Friday, 28 June 2013

oh/ex/oh - The House in the Woods

'The House in the Woods' is another work of strongly evocative drone; drifting, breathing and sighing, from a rather excellent producer of night music.  oh/ex/oh's previous album, the excellent 'Extant' offered up visions of depopulated landscapes and crumbling civilization; this release leaves space for people or, at least, invisible stalking things with unfeasible amounts of tentacles and hooked teeth.

'The House in the Woods' has a horror film aesthetic, complete with an opening distributors ident before we get into the business at hand, which is fiercely spooky, but beautiful, ambient washes of celestial hum and dread filled whispers.  'Stay Asleep' is particularly effective, a steady build of tension, a sustained swirling fog of synths and rumbling wind; its length and subtly flexing arrangement lending it a hypnotic quality.  'From Dusk Till Dawn' is almost like Shackleton remixing John Carpenter; woodblock hits and sparse percussion collide with pulsing bass figures and gusts of guitar noise.  'Beneath the Water' is a nightmare in sound, seeming to ooze into the ears; the  fuzzed bass twists and contorts slowly like ink, or blood, dripping into water.

This is another engaging release from a painter of strongly visual sound-pictures.  You can't hide behind the sofa for this one, the music fills the room and your mind, haunting you even after it finally fades to silence. 

The film dims to black and the credits roll, your name on every line.

Purchase the album here.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Revenant Sea - The Revenant Sea (Auditory Field Theory)

This self titled debut by Matt Bower's Revanant Sea alter ego is another fascinating release from the weird and wonderful Auditory Field Theory label. 

Beginning with 'It's Been Following the Plane Since Moscow', the listener is immediately thrown into dark and troubling sonic waters.  The sound of creaking swings and distressed metal is gradually overtaken by fierce stabs of noisy fuzz in a slowly unfolding atmosphere of menace and chilly disquiet.  This is followed by 'A Little Extermination Project (We Will Burn)' which pairs more aching metal sighs with some rich bass tones and harsh synth discordance.  'Induced Mutations for Acceleration Domestication' continues with some disturbing snuffling, like coming across a pig rooting throught a pile of dirty clothes in a half-fallen down barn; apart from a brief diversion into a beautiful clanking echoing chamber, this piece resembles an army of insects intent on building something they can't possibly comprehend, it hints at a structure but refuses to solidly come together.  'And They Swept the Stars from our Sky' closes the album with deep drones, a distant heartbeat and swaying rusty gongs, a perfectly creepy ending to a collection of music that should inspire subtle nightmares, or doubts about whether that sound you heard really was a bird on the roof, or something altogether more sinister.

The whole album seems infused and burnt with radiation; like something withered and scorched.  A bleak but strongly evocative listen, this is music for dark and wintry evenings, preferrably one where you're unsure if the sun will rise in the morning.

Purchase the album here.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Dead Days Beyond Help - The Game Face (Copepod)

'The Game Face' by Dead Days Beyond Help is an album to blow away the cobwebs from the ears of fans of off-kilter rock; it suggests an engagement with the past while offering something genuinely forward looking, an alliance with free-improv techniques.  Many of the tracks contain sections that wouldn't be out of place in any Cafe Oto or Boat-Ting performance but these are mixed with portions of absolutely scorching riffery and frantic drum freak-outs.  It imagines at alternative rock history where Derek Bailey joined Harry Pussy.

This duo of Alex Ward (guitar) and Jem Doulton (drums) seamlessly combine the reflectiveness of improv and the slaying adrenaline rush of the best of the last two decade's out-rock.  This is never more evident than on 'Route Master' where a tentative first half of slack-stringed squiggle and rattling percussion gives way to a second act of head-cracking guitar contortions.  Other songs gather no moss in their haste to tear off into the distance almost as soon as they begin; the title track is an exhilarating downhill race into metal breakdowns.  There is even room for more conventional material like the punk of 'Personal Best' or the slow bluesy hill-climb of 'Sir (What Do You Want?)'.

For me, this album captures perfectly the best of many bands without slavishly devoting itself to producing rigid copies of them.  'The Game Face' pushes forward on its own path, building on the work of its predecessors rather than replicating it.  At various points I thought I detected the slow patience of Slint, the flaying sonic horror of Harry Pussy, the precision flinching spins of Hella, the noise assaults of Sonic Youth, and the languidity of Bitch Magnet; all this is combined with the space and open-mindedness of contemporary improv in an inventive and gripping collage.  This great album is a challenge to those who think art-rock has stalled or collapsed into self-regarding micro-genres.  It suggests a way out.  And will melt your face off, if that all sounds a bit high-minded.

Purchase the album here.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Benedict Taylor - Transit Check (Cram)

'Transit Check' is the latest release from fledgling label Cram, and contains two solo viola improvisations by Benedict Taylor.  Free of sparring partners, Taylor here indulges in longer, more fluid lines than in his work with Alex Ward and Daniel Thompson, there are even some repetitive blues-like squalls here, as if he is imitating an electric guitar freak-out.  There is an excellent use of space and silence throughout; he splits the activity into sudden bursts, like short enclosed chapters within a wider structure.  He employs a wide range of textures: whistling glass, harsh scratches, dense sonorous drones, and a buzz resembling radio static.  There are soaring loops, cross-hatched scribble, and sudden wipes of high-register stabs; a creaking mess of zips and looping sweeps.  A constantly inventive sound picture, in one uncanny moment a chattering ape is evoked, if only briefly.  The playing sometimes sounds multi-tracked, such is its frantic multiplicity, but retains a core of sparse and reflective stillness.  Taylor subjects the instrument to close examination but broadcasts the results with vigour and commitment.
 The microtonal focus, dense serialism, instant action and reductive use of near-silence, position Taylor's playing as a near-primer of New Music's most prevalent avant-garde strategies, but tests them to destruction.  This is an energetic and passionate performance, not a dry intellectual exercise, you can hear the strain and sweat involved; it occasionally resembles someone wailing on a prepared guitar.  It is intensely intelligent but with an evident passion that ensures each recording is as exciting as it is cerebral.

‘Transit Check’ shows that Benedict Taylor is as fascinating in dialogue with himself as in an ensemble setting, seemingly aiming for a Total Music of the viola; a broadcasting of its every possibility.  His command and curiosity is evident in every single minute of these engaging recordings.

The album can be purchased here.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

6 & 8 - Exercises in Beauty

‘Exercises in Beauty’ could have been a boastful title from duo 6 & 8 if the album were not exactly that, albeit with a substantial side order of troubling weirdness and disturbing interventions.  Jessica Peace and Rory McCormick have created an album that manages to be at once heavy and light as a feather.
The sounds within are mainly comprised of whispering, humming electronics from the same school as Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works’; and treated guitars occasionally feature, more so as the album progresses.  As with volume 2 of the ‘SAW’ albums, the ambient elements here are far from being new age wallpaper or an evocation of vintage sci-fi films, many of the tracks are soaked in an oddly hard to place sense of unease; including the sudden clatter of a phone ringing or Peace counting over a rising and falling drone, like a recording of a Number Station or a surgical patient awaiting the effects of an anaesthetic.  Every track begins with the announcement of its title and short detailed descriptions of a human body, the occasional addition of injuries making them sound like an autopsy report; or perhaps a hugely blown up image of a bruised navel or lacerated armpit, observed by a J.G Ballard protagonist sitting, as they often are, in a long-abandoned missile silo.
The beauty of the music is undeniable; ‘Step 4’ in particular is stunning.   Beginning with the words “Arc of skin covering the corner of the eyes, curving into the flesh above the eyelids”, the track is then buried in shimmering curtains of jangling chimes, echoing sighs, and chopped glitchy guitar notes.  The rest of the pieces range from cold skeletal voids and spooky scrabbling activity to lush dream-like audio hallucinations, somewhat like Fennesz at times but without that artist’s uniformity of tone.
This is one of the most absorbing electronic works I have listened to this year.  The fact that it seems to be firmly under the radar just adds to the album’s mysterious allure.  Have I really heard it?  Does it exist? 
Hopefully it does, as that would suggest there might be a follow-up.