A Dusted Review: This World Is Not My Home by Kleistwahr (October 15th, 2014)

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This is going to sound much more disparaging than intended, but the music of Gary Mundy’s Kleistwahr can literally shift a hangover. But I swear on it as a cure for next day alco-flu. A few years back, Mundy (as Kleistwahr) was the first act on the third day of a Festival celebrating the legacy of his influential and much-missed Broken Flag label. The previous night’s back-to-back onslaught of Matt Bower’s Black Sunroof! and Consumer Electronics had been visceral, not just because of the harsh music they threw at the audience, but also because I’d rather unwisely downed what felt like six gallons of beer along the way. It was therefore with painful skull and some trepidation that I approached the stage for Mundy’s solo set, knowing the man’s predilection for high volume.

But instead of making my head pound more, the sonic waterfall he unleashed swept my brain clear, leaving me light-headed, alert and gasping for more. Mundy is capable of similar feats of intensity as one half (or occasionally a third or fifth) of his most famous act, Ramleh, and maybe it was the after-effects of the previous night’s over-indulgence, but on that afternoon, noise had never felt so beautiful to me.

I’ve been desperate for a new Kleistwahr album ever since. 2007’s The Return (Outer Bounds of Sound) was an excellent record, but failed to replicate the emotional and physical catharsis that Mundy provides in a live setting. This World Is Not My Home, which comes delightfully wrapped in a sleeve aping classic Broken Flag releases, feels like a concert recording, 39 uninterrupted minutes of blasted noise, subsumed melodies and aching drone. Armed with a gaggle of his trusty effects pedals, an electric guitar and a primitive synthesizer, Mundy builds up a noise suite of endlessly shifting tempos and form, each phase gracefully bleeding into the next. As if recorded live, This World Is Not My Home seems to kick in mid-way through a drifting guitar solo, with Mundy displaying his dexterity on that instrument via a pained, sweeping motif that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album. Very quickly, however, the noise kicks in, with gritty wall noise vomiting over a sinister vocal sample. At times, with both guitar and noise generators, the saturation reaches a feverish level, straining the very extremes of pitch and timbre.

As brutal and harsh as Kleistwahr can be, however, there is more to This World Is Not My Home than just power electronics. I’ve already mentioned Mundy’s talent as a musician, but more important is his humanity. He probably won’t thank me for writing this, but his approach is atypically sensitive for a genre that relies more often on misanthropy and aggression. In an interview I did with him and his alter ego in Ramleh, Anthony diFranco, Mundy explained to me that the lyrics on their most recent (and astounding) Malediction album include the line “Please forgive me” repeated over and over, like a despairing, self-flagellating mantra.

For all the throbbing gristle and shades of darkness on This World Is Not My Home, its principal feeling is one of melancholy, its title hinting at the despair of someone who feels he doesn’t belong in the world. The album is the expression of Mundy’s attempts to find his space, and as the track draws to a close on a sea of wailing feedback and his inchoate vocalisations, one is assailed by an acute sense of loss, mournfulness and, deep within these static grooves­– hope. This World Is Not My Home is the most emotionally affecting noise album I’ve ever heard, and is therefore somehow positively reassuring, despite the gloom.

It reminds me why I was so impatient for it to see the light of day, and in its dying moments, as Mundy’s voice reaches for a naked emotionality, it becomes hard to stem the tears. That’s not what a noise album is supposed to do to you, but then, as this album makes abundantly clear, there isn’t another noise artist like Gary Mundy.

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A Quietus Review: Games Have Rules by Function and Vatican Shadow (October 1st, 2014)

This isn’t the first time ambient music has been used to present a musical tableau of a city, but it’s certainly a surprising choice from these two artists. Function, aka David Sumner, was after all one third of acclaimed electro deconstructionists Sandwell District, whose abrasive take on techno and dance provided a timely–and uneasy–injection of energy to familiar forms back in 2010 and 2011. Vatican Shadow, meanwhile, is an alias of Prurient’s Dominick Fernow, a man who may have transcended his noise background some time ago but who is still associated with words like “harsh”, “brutal” and “angry”. How is it possible, many may ask, that they’ve turned away from their familiar edginess in favour of ambient music?

It’s a dumb question, of course. Fernow and Sumner are experienced and talented producers, so they can do whatever they like with us fans, safe in the knowledge that the results are likely to be at least interesting and more likely exciting. Having said that, it still comes as surprise that Games Have Rules is quite so quiet. I mean, the album is a sonic reflection of the duo’s current city of New York (at night), and in my experience, it’s not a particularly quiet place. But by dropping the volume levels, Fernow and Sumner hone in on the minutiae of their city at night, the background textures of their experience and the intricate details that mostly go unnoticed by the masses. The album is imbued with a sort of listless melancholia, as if recorded in the witching hour between midnight and dawn after too many hours of excess and clubbing. Despite having only the faintest esquisse of thematic and sonic similarities, the mournful music of Burial immediately springs to mind when listening to Games Have Rules.

Set alongside the main body of both artists’ work, Games Have Rules therefore feels like a withdrawal, the title hinting at a reluctance to engage with dynamics of late-night social interaction, which would hardly be surprising given how little their austere musics are linked, even at their most beat-heavy and danceable, to the standard night out requirements of revelry and jollity. Most of the tracks drift and linger like the wisps of smoke emanating from vents in the Big Apple’s pavements, with rhythm seemingly surrendered to the sort of brooding ambience you’d expect on a Tim Hecker album. Listen closer (this album massively rewards listens on the headphones) and sullen sub-techno beats emerge like caterpillar tracks running under a vehicle. Jittering sonic eructations, bleeps and bloops are scattered over most of the tracks, lingering, inchoate like distant sirens and machinery heard through a hotel room window. There’s an emotional strand running through Games Have Rules but–perhaps because distinguishing who is doing what is impossible–it’s subdued and ambiguous, something which adds to the album’s crepuscular nature.

Games Have Rules may represent a shift for both Fernow and Sumner but it’s far from the dramatic change many might think. Instead, it represents an intriguing evolution by two artists who seem to delight in tweaking electronica to elicit fresh impressions of modern urban dystopia. It might not be an essential statement by either artist, but it lingers in the memory like a troubling dream in the small hours of the morning.

A Dusted Review: Punish, Honey (September 16th, 2014)

Vessel’s Seb Gainsborough is part of Bristol, England’s Young Echo collective, but his solo material differs considerably from that of his peers. While the other Young Echo producers mostly play with the familiar, albeit frayed, contours of minimalist dubstep, grime and techno, Gainsborough has, with Punish, Honey, pushed those tropes into esoteric new realms. There’s still a hint of techno running through the backbone of the album’s tracks, his novel approach and formal structures sound like very little else coming out of the UK’s club culture. It’s small wonder Gainsborough has made a home for himself on Tri-Angle Records, a label that has previously given us superlatively spooky beat-based salvoes by The Haxan Cloak, Holy Other and Balam Acab. Tri-Angle had already released the previous Vessel album, Order of Noise, a more straightforward ambient/electro/dubstep work the title of which might have been more suited for this release. On Punish, Honey, Gainsborough deploys a series of homemade instruments such as metal sheets for percussion and flutes made out of dismantled bicycles.  Consequently, while the album retains an echo of the reverb-heavy post-dubstep of its predecessor, it’s also a more abrasive, unsettling listen, touching on a heritage that stretches back to the early days of industrial music. Indeed, even the synth passages have a lo-fi edginess to them that would not sound out of place played by Chris Carter circa 1980. On “Red Sex,” see-sawing synth lines stretch back and forth like muffled dub sirens over a crunching metallic shuffle and buzzing synthetic gristle. It’s part dub, part industrial clamour and instantly evokes the dilapidated factories and wind-whipped parking lots that still dot much of what used to be England’s industrial heartland. Vessel’s greatest connection to vintage dubstep lies in this cold, unflinching liminal vision of modern urbanity.

Gainsborough claims he set out to consider the meaning of “Britishness” (a tediously overused term by politicians and newspaper hacks). With track titles like “Black Leaves and Fallen Branches” and “Kin to Coal”, such ambition is clearly laid out, although any conclusions made are abstract and tinged with inchoate morosity. Be warned: there is none of dubstep’s hazy sensuality and end-of-party emotionality onPunish, Honey. In the two years since Order of Noise, Vessel’s music has edged into the shadowy realms of a new strain of underground techno, a nebulous demi-monde inhabited by the likes of Regis, Sandwell District, William Bennett’s Cut Hands and Vatican Shadow.

Vessel may be less jagged and brusque than those other acts, but by injecting his music with a bit of clatter and creak, he’s exploring similar territory and coming up with an equally austere sonic vista. It’s a subtly beautiful combination: when Gainsborough returns to techno beats on Punish, Honey, such as on album highlights “Anima”, “Kin To Coal” and “DPM” and meshes them with the darker, more industrial atmospheres that dominate the album, the results are truly thrilling, mechanized dance for a post-industrial age.

A Quietus Review: Four Track Mind by Ekoplekz (September 9th, 2014)

What a year it has been for Ekoplekz’s Nick Edwards. March saw the release of his most fully-realised album to date, Unfidelity, on which his surreal blend of motoric techno and ectoplasmic DIY hauntology reached its most direct, sinewy peak. To my mind, Edwards has surpassed all other similar artists in the way he has drawn a line between quasi-dancefloor friendly melodic electronica and an austere form of post-industrial kosmische rooted in English eccentricity, folklore and arcana. His move to Planet Mu for Unfidelity crystallised his various inspirations (“influences” is somehow inappropriate) into something more focused than before, and he’s elevated the vision on that album even higher with Four Track Mind.

Most of the tracks on Four Track Mind were recorded around the same time as those on Unfidelity, but the mood is notably different. For all its inherent queasiness and nods to the austere industrial electronica of Robert Rental, Unfidelity was an almost bright and upbeat album, the murk of previous releases replaced with driving techno beats and Harmonia-esque synth layers. On Four Track Mind, Edwards lingers over his tracks, with four of them stretching past the eight minute mark. An atmosphere of sombre contemplation looms over the album like a pall of smoke, an introspective yang to Unfidelity’s sardonic energy. If the album’s title suggests a collection of lo-fi afterthoughts tacked on to its predecessors coat-tails, nothing could be further from the truth. This is a fully fleshed-out work that evolves almost like a concept album, and it’s a journey that takes the listener into the murkier recesses of Nick Edwards’ psyche.

‘Return To The Annex’ is the track that best epitomises the central motif on Four Track Mind. Over languid, swirling synths, Edwards deploys a series of stark clatters and an eerie recording of himself as a child talking to his long-deceased father. There’s a lot of talk about how acts like Ekoplekz (Demdike Stare, Broadcast, the Ghost Box lot) play with themes of memory, but it’s for any of them to delve into such personal material. The track is evocative and unsettling, with Edwards expertly overlapping loops and and percussion, delicately creating a miniature suite that lingers long after its ten minutes have expired. ‘Ariel Grey’ is similarly ethereal, an intricate collage of looped vocal echoes, throbbing electronic lines and aquatic effects, whilst ‘Tantrikz’ edges along on an hypnotic krautrock-ish backbeat, perhaps the clearest nod towards influences like Harmonia and Cluster that Edwards allows himself on the album. Even the shorter, faster-paced tracks on Four Track Mind contain trace elements of taut emotions, such as the driving mutant techno of ‘Reflekzive’, which is propelled by twitching beats and a sweeping phantom choir, or the bouncy, echo-laden ‘Interstice’. Edwards’ liberal use of reverb and echo means each track, no matter how short, seems to stretch time, with the likes of ‘Reflekzive’ and ‘Dvectif’ sounding like horror movies soundtracks compressed into bite-sized form. Four Track Mind is, for all the occasional moments of snide levity and gallows humour, a grim and haunting listen.

A rather lazy shorthand has grown up when it comes to discussing a lot of this new British electronica (or hauntology, if you prefer), with consistent references to seventies TV shows like Doctor Who or The Owl Service and public information videos. Sure, Nick Edwards’ analogue synths have a few sounds you might hear on vintage sci-fi TV, but, on listening to Four Track Mind a rather different visual artefact from the seventies crept into my mind: Ian Merrick and Michael Armstrong’s horrifying 1977 low-budget thriller The Black Panther. The film tells the true story of serial killer Donald Neilson, who killed three village postmasters and kidnapped heiress Lesley Whittle in 1975. I don’t know if Edwards ever saw the film (an outraged press, probably trying to make up for their own role in the botched rescue attempt of Whittle which may have led to her death, accused the directors of exploitation and The Black Panther was effectively buried for decades), but the oppressive, austere nature of the music on Four Track Mind seems to hark back to that not-so-lost England of grim suburbia, crumbling industrial landscapes and sordid violence.

It’s hard not to regret that Four Track Mind won’t see a wider release than the few hundred vinyl copies Planet Mu are going to put out, but I can see why Unfidelity was given precedent: it’s the more open, “accessible” (not quite the right term when dealing with Ekoplekz) and concise work. But Four Track Mind is more than its predecessor’s morose cousin: it’s a triumphant work in its own right, more intimate and intense, and confirms Nick Edwards as one of the most exciting artists of the year.

A Dusted Review: I Shall Die Here by The Body (August 15th, 2014)

I Shall Die Here sits at the confluence of different genres without ever sounding confused, incoherent or ill-defined. Quite the opposite in fact: these six tracks are as solid as a boulder slamming relentlessly towards you down a mountain side. I Shall Die Here is, put simply, the most brutal and unforgiving album released in many a year, one whose sheer extremism even puts most black metal to shame.

And it is a metal album at heart, but drummer Lee Buford and singer/guitarist Chip King made the bold move to pitch their traditional-sounding heavy doom into a black hole of new found textures, turning in the process to The Haxan Cloak’s Bobby Krlic. On paper, the two-piece’s taut riffage and plodding drums might not have lent themselves to Krlic’s more subtle, shadowy and echo-laden world, but by working so closely in tandem (it is generally hard to tell whose input one is hearing at any given time, beyond the drums, vocals and guitar), the result is a spectral nightmare vista where The Body’s metal is opened up from the inside and spread outwards, the resultant spaces filled with murky textures and morose electronic drones.

It’s a bit of a cliché for doom metal bands to ladle on misanthropy and despair like custard over an apple pie, but few do it as well as The Body. The album and track titles all allude to pain and misery: “To Carry the Seeds of Death Within Me,” “Alone All the Way,” “Hail To Thee, Everlasting Pain,” but the duo (and Krlic) resist the temptation to just hurl anguished screams and overdriven riffs at their listeners, instead exploiting the sense of emptiness and desolation that has become the hallmark of much of the post-dubstep electronic scene, from Logos and Wen’s urban dystopias to Krlic’s own oppressive electronica.

“To Carry the Seeds of Death Within Me,” for example, opens the album with a distorted scream (I can’t tell if it’s electronic feedback or a heavily manipulated vocal, but either way, it’s unsettling) and monolithic, repetitive drum crashes from Buford. The use of repetition locks the band and the listener into an oppressive cycle, enhancing the sense of unease as mauled guitar sub-riffs and incoherent vocalisations by King join the fray. The track builds up, but also ebbs and flows, with Krlic’s shimmering electronics upsetting the rhythmic forward motion and incremental voume increase, destabilising any sense of familiarity as full-on metal makes way for echo-laden near-silence and metronomic electro beats. It’s disorientating, and all the more emotionally potent for it, especially when a last choked scream from King segues into the muted sampled voice on “Alone All the Way.”

On the face of it, “Alone All the Way” is a more “traditional” metal salvo, but again, the rhythm is constantly shifting, and King’s voice is little more than a distorted shriek, all meaning lost to the winds. Buford really shines, as another quasi-dubstep middle section makes way for a rolling martial drum-beat that sounds like it could have featured on an Oneida or Boredoms record. It’s almost psychedelic, or even funky, and another sign that nothing is as it seems on I Shall Die Here. “Hail To Thee, Everlasting Pain” is another highlight, with gristly electronics and hypnotic beats combating with King’s murderous howl, the track slowly building into a full-on conflagration where noise, industrial and shades of mutated techno collide into a furious maelstrom of sound. I feel a bit too much has been made of the “noise” aspect of The Body and I Shall Die Here, but “Hail To Thee, Everlasting Pain” certainly sounds like something you’d hear on a Cold Spring release.

I Shall Die Here is not an easy record to get through, and its unrelenting fury and horror will be too much for many. Chip King’s screams can also grate at times, although he mixes things up nicely as the album progresses. But for those with a strong constitution, I Shall Die Here is a reminder that metal needn’t be restricted by the conventions laid down over the past four decades, that it’s a genre that, when opened up and broken down into individual parts offers a wealth of experimental possibilities. In The Body’s case, they’ve used Bobby Krlic’s influence to project a world of darkness and death, and all power to them because, in doing so, they’ve created one of the most haunting and terrifying metal albums since the legendary Khanate broke up.

A Dusted Review: Don’t Know, Just Walk by Mike Weis (August 11th, 2014)

The idea of America as a “new country” is so ingrained in most minds that it almost becomes easy to forget that it’s only white, “Western” society there that is relatively young. It also shortens the gap between the modern nation’s founding and the most recent century-and-a-half of rapid development, from rural ex-colony into the world’s premier industrial and technological nation of the world.

As such, the mythical, primeval history of what is now the USA only rarely trickles into modern life and culture. While there exists in Europe, notably the UK, a sense that music can be used to reconnect with primordial pre-modern societies and histories, whether real or imagined (sometimes referred to as hauntology), such a scene in the US is harder to pinpoint or even identify, maybe because of its size, or because Europeans only arrived in the 17th century and rather quickly went about reducing the numbers of the native population. Nonetheless, artists trying to probe the ancient hidden reverse under the concrete and bricks do exist in the USA, usually in the Midwest, Deep South or around the Great Lakes, and Mike Weis, drummer for hazy post-rockers Zelienople, has encapsulated this veiled territory with acute beauty on Don’t Know, Just Walk.

The album was created in the wake of Weis’ diagnosis with prostate cancer, and inspired by wooded areas and fields in Michigan and Indiana, where he recorded the delicately-applied field recordings that traverse Don’t Know, Just Walk’s three tracks. The title refers to a form of Korean zen buddhism, and Weis uses that faith’s teachings to muse on death and mortality in a way that is reflective, sombre and ultimately life-affirming.

The three compositions on Don’t Know, Just Walk form a sort of suite, with the track titles even combining to form an enigmatic sentence: “The Temple Bell Stops,” “But The Sound Keeps Coming,” “Out Of The Flowers.” The epic, twenty-minute opener releases the listener into the inner and outer worlds of Mike Weis instantly, as spooky, muted voices intone ominously over a sparse tapestry of electro-acoustic drones and crisp field recordings. The feeling is of being lost deep in a forest at dusk, surrounded by buzzing cicadas, crunching leaves and shades of something altogether more sinister. Weis takes his time to construct his music, slowly adding layers of instruments and electronics until, almost of a sudden, the air is filled with sound. Although percussion is used sparingly, as a drummer Weis not unexpectedly unleashes his kit about four minutes in, again methodically accumulating repetitive kicks and swathes of cymbal crashes until — blended with arch synth noise — they form a seamless ocean of unfettered drone.

At other times, Weis is content to leave wide-open spaces in his music, with only faint interruptions to break a heavy silence. These well-placed shifts in tempo and volume serve to enhance the atmospheric potency of “The Temple Bell Stops”, and a strange form of oneiric psychogeography seeps into the mind’s eye like a ruptured narrative. When Weis returns to the drum kit, first to hammer mercilessly on his cymbals before segueing into gamelan-like tribal percussion, it somehow feels perfectly logical. Mike Weis sucks you into his world entirely on this album, and in one track the spell is cast.

The rest of the album continues the motifs laid out on “The Temple Bell Stops”, with the 18-minute “But The Sound Keeps Coming” acting as a more docile mirror of its predecessor, with an emphasis on field recordings, notably bird calls. The broiling, contradictory emotions and innate darkness of “The Temple Bell Stops” give way to something more peaceful and relaxed, at least at first, before a strange ritual, embodied by more tribal percussion and crackling drones breaks apart the tranquility. The track carries the same sense of mysterious, untamed oddness as the first album by Britain’s The Haxan Cloak, as if this music is being generated in tandem with nature rather than in spite of it. If someone were to soundtrack the awakening of long dormant forest spirits in America’s heartlands, this is probably what it would sound like.

It’s not often that a musical artist will react to personal strife or difficulty by producing something universal, but Mike Weis has achieved just that. By braving his illness stoically and taking off into the wilds, he has reconnected with something arcane and mystical that resonates enduringly in the collective (sub)consciousness.

A Quietus Review: Delta by Mai Mai Mai (June 9th, 2014)

Delta is one of those albums that feels like it has emerged, fully-formed and wonderfully weird, from a parallel universe or sickly secret society that we’ve never heard of but always suspected might be lying underneath our own. In reality, this mysterious world is the multi-faceted musical underground of Italian capital Rome, for which Toni Cutrone is one of the foremost poster boys as Mai Mai Mai and in noisy, psychedelic bands like Hiroshima Rocks Around, not to mention through his work as a venue owner, label boss and organiser of the Thalassa festival in the Eternal City. It makes sense, therefore, that Rome seems to inhabit Delta, an album that is as busy as its home city, and just as enigmatic.

More specifically than Rome as a whole, it’s the working class, socially and ethnically diverse district of Roma Est, the setting for many an iconic Italian film, that informs much of the capital’s underground scene, but Mai Mai Mai’s music feels more outward-looking. Cutrone is a well-travelled individual, born on an island in the Aegean sea, and, of course, the title itself hints at the other historical giant of the Mediterranean, Greece. Delta stretches back and forwards through time, reaching into the past to toy with Cutrone’s memories and the wider scope of history, before re-imagining these capsules of the past in a muddled, genre-less present and future. The memories are suggested by field recordings garnered from around the Mediterranean, echoing Cutrone’s childhood spent following his parents from country to country and dissolving distinct references into a pool of combined sound worlds. Instantly, the UK “hauntology” scene of Demdike Stare and others springs to mind, but there is a playfulness behind Mai Mai Mai that many a British act seem to lack. Tracks bubble with wobbly analogue synthesiser lines and drones, consistently disturbed and unsettled by bursts of gristly noise. Beats are dropped casually into tracks, deployed sparingly but with subtle rhythmic force. Delta feels alchemical, a smartly distilled collection of sounds brewed together into a heady cocktail of genre-less, arrhythmic post-everything.

There are nonetheless certain references points that emerge as signposts across the four tracks that make up the album. Second track ‘Βυζάντιον’ is a listless slice of electro/noise/drone, all moody sci-fi synths and muted post-dubstep micro-beats, but the presence of a Christian choir in the background unsettles the track’s dynamic, injecting a pall of unease. Italy is a country dominated by Catholicism, but Cutrone draws a curious parallel between the established church and an inchoate form of paganism, as if the churches of Italy had all been built on the smouldering ashes of wicker men. Equally, the sound lexicon of Italian giallo and gothic horror is forever close toDelta‘s shifting surface, imbuing the album with a distinct sense of unease and threat, and the Catholic references only seem to enhance this, echoing Goblin’s soundtrack for Dario Argento’s baroque masterpiece Suspiria. Elsewhere, modernity and the past collide viciously on ‘τετρακτύς’, which sounds like early Cabaret Voltaire recorded in an abandoned Fiat factory.

At 29 minutes, Delta doesn’t really deserve to be called an album, but Cutrone deserves admiration for how much he crams into such a short space of time, preventing the listener from ever locking the record into the straightjackets of genre and influence. Cutrone emerges as a wholly individual character, similar to the likes of Failing Light, Hacker Farm or 1612 Underture, but equally completely different. Delta is a weird object, and unlike anything else you are likely to hear in 2014. I can’t wait to hear what happens when he stretches things out a bit