coming back to this EP for more. The juxtaposition of ugly chugging with beautfil, soaring melodies works brilliantly and the contrasts between styles just makes the heavy bits heavier and the proggy parts proggier. My only complaint might be, again, the vocals; they sound a bit off and don't always go with the music terribly well.

So if you can stomach a bit of djent in your metal this is definitely a release to take a listen to. And I still have no clue why I haven't yet checked out their full-length Exoplanet (2010).


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Genelec & Memphis Reigns – Scorpion Circles

2002 • HHI Recordings

Genelec & Memphis Reigns came out of nowhere—the underground of California—and disappeared just as quickly, but not before releasing a single album in 2002 as proof that they were indeed here. But unlike a lot of one-off obscure hip hop albums I've heard, this one stands up pretty well, and while it's nothing perfect or groundbreaking it's still a pretty nice experience.

The beats are what carry the album, and are consistently good—maybe not fantastic, but often interesting. They mix your standard heavy boom-bappy drums with samples and instrumentation reminiscent of jazz mixed with sometimes eastern or middle eastern music, styles not often heard in hip hop, or other unusual instrumentation like organs ("Organisms"). It works pretty darn well, too. There is also some nice scratching, something I feel is sadly very underdone in hip hop, and there's a lot of it too. The production quality is a bit on the low end, though; some of the tracks are poorly mixed and sound muffled (see "Anarchists Cookbook", then "Move" immediately following it; the inconsistency makes the problem worse), though this is a minor complaint.

Both MCs show considerable skill throughout the whole album, too, trading off verses and even individual lines in a skillful way most groups can't. But they both seem to rely too heavily on having a very rapid-fire delivery, which quickly becomes monotonous and even inappropriate on the slower tracks like "Offerings" or "Chicken Soup". What they lack in rhythmic ability, though, they make up for with some clever internal rhyming and wordplay. It's an interesting style with admittedly limited appeal, but when it works, it works well.

While I can say that I definitely do like this album, as it's enjoyable and pretty solid overall—no notably bad tracks (though not many notably good ones either)—it probably works best as just an example of good beatmaking and stops there. The tracks aren't too terribly memorable and after a handful of listens it's worn out its welcome to me. But as far as this kind of modern-ish underground hip hop goes it's certainly worth a few listens.