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.