Ensemble Skalectrik – Trainwrekz (Editions Mego)
Ekoplekz’s Nick Edwards has found a nice home for himself on Editions Mego, and this is another offering of saturated, noise-inflected electronica from the Briton, this time under the Ensemble Skalectrik moniker. Trainwrekz, as its title suggests, contains some of Edwards’s most abrasive and vicious work to date: six concise and moody vignettes dominated by twisted synths, untethered found sounds and unsettling industrial noises. ‘Wrektoo’, for example, is dominated by sampled gunshots and bubbling, watery found sounds alongside metallic clangs and thuds that sound like they were recorded in a disused factory. ‘Wrekfore’, meanwhile, juxtaposes repetitive electronic mini-drones with swirling futuristic textures that could have been lifted from the archives of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The influence of industrial pioneers like SPK and Throbbing Gristle is clear, but Edwards’s scope is broader than that, and subtle injections of humour and hauntology, along with his use of the letters ‘W’ and ‘Z’ and a clear experimental bent, make me think of the late, great artist Jeff Keen, whose sonic creations recently appeared on a recent compilation by Trunk Records. Good company indeed!
Jacob Kirkegaard – Conversion (Touch)
Conversion sees Danish sound artist and composer Jacob Kirkegaard re-interpret two of his more experimental sound creations as instrumental compositions, performed by his fellow countrymen Scenatet. The first, ‘Labyrinthitis’, was initially produced using sounds created by the composer’s own ears (!), a form dubbed “oto-acoustic music”. Here, these vibrations are reinterpreted as overlapping, ever-evolving string drones, starting off in a fragile high register, before more insistent, extended lower tones shimmer out of the omnipresent haze. While the original may be more surprising, ‘Labyrinthitis’ is steeped in the tradition of slow-burning minimalism, and the way Scenatet recalibrate Kirkegaard’s organic source as stirring, increasingly present micro-tones that is deeply affecting. ‘Church’, meanwhile, initially started out as field recordings captured in an abandoned church near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. On Conversion, Scenatet recreate the ambiance of emptiness and vastness suggested by the piece’s origin, again creating a work of music that evolves gradually in and out of near-silence, to deeply dramatic effect.
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou – The Skeletal Essences of Voodoo Funk (Analog Africa)
Analog Africa deserve a medal for the way they’ve gone about digging out some of the most obscure -and best- music from that continent currently available in a market that keeps growing and growing. Benin has proved a particularly fruitful hunting ground for the label. Given its geographic location, sandwiched between Nigeria and Togo, with Ghana close by, it’s unsurprising that many tracks on this compilation seem infused with afrobeat and highlife influences, but it also stands apart from those more famous genres, not least due to the French lyrics that pop up on a couple of the numbers. The term “skeletal”, used in the title feels appropriate, because there is a brittle, stripped-down quality to the orchestra’s polyrhythms, while horns are used sparingly, like flashes of colour splattered on a canvas, bringing to mind a more stripped-down take on early Osibisa rather than, say, Fela Kuti’s high-energy funk. One of the standout tracks is ‘N’Goua’, which moves at a sensual, languid pace, with loping bass, drums and percussion serving as a solid foundation for the vocals, sax spurts and twisty, winding guitar solos. On ‘Vi E Lo’, meanwhile, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou turn their gaze across the Atlantic to take in Latino influences, further fleshing out their musical palette. The band produces music that straddles genre, but which is always haunting in its melodic and rhythmic grace.
Charlemagne Palestine and Z’ev – Rubhitbangklanghear Rubhitbangklangear (Sub Rosa)
Charlemagne Palestine first started playing bells in the sixties, during his student days, and there’s always been a trace of their chiming overtones in his music for other instruments, notably in the way he repeats piano notes and in his use of glass. Here, he teams up with enigmatic American percussionist Z’ev for three pieces that juxtapose Palestine’s see-sawing carillon with quiet rhythmic patterns. The drums are pitched low in the mix, at times barely audible, but Z’ev follows Palestine’s every temporal shift with dogged determination. Rubhitbangklanghear Rubhitbangklangear is a minimalist affair, driven by the Palestine’s patient repetitions, which instantly recall his Strumming Music triple-album, also released on Sub Rosa. On the second piece, these hypnotic harmonics are countered by moody drones that pull Palestine into Z’ev’s orbit, leaving tense moments of expectant quietness. This tension forms the bedrock of Rubhitbangklanghear Rubhitbangklangear, with both musicians clearly keeping a keen ear on what the other is playing at all times. As such, the album bears little of the natural spirituality and reflectiveness induced by a lot of minimalism, with Palestine and Z’ev refusing to lapse into blissful contemplation. It closes with a dissonant 8-minute duel where Z’ev’s industrial clatters are (naturally?) reverbed to the max, a jarring conclusion – and all the better for it.