Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Slaves - Spirits of the Sun

An album review is a very important piece of writing. Some records just don't get the exposure that they rightly deserve due to an unfavourable write-up or inaccurate description of it's sound. The annals of music history are littered with records which are now considered to be classics, but were critically panned at their time of release leading to commercial failure. However, sometimes a review manages to capture the sound and feel of an album perfectly which causes a bypass of the 'preview' mechanism and leads straight to the 'purchase' reflex.

The opening sentence of this album's review on Boomkat ran as follows; "...reminiscent of Grouper with a brutal, doom-stricken underbelly that at turns sounds like My Bloody Valentine, Sunn O))) and Slowdive." Being a huge fan of each of these four groups I immediately went on the hunt for Spirits of the Sun but was disappointed to find that it had only been issued on vinyl. A few weeks later, Digitalis saw fit to make it available digitally and so I downloaded it without delay.

First track '111' begins with a damaged chorale of female vocals supplied by Barbara Kinzle and is joined by an abrasive swell of guitar which completely swamps the track toward the end. The vocal incantations make a brief return before segueing into 'River' which stretches out the billowing guitar modulations for almost ten minutes. 'The field' casts a slightly more brooding shadow as it utilises a series of ominous chords but everything is just a build-up to the album's longest piece, 'Born Into Light'. The track uses more vocal harmonies, this time a combination of male and female timbres which are run through with shimmering drones. At around the five minute mark, Birch Cooper's guitar starts to surface once more and gradually throws up suffocating clouds of distortion, increasing in volume and intensity as the track progresses.

So, was that review an accurate summing up of this incredible debut? Well, I can see where each of the aforementioned bands' influences may be drawn from but that's nowhere near the full picture in my opinion. I'd also have to mention the work of Popol Vuh, Flying Saucer Attack and Stars of the Lid as additional points of reference. Ultimately though, this is a record which easily transcends it's obvious influences and, using only a limited set of sounds creates something utterly beautiful which is more than deserving of your attention.

Head over to the Digitalis Bandcamp site to purchase the digital download, a vinyl version is still available.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Demdike Stare - Collected Mixes & Podcasts

This past week has been a bit of a challenge for me in one way or another but, as ever, music has kept me going through it all. I still have a pile of new material to get through as well as some rather interesting old releases including several albums of library music from the 1970s, a few more Sun Ra LPs for my ever expanding collection and a rather superb 20 disc box set of rare UK psychedelia and freakbeat tracks. But, despite all of this I have found myself turning back to the work of Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty time after time.

If it were possible to wear out mp3s like vinyl then I'm sure I'd have replaced my Demdike Stare albums at least a couple of times now, such is the frequency at which they are played. It's unlikely that there will be any new material with us this year after the completion of the Elemental series and their other activities so I began to wonder if they'd done any mixes to bolster my catalogue. After an hour of searching, I was surprised to learn that there are no fewer than seven mixes/podcasts which are all available for free in various places online and duly downloaded each of them.

As these sessions were all given away free, I decided to reference them in a single location to make their discovery and acquisition a little more straightforward. To my knowledge they have never been issued as official releases so hopefully I'm not contravening any copyright laws by sharing them here. If anyone connected with the production of these mixes thinks otherwise then please contact me directly and I will remove them immediately.

The six downloads presented here are as follows;

Moving Metals - Issued by Modern Love records in 2009

FACT Mix 151 - Issued by FACT magazine in 2010

Unsound Podcast - Issued by Unsound in 2010

XLR8R Podcast - Issued by XLR8R in 2011

Irrational Advice - Issued by Modern Love records in 2011

Needle Exchange Mix 053 - Issued by Self-Titled Daily magazine in 2011

PlayGround Mix 066 - Issued by PlayGround magazine in 2012

I won't provide my usual descriptions here as I think you have a good idea what you're getting into if you've continued reading this far. Suffice to say that each session is a combination of Demdike Stare tracks and textures mixed with a variety of source materials covering drone, electronics, jazz, progressive rock, library music and much more besides. It's a testament to Miles and Sean's skills as producers/arrangers that the finished pieces are every bit as good as their studio output and contain some extremely forward thinking music which, even as an aficionado of outré sounds had me reaching for my iPad frequently to look up tracks.

It's also worth mentioning that only a few of these sessions have a proper tracklist (which can be found under the 'Lyrics' tab) but this shouldn't be a barrier to your enjoyment. Also, artwork was either non existent or too small in size for my use  (with the exception of Irrational Advice) so I decided to create my own using a generic template featuring the Demdike Stare skull logo.

I hope a few of these mixes are new to you too and that they serve to tide you over until the next official Demdike Stare emission is with us. If anyone knows of any other mixes/sessions/podcasts out there which are freely available then please let me know and I'll keep this page updated.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Moritz Von Oswald Trio - Fetch

The term 'genius' is often used without much supporting evidence these days. It seems that anyone who has achieved a few critically acclaimed goals in their chosen profession has this honour bestowed upon them by the media, lazily elevating them to deity status. 

Moritz Von Oswald is however, in my mind at least, worthy of this title and then some. He originally worked as percussionist in German avant garde band Palais Schaumburg before going on to play drums for Scottish new wave darlings The Associates from 1985 onwards. Von Oswald then moved into music production and worked with Thomas Fehlmann under the 2MB & 3MB monikers. He then founded the Basic Channel label with Mark Ernestus, recording under a variety of aliases including Basic Channel, Rhythm & Sound and Maurizio. His influence on techno, particularly minimal and dub variants, and also within the wider sphere of electronic music is inestimable. His touch, technique and signature sound is still very much in evidence some seventeen years after the Basic Channel label ceased operations. It's hard to imagine where electronic music would be without the influence of luminaries such as Moritz Von Oswald.

The first Moritz Von Oswald Trio album - Vertical Ascent, was issued in 2009 featuring the talents of engineer/producer Max Loderbauer and Sasu Ripatti (better known as Vladislav Delay). This was followed up by the albums Live in New York (2010) and Horizontal Structures (2011) - huge favourites here at the noise.

And so we arrive at the new record - Fetch, which consists of four long-form compositions that manage to enmesh elements of dub, techno and jazz, bending them into a whole new series of shapes in the process. The album opens with 'Jam', a seventeen minute improvisation which throws random outbursts of sax, dissonant electronics and various textures against a grainy rhythm track. One of Fetch's revolving cast of collaborators, Mark Muellbauer adds bass which, along with touches of electric piano gives the piece a distinct jazz feel. The segue into next track 'Dark' is flawless, the pace dropping a few beats as a smoky, dub-like atmosphere develops. Third track 'Club' builds on a more recognisable, Basic Channel minimal techno chassis adding more grit, grain and heavily processed percussive hits. The album ends with 'Yangissa', a fourteen minute excursion into blunted tribal aesthetics with a muted, spidery bassline. At the halfway mark, almost everything but the spongy kick is dialled down and the rest of the track plays out in a clattering tangle.

Fetch is an altogether looser, more organic proposition than it's predecessors, due in part to the fact that it was apparently pieced together from a four hour improv session which saw the core trio joined by Mark Muellbauer (bass) and Tobias Freund (live electronics and effects). The recordings were then later processed by Von Oswald who added further contributions from Jonas Shoen (flute, clarinet and saxophone) and Sebastian Studnitzky (trumpet).

This comes highly recommended to anyone looking for further expansions into minimal / dub techno, jazz or experimental electronics - basically anything recently covered on so much noise such is the scope of this record. 

Head over to Honest Jon's Records to buy vinyl, CD and download versions.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Emptyset – Demiurge Variations

Bristol's Emptyset have the honour of putting out my favourite release of 2012 so far. Medium, which was released in March took the concept of bass and experimental musics to an absolute apogee as far as I'm concerned and is essential listening. Prior to this EP length release, Emptyset issued their sophomore album Demiurge last year and it's from this album that these two tracks have been forged.

Paul Jebanasam has created a variety of soundtrack pieces and film music over the past few years but also put out the incredible Music for the Church of St John the Baptist on Subtext earlier in 2012. It was an inspired choice to hand over the tapes to him given his background in audio sculpture and experimental drone works. On 'Demiurge', Jebanasam takes the concept of the remix to another level, processing components from the entire album as a single entity into a piece subtitled 'Of Blackest Grain to Missive Ruin'. The track initially sounds like a field recording taken at the site of an erupting volcano but rapidly begins to incorporate glowering subs and eerie orchestral drones. In the light of this piece and his previous album, Jebanasam is most definitely a name to watch out for in the future.

The second piece is a variation on the track 'Function' and is subtitled 'Vulgar Display of Power'. Again, Roly Porter was probably the only other choice of producer that Subtext could have made to handle such source material. His debut album Aftertime is another huge favourite of mine and will likely be at the very top of my 'best of 2012' list come December. Here, his re-imagining is masterful, adding a brooding intro to the original rapid-fire bass pulses before turning them into a caustic series of cavernous jackhammer blows sending showers of digital scree out into the inky blackness.

The words 'experimental' and 'industrial' seem to be rather voguish in electronic music these days and there have been some incredibly compelling releases over the past year or so but this two tracker really is something else. Stark, brutal, uncompromising and utterly beautiful are descriptors that spring immediately to mind when listening to this all too brief emission from Subtext Recordings who are a label truly leading the field in this area right now.

Demiurge Variations is available in both vinyl and digital formats from a variety of outlets as is the original source album Demiurge. You should also seek out and acquire Aftertime by Roly Porter and Music for the Church of St John the Baptist by Paul Jebanasam whilst you're at it.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Vatican Shadow - Operation Neptune Spear

There was no advance warning that this was due a release and so I came across it by chance a few days ago. Operation Neptune Spear is a three track digital EP which was originally issued as a cassette via Dominick Fernow's Hospital Productions imprint in a micro edition of 17 copies. Fernow has described it as the “Live Mix Rehearsal For First Live Performance May 5, 2012 Los Angeles In The Shadow Of The KSM Trial At Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” The tape, packaged in zip lock bag with an art insert, was sold exclusively at Vatican Shadow's debut live show with Tropic of Cancer and Demdike Stare at Los Globos in LA.

Dominick Fernow has been quite prolific of late, this release following rapidly on the heels of last month's incredible September Cell EP Earlier in the year he has also put out the Iraqi Praetorian Guard EP and the stunning Kneel Before Religious Icons album on The Records in addition to releasing a double 7" pack of ambient power electronics under his Prurient moniker in January.

Given that this is ostensibly a live recording made during a rehearsal session, the first thing to note is that the sound quality isn't perfect. The whole thing is veiled in a sheen of distortion and midrange compression but, rather than being distracting it actually imbues these three tracks with an spectral feel which more than makes up for the lack of fidelity. 

The first part comprises a drum loop and sweeping synth lines which ride the distortion to great effect giving the track an aggressive, caustic edge. Part two begins with a metallic, dub-like beat and is joined by a weighty bass rumble and flickers of the ghosts of Middle Eastern radio transmissions. Part three is the longest piece here with a running time of almost twelve minutes. Muezzin calls to prayer are mixed with droning electronics and reverberating drum machine hits going off like a sniper's rifle. As the track progresses, the rhythm track changes several times, seemingly reprising sounds heard on the preceding two tracks. The mood is barely controlled and bordering on malevolent, hints of Fernow's noise manipulation prowess as Prurient is in evidence everywhere.

This took a few listens to sink in but after putting the recording limitations into context it is as strong a release as anything under the Vatican Shadow name and is a fitting precursor to a series of three forthcoming live appearances in Europe during Autumn. Two of these dates have already been announced; London on the 13th of October as part of the Blackest Ever Black label showcase and the following week at the Unsound festival in Krakow, Poland. 

Download as either an MP3 or FLAC file via Boomkat.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Perc - A new Brutality

I wasn't aware that Perc Trax chief Ali Wells also released his own material until after my recent purchase of Forward Strategy Group's rather excellent Labour Division album. On the back of this, I decided to pick up last year's Wicker and Steel album to see how it measured up and was immediately impressed by his masterful layering of brutalist techno and post-industrial aesthetics. A few weeks ago I read that Wells was releasing a four track EP to follow up this debut and so I duly clicked the pre-order button.

As if to leave you in no doubt as to the uncompromising nature of this EP, the title track begins with a piercing, high frequency tone before the drums commence to kick your teeth in. The entire track is then enveloped in twitchy, phased sheets of grimy static as pulses of menacing bass emerge from the bottom end. 'Cash 4 Gold' establishes an almost arrhythmic beat; a loping clatter of snares, kicks and hi-hats against which various tones and reverberating pulses are offset. A burnished, skeletal synth line is also introduced adding a sparse, mournful edge to proceedings. Next track, 'Boy' is built on a rhythm track forged from sonic whip cracks and a clipped, trebly sample which almost pushes levels into the red. Around halfway through, the drums are momentarily overtaken by a swell of caustic white noise, a figure which is repeated again during the outro.

But it's the final track, 'Before I go' that manages to surprise the most. A piano plays lugubrious, spare chords against a backdrop of shuffling clatter and the gentle hum of an electric organ. The recording of the piano is muted and soft, blooming under a haze of cassette tape wow & flutter. It's a beautiful piece that puts me in mind of Tim Hecker's Dropped Pianos album and The Caretaker's incredible Patience (After Sebald), both huge favourites of mine from last year.

With this release, Ali Wells has not only succeeded in further developing his love of aggressive techno tropes and industrial soundscapes to a much more visceral level, but has also managed to give his music more texture and space to breathe. This is particularly evident on 'Cash 4 Gold', more so on the EP's closer 'Before I Go' which is a total revelation. It's incredibly satisfying to hear such a marked progression from a producer in such a relatively short period of time, particularly when so many others tend to be downright obdurate in their approach to change.

This is surely a sign of great things to come from Ali Wells, I'm looking forward to the next Perc album immensely.

A New Brutality is available as a digital download via the Perc Trax Bandcamp page.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Demdike Stare / N. Racker / Andy Votel - Kraak, Manchester 30th June 2012

The Kraak Gallery is situated in the remains of a former textile cutting room and is located in Stevenson Square on the fringes of Manchester's Northern Quarter. We were kindly shown around the gallery space which is used mainly for short-term exhibitions but also doubles as a film and photography studio. The fully licensed music venue is situated just across the narrow alleyway and frequently hosts underground club nights. Kraak's website gives more information about forthcoming events, exhibitions and details regarding the hire of either of the spaces.

Before the event, I tried to find out more about N. Racker on the web but discovered he has virtually no online profile. I suspect this may change now that he is part of the tiny Pre-Cert Home Entertainment roster, particularly after his performance tonight. He sits at the front of the stage surrounded by several wooden boxes topped with stretched wires, studded with nails and other strange attachments. He also has a compact, antique keyboard and a tray of effects to hand. He works at the stringed boxes with a tiny hand fan to produce a series of jagged drones which he then manipulates with a variety of effects. He also creates loops in real time and peppers them with percussive elements. His female collaborator adds subtle wisps of flute, voice and additional textures using a small bellows-driven organ. The music he and his partner create is a kind of organic, almost folksy experimentalism using seemingly home-made and acoustic instruments. His debut release should be an interesting proposition and one to look out for.

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Demdike Stare, ever since discovering 2010's Liberation Through Hearing I have since picked up everything that bears their name. It was hard to envisage how their enigmatic music would translate in a live setting though, wouldn't they just be two guys partially obscured by monitors? Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty do indeed sit motionless behind their computers as they direct a swelling rumble of eerie, billowing bass-heavy drones flecked with all manner of arcane audio ephemera. The wall behind them fills with blown out footage of a sunrise which flickers with VHS tracking artefacts. An ominous veil gradually descends as the projected footage changes from images of psychedelic fantasy to scenes depicting occult happenings and satanic ritual. Quivering bass tremors are draped with hypnotic chants, disintegrating loops and electro-static pulses as dense beats emerge from the inky blackness of sound. At this point in the proceedings I become aware of the audience surrounding me; lost in some kind of esoteric reverie, willing participants in a sonic black mass which is being conducted by two high priests channeling their eldritch anti-god via laptops. The music and back projections combine perfectly to form a complete stylistic synthesis and maintain the heightened sense of sensory disorientation and unease throughout the entire performance. After an hour of sustained tension both musically and visually, the creeping dread gradually recedes and the assembled group is left in a state of physical and mental release, as if snapped out of a collective fugue state and back into harsh reality.

On record, Miles and Sean are absolutely at the very top of their game after a period of intense creativity which resulted in the release of their recent four part Elemental series. They handle their source materials meticulously and seamlessly blend these found sounds with their own expansive constructs which makes for a totally immersive listening experience. In this intimate live setting however, they manage to develop and expand their singular vision into new areas, attaining heights I haven't witnessed in a very long time. 

Finders Keepers' Andy Votel is a prolific collector of records and tonight he spends several hours between sets playing a tiny selection culled from his impressive assemblage. My interest is generally not piqued whilst listening to someone mixing together a straight sequence of tracks I'm already familiar with, but this is a different matter altogether. Votel's choice of music for the evening is quite simply mesmerising. There are many extracts which sound as if they are pulled from long out of print soundtrack albums, forgotten library music, prog and psyche rock guitars, free jazz freakouts, electroacoustic and early electronic experiments, dilapidated drum breaks, musique concrète textures and absolutely everything in between. This is a man who obviously doesn't view the accumulation of obscure records in a fetishistic sense as is sometimes the case with vinyl obsessives, he clearly loves the music contained within the grooves and fully understands how tracks work together both on a musical and an emotional level. To spend several hours listening to a DJ playing such amazing music without knowing a single track, but still being totally transfixed is a testament to Andy Votel's passion for, and knowledge of these obscure recordings.

A cassette tape was prepared especially for this event and features a side each by N. Racker and Tarnation Rooks which, as Sean Canty told me earlier in the evening was actually the work of Andy Votel. The tape is housed in an oversized cartridge case with beautiful artwork printed on a sheet of acetate. I'm not sure if this will be available anywhere else but comes very highly recommended if you can track down a copy.

An incredible evening of astonishing music accompanied by stunning visuals.