Monday, 31 December 2012

Best. Ten. 2012.

1. Lee Gamble - Diversions 1994-1996 (PAN)

2. Emptyset - Medium (Subtext)
3. Demdike Stare - Elemental (Modern Love)
4. Madteo - Noi No (Sahko Recordings)

5. Silent Servant - Negative Fascination (Hospital Productions)
6. Nick Edwards - Plekzationz (Editions Mego)
7. Vatican Shadow - Kneel Before Religious Icons (Type)

8. Love Cult - Fingers crossed (Public Information)
9. The Eccentronic Research Council - 1612 Underture (Finders Keepers)
10. The Slaves - Spirits of the Sun (Digitalis)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Vatican Shadow - Ghosts of Chechnya

Following the issue of the ultra-limited Byzantine Private CIA cassette at the start of 2010, well over a dozen releases attributed to Dominick Fernow's Vatican Shadow project have appeared. The most recent of these, September Cell and Operation Neptune Spear were covered by so much noise back in June and July respectively. Last Monday saw the release of three more additions to Fernow's burgeoning canon; a pair of EPs (Jordanian Descent and Atta's Apartment Slated for Demolition) and this album which was previously available only as a limited double cassette pack.

The Vatican Shadow sound has undergone quite a few changes since that first cassette which presented various sound sources layered over disjointed rhythms and cloaked in reverb. Fernow has employed more conventional rhythmic structures on later releases and incorporated textures which increase the overall sense of military-grade paranoia and creeping dread as referenced in his titles.

Ghosts of Chechnya is probably the most 'accessible' title in the Vatican Shadow back catalogue so far but this is far from the lazy, lowest common denominator cash grab that accessibility usually signifies. I can't help feeling that this is probably the most completely realised Vatican Shadow set issued so far.

Opener 'Encryption Nets' runs a sweeping loop, plangent synth lines and white noise flickers over a submerged rhythm track. 'Peace Rage' makes a mad dash through clattering percussion whilst 'Voices Came Crackling Across A Motorola Hand-Held Radio' builds tense drones atop crunchy jackboot drums. The standout track for me is 'The Hamburg Cell Was Born In Chechnya' which builds from an ominous, low-end rumble before adding hovering synths and gunfire snare hits.

With this kind of prolificacy it's only natural to expect the occasional dip in quality control. On the evidence of these three releases, Domick Fernow is still operating at a much higher level than sheer volume usually dictates.  

Ghosts of Chechnya is available digitally through Juno. Jordanian Descent and Atta's Apartment Slated For Demolition are also available via the same source and are highly recommended.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Emptyset - Collapsed

There must be something rather special in the air around Bristol at the moment. Monday saw the release of the mighty Intrusive Incidentalz Vol 2 by Ekoplekz, an incredible album which has been on constant repeat here at so much noise over the past few days. Also issued on the same day was Collapsed, an EP containing four new tracks by Bristol-based duo Emptyset on the esteemed Raster Noton imprint.

I’ve followed the work of James Ginzburg and Paul Purgas closely since picking up a copy of their debut self titled LP in 2009. This was an album which took the rather well worn minimal techno framework and forced it into a variety of interesting new shapes. Then came last year’s astonishing Demiurge set which is, in my opinion at least, one of the finest electronic albums to have been released recent years. They managed to better that in March this year with the release of Medium, a five track mini album which is resolutely uncompromising and brutally raw in it’s approach, yet remains an utterly gripping listening experience.

To say that my expectations of this record were high is a massive understatement and thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed. A track-by-track analysis of a release like this is utterly pointless as Emptyset employ a compositional methodology which concentrates on the construction of overall aesthetic and texture rather than tunes per se. As on Demiurge and Medium, bass plays a pivotal role here; fat slabs of speaker wrecking low end pressure and thick, rumbling drones underpin each track. Sheets of static, distortion and ragged frequencies are manipulated and bent into oddly rhythmic shapes.

Once again, Emptyset have created an astonishing set of tracks which, whilst rooted at their base level in techno, ultimately bear almost no resemblance to that music's most recognisable characteristics.

There are very few people currently operating within this field and at this level right now, don't let this one pass you by if you like your music challenging, abstract and visceral. Massive recommendation to anyone giving heavy play to recent releases by Nick Edwards/EkoplekzPerc or Mordant Music

Collapsed is available in both 12" vinyl and digital formats via Raster Noton. I'd also suggest sourcing copies of Medium and Demiurge too whilst you're at it, both of which are widely available.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Ekoplekz - Intrusive Incidentalz Vol 2

Not content with delivering one of the absolute highlights of the year with his stunning Plekzationz album last month, Nick Edwards now gives us the second volume of Intrusive Incidentalz via Punch Drunk records. It's no secret that Edwards is a huge favourite here at so much noise but critically speaking, he's yet to put a foot wrong. Over the course of 2012, he has issued several essential transmissions commencing with the Dromilly Vale EP back in February, a split tape with Wanda Group and the gargantuan thirty five track Skalectrikz double cassette pack in addition to a rework of electronic pioneer Tod Dockstader's Boingo Background just a few weeks ago.

Intrusive Incidentalz Vol 2 follows on almost a year from volume 1 and occupies the same area of the audio spectrum as it's predecessor. If Plekzationz represented an exercise in opening out his sound, allowing it to breathe and develop into long form pieces then this collection is it's antithesis. Tracks are pared back to much shorter running times and the general mood is oppressive, suffocating.

It can be argued that what Nick Edwards does isn't at all unique, or that there is little 'progression' between his main releases but that misses the point entirely. He obviously operates within the tightly defined parameters dictated by the equipment he utilises and his chosen compositional methodology. To put it another way, he improvises using the sounds generated by antiquated hardware. What do you expect to hear on an Ekoplekz record, a string section and thirty piece gospel choir? Ultimately, it's what he does with these crude raw materials that makes his work so compelling.

It's a futile task to pick out individual highlights from an album this good; 'Ultra Warble' is the filthy sound of heavy machinery, 'Effluvia' is saturated in flickering reverb whilst 'Neutronik III' marries atonal pulses with bursts of white noise. Special mention has to be given to 'Kelvin Flats', a nod to Sheffield's notorious council housing complex - a failed social experiment in high-rise living which was built in the 1960s and is now, thankfully demolished. Scroll down to listen to the full track.

After releasing such a large volume of high quality material this year alone, Edwards has proved that he is still capable of producing an album which can be filed amongst the very best entries in his rapidly expanding back catalogue. Keep 'em coming Nick!

Intrusive Incidentalz Vol 2 is available on vinyl and as a digital download via Bleep. Keep track of Nick's movements on the Ekoplekz Bulletin Board and whilst you're at it, have a quick look at the website of 2nd Fade who produced the album's  rather brilliant cover art which features a View-Master stereoscope disc.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Tod Dockstader/Mordant Music/Ekoplekz - Electronic Vol 1

When I read a few months ago that Mordant Music were preparing to reissue two rare volumes of music by early electronic pioneer Tod Dockstader, I was excited at the prospect of finally being able to replace my rather low quality vinyl rips. I also couldn't help feeling that it was about time this largely forgotten pioneer of electronic music was given a little more credit for the massive influence he has undoubtedly had on the modern audio landscape.  

Both the albums in question were recorded over thirty years ago for library music specialists Boosey & Hawkes who made them available exclusively to film and TV studios. They were both called Electronic, and carried the subtitle "Recorded Music For Film, Radio & Television".

It seems that just recently, people have finally begun to fully appreciate the music contained on these hard to find LPs, the vast majority of which were never given a full commercial release. It's commendable that some of these largely unheard volumes are now being released into the public domain by forward thinking labels and are no longer the sole preserve of obsessive vinyl junkies willing to pay hundreds of pounds for a battered secondhand copy. Over the past few years there have been some sterling reissues of material by the likes of Daphne Oram, Suzanne Ciani, David Cain and Bruno Spoerri so it's only fitting that seventy four year old Tod Dockstader should now join this group. 

Dockstader began his career as a film editor in 1955 after studying painting and film at the University of Minnesota. He became a sound editor a few years later and released his first album - Eight Electronic Pieces - in 1960. This album would later go on to be used by Federico Fellini as the soundtrack to his 1969 film Satyricon. Following the closure of the studios where he had worked since 1958, he found himself rejected by the established electronic music institutions due to a lack of academic experience and so he eventually moved into audio-visual work. After his retirement in 1990, he built himself a home studio and spent the next fifteen years recording short wave radio transmissions which he used as the basis for his Aerial series of albums on Sub Rosa.

Although he achieved only modest success during his career as a composer and musician, he managed to establish a small back catalogue of recordings which have since become hugely influential despite being virtually unknown outside the aficionados.

Listening to these twenty three musical miniatures, I find it almost impossible to place them on a timeline stretching back to their original recording date of 1979. If recent albums by Moon Wiring Club, Pye Corner Audio and almost anything associated with the Ghost Box label are anything to go by, it's clear that Dockstader's presence is still felt today.

Bridging the reissue of these two volumes is a 10" remix disc of sorts. It contains three tracks which have been suitably deconstructed and rewired by the good Baron himself and Mr Nick Edwards under his Ekoplekz moniker.

It shouldn't be any great surprise that this album is being issued by the redoubtable Baron Mordant's label. After all, he did release Carrion Squared, his own entry into this field back in 2007. It was culled from sessions recorded for a library music album called The Drone Continuum which was commissioned by Boosey & Hawkes and released via the Strip Sounds imprint. 

Both these releases are essential listening for anyone remotely interested in the evolution of modern electronic music.

Electronic Volume 1 is available on vinyl and digitally through the Mordant Music online store as is the remix EP. Electronic Volume 2 will be available soon.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Carlos Giffoni - Evidence

It's still possible in this age of social networking, music blogging and near ubiquitous internet access for good records to get lost in the usual weekly deluge of new releases. After carrying out some digital housekeeping last week, I came across this two track offering from No Fun Productions boss Carlos Giffoni sitting on my hard drive and was surprised that it was even there. I have a much played copy of his last full length offering, Severence from 2010 (which is fantastic incidentally) but couldn't for the life of me remember picking this one up. I duly added it into my iTunes library and hit play…

First track 'Evidence' starts with a beautiful, mournful piano line (courtesy of Laurel Halo as it turns out). For a moment I thought I'd playlisted the wrong track, then came the vocal which made me certain this wasn't the right track - an accented monotone voice delivers the lines "It would be so easy, to fall in love with you / But we can't talk to each other any more no, we just can't talk to other any more". This is rapidly followed by an aggressive 303 squiggle and a single 4/4 kick-drum as the voice intones the brief lyric a few more times. Once established, the track plays out against a muted synth line, also the work of Laurel Halo before reprising it's opening piano motif. It's a simple track with just a few components but it works so damn well. This basic precept is repeated on 'Desire in the Summer' but builds itself around a grainy pulse and adds a few, sparse electro drum rolls before descending into a vat of gradually decaying echo.

This release is nothing short of incredible and as far away from Giffoni's signature experiments in noise and abstract laptop manipulation as is humanly possible. I can only hope that he has a few more tracks like these tucked away for an album sometime soon, until then, I suspect these will get some heavy rotation.

12" vinyl and digital download versions are available via Boomkat.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Time Attendant - Tournaments

Paul Snowdon is an artist from Deptford, London who creates beautiful abstract paintings depicting various geometric, cubist forms. He has a blog site which contains images of some of his work which you should go and look at as soon as you have finished reading this article. On his blog, he makes the following statement;

"Heraldic abstract geometric colour deception"

Actually, this isn't so much a statement as one of his "six steps of painting". His final step is determined as follows;

"Cubism Vortism Constructivism Futurism Modernism"

Looking at his work whilst considering these two lines, his words make perfect sense. 

Paul Snowdon is also a musician and the man behind Time Attendant. He has associations with such luminaries as Pye Corner Audio, Moon Wiring Club and Jonny Mugwump whose Exotic Pylon Records has just issued the Tournaments EP.

The four tracks that make up this release contain portions of the following elements in varying degrees;

Rattling electronics and the gurgling wheeze of vintage synthesizers / Tone bursts, tape hiss and other disintegrating audio artefacts / Decaying drones and pulses daubed onto fractured rhythms / Spluttering reverberations bleeding from mouldering tape stock.

If any of the above descriptors mean anything to you, or you have recently enjoyed Nick Edward's Plekzationz album then this EP should be playing in your home/head right now.

Tournaments is available on 12" vinyl (with a bonus track) and digital download via Exotic Pylon Records. Once you've obtained this, you'll also want to check out the Time Attendant Bandcamp page for two earlier releases which are equally indispensable.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Silent Servant - Negative Fascination

The last time we heard anything from John (Juan) Mendez it was with Camella Lobo as part of Tropic of Cancer on a three track EP called Permissions of Love issued via Italy's Mannequin label last month. Prior to this, Mendez released several more singles and EPs as part of this duo in addition to a couple of  twelves as Silent Servant on the now decommissioned Sandwell District imprint. It's hard to believe that this is the first full length solo release that Mendez has worked on since his debut back in 2006 and so my expectations were unusually high after grabbing a copy of the disc.

Noise supremo Dominick Fernow's Hospital Productions seems an odd choice of label to issue this album but, given his recent work under the Vatican Shadow moniker there is some kind of skewed logic behind it I guess. I had spent some time listening to the previous Silent Servant releases as well as Sandwell District's Feed-Forward album in preparation for my initial session with this LP but I needn't have bothered - the approach taken here is from a different set of reference points entirely.

Lead track 'Process (Introduction') is as much about texture as it is rhythm. Synth drones are layered above minimal arpeggios and a voice intones wordlessly in a foreign tongue against ricocheting percussive elements. 'Moral Divide (Endless)' starts off sounding like a muscular take on something from Throbbing Gristle's Twenty Jazz Funk Greats before adding a drifting flute sample to it's trebly beat-box chassis. But it's on 'Temptation & Desire' that Mendez lets his love for post-punk aesthetics run riot by using a blunted drum track and bass guitar rumble as it's backbone whilst more disembodied voices flicker and billow. During the penultimate track 'A Path Eternal', Mendez pulls the beats completely and uses another heavily manipulated voice which is set against a spectral, almost ambient drift. 

After a few spins, there's no mistaking that this is a Silent Servant album but over the course of thirty six minutes, Juan Mendez constantly redesigns his signature sound whilst retaining the basic elements that have made his previous work such compulsive listening.  

Negative Fascination is available as in limited edition vinyl, CD and as a digital download via Boomkat.