September 24, 2012
This week’s selection is a “why didn’t it happen sooner” pair-up between two princes of the ‘net/cassette audio landscape, on Vermont’s uniformly excellent New New Age Tapes. Boston synth stalwart Dan Lopatin goes deep and disjointed on the next chapter of his Oneohtrix Point Never travelogue, and Portland/LA drifter Rene Hell (Jeff Witscher) lets his inner Satie shine on a series of digitally augmented piano-and-string miniatures.
OPN’s side is cerebral extension of the sample-based psychotropics that defined his last album “Replica”. Rapid-fire verbal stutter is the common thread through the side, while Lopatin’s signature dark, warm tone-float grounds the pieces with a sense of sincere melodicism. He’s embracing the glitch, while eschewing the coldness of a pure laptop vacuum. Harsh walls of industrial laser welding occasionally punctuate the dreamy proceedings, adding a sense of tense unease. A lonely, romantic, flickering landscape with dread lurking just below the surface.
Lopatin’s compositional strategy is a striking “live mixing” of chopped sources with more static beds, bringing to mind one of my personal favorites, circuit shredder/sampling pioneer Nicholas Collins (who’s definitely getting a proper Globule homage in the near future). The listener struggles to grab hold of stray phonemes in the warping word-salad, which in their arrangement evoke Peanuts-style adult/child conversations, testimony playback, and dream language. His hyper-looped editing style has an almost literary bent, occasionally verging on the Concrète poetry of late-sixties academics like Kenneth Gaburo or Luciano Berio.
The layer of searing test tones and “classical” aleatoric cpu-blurt are what differentiates this side from Lopatin’s more serene, measured efforts, and while its still a compelling counterpoint, it’s just slightly inarticulate. There is a definite ‘dissolving into data’ component that’s quite alluring, as words and tones are atomized, serialized, and dispassionately re-assembled. An excellent “next step” in OPN’s impressive catalog.
Rene Hell’s side shows a similar forward-momentum, ditching almost entirely the lush, pulsing darkness of his earlier work in favor of more “advanced” digitalisms. The suite of short pieces begins with some wistful piano, with a somber, legato lilt, accompanied in time by all manner of stereo-traversing, band-passed zappage, and vintage mainframe bleep-bloop. Over the course of the side, the listener is treated to a catalog of ‘classical’ moves, with somber, romantic overtones.
A two-note ostinato on synth and piano blooms into almost ‘emotronica’(sorry!) urgency, with a virtuistic edge. Passionate strings of unknown origin swell and linger, in full-on Godspeed! cinematics. “Moonlight Sonata”-lineage plodding relaxes in sunny room ambience. All the while, digital effluvia prance and charge across the stereo field.
In their brightest moments, these digital/classical hybris are wistful, yet energetic experiments in contrast. In the duller spots, the juxtaposition of acoustic and electronic sound seems forced and dispassionate. It’s a dizzying and slightly schizophrenic listen on the whole, permiated by an almost subliminal sense of longing and fantasy. A promising attempt, for sure, as Witscher pulls himself out of the basement, and vies for a seat in the academy.
Dig an excerpt from OPN’s side below, and get hip to the new digital underground.
(And thanks, of course to Noise Park for the hilariously spot-on profile pics. I just couldn’t help myself.)
September 10, 2012
This new LP on Germany’s excellent PAN label is a much anticipated collaboration between two American stalwarts of underground analog grit. Aaron Dilloway and Jason Lescalleet craft an impeccably fierce and cinematic tape-loop opus of growling synthetic tones that’s damn near perfect.
I’ve long been a fan of Dilloway’s histrionic tape loop mantras, both solo and as a part of Wolf Eyes. 20+ years in the American noise underground has given him a knack for highlighting the subtleties in his prolonged fits of audio violence. His compositions are never static, but embrace a measured pace of shifting sonic syllables within a high-volume, abrasive milieu. I’m less versed in Lescalleet, but I’ve seen his praises sung by some of the most venerable members of the music press for nigh on a decade (not to mention his truly surprising write-up in the New York Times alongside Matchbox 20 and Animal Collective) Plus, his personal email is literally “firstname.lastname@example.org”, which is great on so many levels.
The LP is two side-long slices of (almost) unrelenting highbrow terror. Pretty much the definition of a headphone mind-expander. Epic, gritty synth loops surge along patiently, with plenty of room to swell, mutate, and engorge. The album’s two track titles, “Shattered Capsules” and “Burning Nest” capture perfectly the vintage sci-fi aesthetic that the crumbling synth tones recall, though almost every second is wrapped in a shroud of creeping paranoia. The loudest bits recall Bastard Noise’s extended hi-fi brutality, paired with stabbing high end synth swarming. Side two is a glacial crumble, made up of pleasently crispy, phaser-addled waves.
For all its crushing power, the tracks avoid the stale, monolithic drones that many long-form noise acts cling to, building up instead an utterly creepy wall of heavy, ricocheting electronics. These hypnotic, caveman mantras are occasionally punctuated with jarring loops of clashing swords or screaming pterodactyls. An atavistic “techno” stomp erupts near the second side’s culmination, to leave you feeling refreshed, after nearly forty minutes of draining (yet satisfying) oppression.
Saturated tape hiss fidelity, and crumbling, overblown synth rumble are the major players at work here, but the patient, cinematic pacing is commendable. Almost equal parts William Basinski time-stretch and Rodger Stella blowout. This sort of vintage-fidelity “hard sci-fi” outing should appeal to the new crop of bleak-mongers drawn to the crushing cinematics of acts like Demdike Stare or Sandwell District. A new classic by two modern masters.
Plekzations is the latest full-length statement by Nick “Ekoplekz” Edwards, hater of proper spelling, and lover of all things knobby and tweakable. The LP sees Edwards shedding the moniker, and powering forward with almost an hour of his signature post-industrial dubby explorations.
Consisting of four 15-minute workouts of dubby, gritty, tape-echoed alienation, Edwards’ signature sound recalls the salad days of pedal-phile manipulators, like mid-period Black Dice, or vintage Excepter, but with a Dub/Kraut patina all his own. Images of live performance corroborate the connection. In every shot I’ve found, Edwards stares down a table full of non-standard devices heaped in a path-cord thicket. His hands-on approach is right up front in the audio document, with a gritty, unpolished production style throughout.
Each track definitely has its own style, though there’s a consistant sonic palette grounding the collection. The album as a whole maintains a sort of perfectly measured bleakness, operating in an “early industrial” home-taper mode, with plenty of echo-laced and synth-tinged sonics. Spacious reflections and ricochets, plenty of looping buzz, and a warm, “live room” fidelity saturate throughout, the churning layers occasionally falling in to a pleasant, krauty chug, of perfect vintage. The tracks really work as long-form compositions, with just enough rhythmic dynamism to keep you interested.
Despite a nerdly poise, and obvious meticulousness, Edwards never resorts to gear-worship or falls into straight program music. He also manages to avoid the arpeggiated trance-outs or simple pad-wash of the synth-revivalists, reveling in the “anti-music” freedom of the best late 70s experiments (while eschewing the fascist overtones). A comparison could be drawn to some of the more open-minded manipulators of the American tape scene, like Flower Man or Three Legged Race, while the occasional inclusion of languid, “no-wave funk” basslines recalls the noise-blues of Michigan weirdos Stare Case. Nick Edwards is clearly a man who truly “plays electronics” (analog and otherwise) with the best of them.
Outside just the sounds on wax, Edwards’ refreshing lack of personal mystique and overt aesthetic posing are what really endear me to him (unless he’s so far ahead that he’s copped an “aging nerd” look in service of his career, which seems highly unlikely). He seems a populist and basement-dweller at heart, and more than anything, he’s a just a dude who loves what he does.
His mid-fi, live-to-tape sides seems to nestle comfotably in the cross-brow niche that bridges the gap between the new cassette culture underground and the academic electronica clique of labels like Type and Editions Mego (Having been released on the latter). I’m kicking myself for sleeping on limited releases past, as I can easily see his output as a high water mark of a soon-to-be-overlooked sub-sub-genre. Don’t sleep.
August 24, 2012
Eric Lahham, one third of the now-defunct Lexington, KY kosmische-slop unit Caboladies, presents his first LP under his given name, and it’s a glitchy, warped little number that’s decidedly out of step with the current crop of synth-obsessed fare that makes up a good chunk of the US underground right now. Released on Spectrum Spools, (John Elliot’s boutique sub-label of Editions Mego) it harkens back to the sounds that made the label famous almost 20 years ago.
I should start with the obvious: this is a difficult record. No two ways about it.
Last year, I managed to glimpse a live set by Palmetto Moon Electronic Group, one of Eric’s solo incarnations, and was subjected to 20-odd minutes of extreme sample abuse, rhythmic and otherwise. He whipped up walls of unsettling crash-bang carnage from ghostly snippets, with only a second’s tense silence peppered throughout.
The secret to that (mind-)set was his intimate knowledge and general shredding of an Elektron Octatrack, a piece of cutting-edge digital gear that’s just about as high-brow as a sampler can get. He was definitely on some Araab-level man/machine tip, and I can’t say it wasn’t impressive.
While the aforementioned piece of gear is hard at work throughout this LP, this ain’t some tech demo. This record is both meticulously composed and thoroughly cracked, and it seems to indicate that Lanham’s brain has been irrevocably digitized. Past solo cassettes as both Moon Palmetto Electronic Group and Carl Calm have flirted quite successfully with more overt IDM tropes, with wistful melodic motifs and through-composed percussion wash, but this one is different. It’s a whole-hearted embrace of turn-of-the-millenium digitalisms (instability, digital silence, quantum sonics), and falls quite comfortably into the genre formerly known as “Glitch”. There was a year or so in my personal timeline where I lived for the genre, gobbling up compilations on labels like Tigerbeat6 and the venerable Mille Plateaux, so I’m happy to revel in the sounds of digital alienation on display here.
Though each track is most definitely unique in palette and execution, the album is best digested as a whole. Throughout the LP’s 40-odd minutes, the listener is alternately pummeled by torrents of sonic detritus and abandoned in fields of plaintive emptiness. The sonic palette feels laptop-eque, with very few “analog” sounds making the cut, and most VST-d beyond recognition. Rhythm plays a role at a near quantum level on most cuts, though a few do dabble in a more linear version thereof. The more “sensitive” tracks are quite affecting, where the irregular tumble is paused in favor of icy pulses, wavering bell-tones, and meditative, keening arcs of digital haze. Traces of signature IDM melancholy are woven through, and a nice smattering of humour, too. Even when things really start roiling, as on the raucous title track, there’s a bit of levity to the proceedings, and you come away with a pleasant numbness once things die down.
Overall, I’m deeply impressed with Lanham’s commitment to new (old) forms, but I wish there were more space for the twisted sonorities to breath. The LP’s (amazing) Robert Beatty-designed cover conveys perfectly the time-lapse mutation that takes place on the wax, but only covers about 5 seconds of any given track. The hairpin turns and tumbling clouds of sound are an effective aesthetic motif, but the more spare moments become the most memorable. Though Lanham is definitely chasing down an aesthetic of his own devising, I can’t help but find myself missing the endurance-test minimalist discipline of SND or the hollow atmospherics of Sutekh. An impressive vinyl debut, and an exciting career turn for this young explorer. Looking forward to further refinement of his unique brand of entropy.
August 16, 2012
A bizarre and exciting new 12″ from this Michigan duo of synth-tickling oddballs, whose membership includes longtime noise mug Nate Young (AA Records, Hatred, Wolf Eyes, et al) dialing down the mutant paranoia, and finding love in a hopeless place.
The titular track takes up all of side one (approx. 9 minutes), and it’s a fucking trip. Things start out noisy and woozy, as keening synth arcs waver and detune. Less than a minute in, a loop of dankly filtered percussion clank bubbles up from the muck, eventually erupting into a surprisingly committed tech-house bounce, while a swarm of bizarre, noodling lead lines vie for dominance. A growling blown-speaker bassline brings an unheard-of level of funk to the mix. Gritty, sweaty, and thick as molasses. Around the half way point, everything dies down for the forehead-slapping payoff: a thin, looping snippet of the Cramp’s titular riff. Things swing back into full force, everything tumbling, grooving, swooping, and disintegrating into a totally satisfying mutant murk.
The two shorter tracks on the flip follow a similar formula, adding shuffling claps n hats, bubbling arpeggios, and lyrical echoplexed synth passages. More filtered percussion loops and irresistibly tasty bass riffs. They’re undeniably catchy experiments in soulful club indulgence, with instruments set to “fucked”.
On the whole, its an undeniable slab of rough n rugged synth bangers, definitely on a more upbeat vibe than past releases, executed with a mind-blowing amount of melody and groove. Whereas earlier tracks from this subterranean duo were plodding and dark, (and yes, absolutely amazing) this slice takes the fight from the sewers to the club. The only real touchstone I can muster is Mr. Oizo’s incredible first album Analog Worms Attack, which hefted a of similar pile of synth slime and half-serious funk onto dance-floor frameworks. Other than the thoroughly deranged recording quality and obtuse set of reference points (peep the incredible macho sci-fi artwork of this and past releases), its hard to imagine this emerging from the burned mind and fingertips of one of american noise’s great talents. Obviously though, that’s what makes it so damn impressive.
Although he definitely took the long way around, this stuff might be a bizarrely logical combination of the alienated, bass-heavy blues of Nate Young & John Olsen’s Stare Case and the basement-dwelling synth slime of Nate’s solo LP, Regression II. The tool set is the same (synth, tapes, boxes, echo), but the implementation begins to border on the downright marketable. An instant classic of whatever the fuck this genre might be.
The 12″ is available now from LA super-crew Not Not Fun, who consistently prove that Real Heads Know The Deal.
In true basement-dweller fashion, nothing from either official release exists on the net (this from the band that brought you a cdr and tape of completely different recordings with the same artwork and title), so enjoy instead their latest soundcloud missive, for a decidedly sedate take on their slime-house sound.