October 25, 2012
Mysterious UK synth loner Pye Corner Audio steps up to the majors with “Sleep Games”, a new full length for the venerable Ghost Box. Pye Corner practices a familiar yet alien brand of a vintage sci-fi songcraft that dovetails nicely into Ghost Box’s “hauntalogical” agenda. The label represents a niche meta-genre whose heros include BBC Radiophonic Workshop darlings like Delia Derbyshire and Tod Dockstader, but whose true sonic genesis might lie in the early work of Boards of Canada. Pye Corner’s 3-volume “Black Mill Tapes” on Further Records were artfully composed highlights of last year’s tape-milieu, and this LP delivers more of that same dusty genius in a more taught, compelling package.
The album employs a plethora of satisfying touchstones from decades past. At its most effective, white-noise hats and ghostly claps shuffle along melodic and menacing soundtrack synthesizing of the deepest order. Warm, tape-saturated distortion adorns each track in varying degrees, adding layers of refracted wistfulness to a largely dark and menacing sound palette. There’s plenty of antique airlock tape hiss and vintage spring-sproing reverb for the real heads, while occasional found-soundscapes and plodding mystery ballads break up the shadowy street scenes.
The most fully realized tracks on the album blend the standard spectral faire of Ghost Box mainstays like Belbury Poly and The Focus Group with darker, minimal-wave martialism. There’s plenty of Giallo influence in these more hard-stepping outings, with rock-solid kicks bolted to a vacant dancefloor. Gone is the “Anglo-eccentric” bent that defines the Ghost Box Sound, exchanged here for a streamlined Detroit drive.
Ghost box has existed for close to 8 years, with a scant 17 full-length releases to its name. If one thing can be cited to the label’s credit, it’s their commitment to consistency and clarity of vision. The label is given a new lease on life with the signing of Pye Corner, an addition so perfect it’s hard to believe it isn’t yet another pseudonym of the label’s co-founders Jim Jupp and Julian House.
Despite the album’s vintage trappings, this collection feels definitively contemporary, citing the Italo/Horror revival (which has already flashed in certain pans, producing little memorable content), and even giving nods to Sandwell District-style side-chained darkness. In some ways a departure from the label’s typical library-music miniatures, this set plays best as a collection of uniquely inflected technoid experiments. If an artists exists to be referential, there’s something to be said for utter conviction, which Pye Corner Audio demonstrates here in spades.
Listen to a snippet from this mysterious unit’s latest live appearance below, and peep the entire LP at your convenience on Spotify.
October 15, 2012
In the world of Techno, there is almost no one bigger than Robert Hood, having basically co-innovated the concept alongside fellow Detroit practitioners Juan Atkins and Jeff Mills at the dawn of the 90s. With his latest LP “Motor”, subtitled “Nighttime World 3″ (its previous 2 volumes having been released in 1996 and 2000 respectively), Hood continues in his long tradition of truly exemplary tech-house excursions, all thematically tied to his long-suffering homeland, Detroit. Billed as a “concept album”, “Motor” evokes just about every facet of the famed city’s history. From the industrial clank and smokey ribaldry of its Halcyon days, to the desolate night-scapes of its near-abandoned present, all charged with the cyclic, driving purity of the “automotive” impulse that forged its identity half a century ago.
The album is a dense, varied, and engrossing effort, built on a wholly unique yet purposefully referential sound-set, with a nuanced, off-the-cuff flair. This being a true “Album”, (and clocking in at nearly 80 minutes) Hood directs the tracks, and indeed each sound, cinematically, not just in dynamics, but with an overt sense of plot and pacing. The storytelling aspect is completed by the simple yet evokative track titles, which are undeniably apt.
Hood, as one of Techno’s innovators, is thankfully liberal in his approach to composition. These 12 lengthy workouts are through-composed in a way that is almost totally singular, with an emphasis on 4-on-the-floor bass hits being the only shared trait. On top of this stripped down framework, Hood brings layer after layer of morphing digital/acoustic sound, embracing the stereo field, and throwing all manner of sonic curveballs. Each track is inhabited by evolving sonic characters, whose through-lines are brought in and out of focus over the its length. There’s plenty of variety at play, as each track is shot full of post-apocalyptic ambience, industrial shrapnel, string stabs, and all manner of synthetic filigree, executed with a loose, improvisational verve.
A sense of melodic interplay is the real surprise element, as panning/morphing synth shards and throbbing bass registers share the stage with a mechanically soulful piano vamp, or tear-jerking string swells. Of course, there’s still a handful a few heads-down techno bangers in the mix for the purists.
To me, re-listenability is the hallmark of any great electronic release. This sprawling record boasts more than a handful of unusual grooves and settings which, consumed as a whole, perfectly compliment Hood’s obviously subjective and impassioned impression of his city. A mission statement, critique, and history lesson all in one. Robert Hood is a total legend, deserving of our attention for any one of a dozen reasons, but “Motor” should now be at the top of your list. In a perfect world, fully-formed releases like this should be expected of a veteran of Hood’s status, but how often are they actually delivered? This record works on a pleasantly surprising level, and could easily be a cross-over hit in months to come(see Homework, et al).
Fortunately for you, me, and everyone, the complete album is streaming on Soundcloud. ESSENTIAL!
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.