Sunday, 24 February 2013

April Larson - When You Fall Asleep / Entressis / Small Pieces of Sky (Bandcamp)

Stumbling across April Larson’s Bandcamp page, I found an astonishing collection of music. Her three most recent albums contain a universe of sound:

When You Fall Asleep is a wonderful, static-filled, meditation on crumble and decay. Pieces like 'Last Steps', 'In Exile' and 'Cobwebs' place the hugeness of eternal drone music within a dirty shroud of warped and dust-infused fuzz.  They sound like garbled data transmissions from the Voyager probe as it leaves the solar system, it's circuits bent and melted by fierce radiation and the gravitational pull of planets.


Entressis is remarkable, existing in a liminal state, like the music of Grouper; a staging post for expeditions into the unreal. A hushed awe pervades much of the album with a Yellow Swans causticity evident in its noisier moments. Sad and pensive but lushly beautiful, it seems to breathe organically. Entressis is a paradoxical mystery, like a still but constant moment: the flow of a river caught in frozen movement. It sounds tapped and ancient, an unending process begun long before your birth. Equal parts smooth (‘Missing Years’) and grime-encrusted (‘Click Swallow’), the range of textures employed on the album is fascinating. ‘Hustler’ is ineffably strange, full of lawn mower whine and aquatic moan. ‘Anthurium’ combines grace and hidden claws. ‘Circumflex Grief’sounds like an empty ballroom full of ringing crystal bowls, drifting motes of dust the only dancers. This is a humbling and magical album that addresses the void in human terms, a look within as much as a look without. Music of the spheres condensed into comprehensible form.

Small Pieces of Sky is no less stunning; it begins with a wintry opener, like frosted breath dissipating in cold air. The next piece ‘Frozen Dawn’ has swelling drones like Arvo Part's choral works. ‘Rain in the Garden’ is a noisy beauty.   ‘There Are Stairs Beneath The Ocean’ is another contemplation of space, it shivers, expanding and contracting with slowly flexing subtlety.  An ambient album of distinction, it hangs enchanted in a still night sky.

April Larson’s music is a testament to epochal time, frozen and preserved.  Deep in every sense, she makes sounds that open onto yawning gulfs of drift and drone, while drawing on a plunging well-spring of emotion. Existing somewhere on the noise/ambient/drone spectrum, her work is singular in its raw beauty.  She is an amazing artist; her currently available work is hopefully only an introduction.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Keep Sheila on Acid - Erotic Theology (Auditory Field Theory)

This evocative and absorbing tape release from the Auditory Field Theory label is an album on which the young label can build further colonies of weirdness.  The whole thing is soaked in horror-film ambience: a house in the woods, eldritch symbols carved into the bricks; it easily conjures disturbing associations.
'Erotic Theology' materialises from a white light into corporeal granules of piercing stretched tones and strafing bursts of stereo flicker. 'Painted Geography' pairs cyclical turns of cricket chitter with abrasive tape murk. 'Sphinx Blood' is one of the best pieces; filled with ringing bells and high squeaking menace, suggesting something moving out of sight, like a stairway dropping into darkness; snatches of radio burble add more tension, the ear struggling to make sense of a dialogue that may contain nothing of reason anyway.  ‘Acoustic Shadow’ is a confusion of activity, fluttering birds of static, rumbling and sudden crackling flurries of noise; a whistling almost-melody adds to the uneasy atmosphere.  ‘Prophet’s Silence’ is more propulsive; animal yawns, creaking metal gates and what sounds like a struggling tractor.
‘Erotic Theology’ is a transmission from a troubling dream, full of worrying sonic phenomena and uncomfortable imaginative possibilities.  Beware putting it on before sleeping, you may not return.
Auditory Field Theory

Sunday, 17 February 2013

oh/ex/oh - Extant (The Geography Trip)

'Extant' by oh/ex/oh sounds transmitted from a bleak future or an alternative present, a post-catastrophe earth or one where the Rapture has occurred, with humans entirely or mostly absent.  It felt to me like a musical companion to Alan Weisman’s ‘The World Without Us’.  The music perfectly mimics this imagined situation.  'Extant' evokes ruin and emptiness: an expanse of empty houses, drenched in moon light, reclaimed by urban foxes and birds; a world at peace with itself after the departure of its most destructive tenant.

oh/ex/oh's arrangements and sound design are stunning.  'Burners' has a slowly building hum and radioactive crackle.  'The Holy Fallout' is full of static, weird harmonic fluttering, and deep rich bass tones.  'STS-115' combines a celestial drone with the chittering of strange insects.  'The Last Days' is profoundly beautiful, a heart-stilling cosmic rumble; it feels tidal, like long long lung filling breaths.   A pulsing, John Carpenter like drama is introduced with 'Close Encounter'; an overt riff standing in contrast to the majority of the album's stasis.

'Extant' is packed with awe and wonder; an album to gaze at the stars with; a soundtrack to what comes after the end of days; a long unwavering stare at wide vistas of moss drenched rubble.  It is quietly and unassumingly wonderful.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Thing + lll人 - Cafe Oto, Saturday 9th February 2013

Opening group lll人,consisting of Paul Abbott (drums), Seymour Wright (alto saxophone) and Daichi Yoshikawa (electronics), unleashed a fiercely textural, saw toothed assault on the Café Oto audience.  The performance was full of shrill drilling feedback and sax squeak.  The band created waves of noise punctuated with sudden bursts of silence.  At times they sounded like a cement mixer full of snooker balls, played at ear troubling frequencies.  Yoshikawa’s electronics were particularly interesting, forming a dialogue with the sharp squalls of Wright’s playing. 
The Thing were, needless to say, absolutely amazing.  Their sound was full of locked in Ayler contortions.  Paal Nilssen-Love was a volcano of percussion, both launching and supporting Mats Gustafsson’s raging torrents of soulful blasting and lorry klaxon.  Ingebrigbt Haker Flaten, switching between electric and acoustic bass, was a vital presence, underpinning the groups interplay with rich tentacles of frantic activity.  Every set was full of screaming energy and passion.  Even the quieter sections never lacked fire and commitment, they functioned in their own right and not just as a merciful interlude before another Gustafsson hurricane.  The rhythm section were immensely good, utilising a machine gun drum clatter and often punkish bass lines to drive forward every composition and improvisation.  Gustafsson’s playing, despite its volume and violence has nuance and subtlety.  The sections where he grinded out rough bluesy garage rock riffs fitted seamlessly with the parts which saw him melting the front row with molten room filling shrieks.  His tightly pained facial expression, puffed out cheeks and reddening skin was at times troubling; as if he may expire at any instant from the sheer force of his blowing.  I began to worry that the audience might be hosed with the liquefied remains of his lungs, expelled at huge force from his saxophone, covering the audience like a live but fatal action painting.  Joined by a second saxophonist, Martin Küchen, for a second set, Gustafsson joined him in a pitched battle, combining in a mutual howl of ecstasy.  The audience reacted with abandon, screaming and shouting at the transcendent glory of it all.  At its close I was surprised to see we had all survived.  I expected to see the Café Oto reduced to a smoking crater.  This was a band drunk on their own joyous noise, performing a set of such brilliance that it echoed in my head for days.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Hacker Farm - UHF (Exotic Pylon)

‘UHF’ is a brilliantly eerie follow-up to Hacker Farm’s previous ‘Poundland’ release.  I imagine the makers of this album as spittle-flecked crazy noise technicians operating from some kind of rural survivalist bunker, packed with home-brewed electronics.  It’s that sort of album; one to make your imagination run away with itself; illuminating dusty corners of the brain, corners that were best left dusty.
‘UHF’ is full of queasy listening, beginning on ‘5.29’ with a creaking of gears and a conveyor belt clanking.  Further incremental additions: a tape wheeze here, a synth blurt there, suggest something constructing itself.  Later, a beacon repeats at intervals; it’s left to the listener to decide if in warning or distress.  I favour the former, beacons didn’t do the crew of the Nostromo any favours.  ‘Deterritorial Army’ has a violent juddering stalled motorbike rhythm and sinister creeping post-punk bass line, oddly aligned with a Popul-Vuh hum.  ‘Burlington’ conjures a ghostly windswept abandoned town, a lone zombie walking repeatedly into the locked door of a blood-splattered McDonalds; the bloops on this radiophonic rumbler evoke not the vastness of space but the litter of a plundered supermarket.  ‘The Death of the Real’ offers cascading shadowy drones and machine-monk incantations.  ‘Hinkley Point’ is a quaking mass of radiation and harsh frequencies.  ‘Engine Room’ is full of hissing pipes and engine rumble; incomprehensible commands issue from unintelligible voices, ignored by the dead eyed glares of haunted submariners.  ‘Grinch’ is beat driven; it sounds propelled by chains with a cyclical quality like a failing tape loop, scarred with grit.  The best track is possibly ‘One Six Nein’ with its busted rusty techno and diseased propulsion; eruptions of noise scrape from the speakers while a voice intones what may be Hacker Farm’s manifesto, “Our hearts and minds are our own; they belong to us; they are not yours.  We reject your so called culture; we embrace the real; we inhabit the now.  This world is ours.”
This is an album sculpted from the debris of a post-boom economy: rusted trolleys in weed choked canals; tattered and urine soaked pay-day loan posters, fluttering in a non committal breeze.  A landscape made weird, dangerous and depopulated.  This is a soundtrack for the frayed edges of society, ballads for the edgelands.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Keith Fullerton Whitman / Mohammad / Some Truths at Cafe Oto, 1st February 2013

PAN records, purveyors of weirdness and fine enlightening noise, arranged this awesome night of drone and synth chaos.  Kicking off with Some Truths the night began perfectly.  Ralph Cumbers (aka Some Truths and Bass Clef) sat at a jumble of wires and immediately conjured a thick rumble of bass.  A diversity of sounds was apparent from the start: flickering strobed static, machine gun percussive bursts, acid gloop, synapse cracking psych rumble.  It mimicked the human thought process in the way it sought paths of digression and distraction, each sound prompting the exploration of another.  The sound constantly branched and expanded; it was a fascinating attempt to contain a chaos of aural information.  In brief moments of clarity, Cumbers focussed on a repeated phrase or a sustained tone; but for the rest of the performance he allowed the synth and his imagination to run riot.  The set was completely immersive and delivered at a window rattling volume.
Next up were Mohammad.  This electrified string trio unleashed a spare but punishing performance of death-minimalism.  Sawing phased bass tones exploited the resonant properties of the room; the air was thick with low-frequency hum.  Guttural howls were interspersed with clusters of silence.  This was a measured, precise but violent set; the volume and cyclical bowing positioned the band as a chamber Sunn O))).  The playing was beautifully sparse and austere; insular and as patient as the hills while being engaging on a physical level.  The audience vibrated in their seats; I could almost feel my eyes wobbling in their sockets; I imagined my molecules being shaken apart, my body reduced to grey goo in uninhabited clothing.
Appearing in the centre of the room and gathering the audience around him like the scene with the orbiting drunks in Werckmeister Harmonies, Keith Fullerton Whitman modestly dismissed the “shit”ness of his visual display and warned the people facing the projector that they may go blind.  If Doc Brown had been present, he may said “sight, where we’re going, we won’t need sight.”  Beginning with a cushioned heartbeat and busted radio fuzz, Whitman made full use of the quad sound system; moving onto thunder cracks of fierce static, the bounce of ball bearings, sudden violent cracks and frying bacon pops.  Bubbles of human sensible rhythm occasionally emerged from a chaos of machine decision.  Aqueous burbles were followed by lightning flashes of sound that burnt silhouettes in my mind.  Sometimes a storm gathering pressure built before a release of rain-on-tin percussion; distant reverberations presaged an approaching or receding barrage.  Loud bangs illuminated a staccato non-repeating confusion of sensory information.  It was impossible to grasp any sustained patterns in the madness of electronic splatter that Whitman created.  His set was a masterful display; his command of this mercurial process was stunning.  He conjured an insane poetry from the wires, a Pynchonian absurdity of barely comprehensible machine music.