Andreas Brandal -- THIS IS NOT FOR YOU [eh?]
If this were on any label other than this one, you'd call it dark ambient -- the nine tracks here are gritty but subdued excursions into drifting clouds of ephemeral sound over beds of minimalist noise, festooned with exotic electronic flourishes and spooky keyboard drones. Occasionally the keyboards become a bit more active, creeping out of the ambient territory and more into the realm of sparse prog-rock, and most of the soundscapes are imbedded with brief, unexpected snippets of jarring sound, but otherwise the flow of sound is gentle and dreamlike. It's a spare sound whose motion is mainly tidal in nature -- the sheets of ambient sound ebb and flow like tidal waves in the ocean as shimmering drones and truncated keyboard melodies play out slowly over the shape-shifting noise textures, with just enough gradually changing elements and attention to detail to keep it from growing stale and monotonous. It's a nice fusion of noise, drone, and electronica that rewards close listening, but functions equally well as background music. It's also supremely spooky, with a sound that would have perfect as the soundtrack to ALIEN during the comsic deep-space scenes. This is definitely one for the dark ambient enthusiasts.
Emeralds -- WHAT HAPPENED [No Fun Productions]
Influenced equally by 60s-era electronic music in the vein of Tangerine Dream and the post-80s noise explosion, Emeralds use analog synths to create art-damaged soundscapes suffused with beautiful tones and enigmatic noises. Entirely improvised and recorded live to tape, the five tracks (clocking in at just under an hour) on this album are definitely all about charting new vistas of sound, and do so in imaginative fashion. Synths and guitars are the primary instruments in use here, although they sprinkle other electronics and field recordings into the mix for texture, and they use those instruments to build vast, droning cathedrals of sound that most closely resemble the early albums of Tangerine Dream. Where they differ from the godfathers of prog, however, is in using their synths primarily as pure tone generators to create harmonic clouds of sound, with far less interest in rhythm. Cheeping, chittering cyclotron noises abound on "Damaged Kids," along with strange, high-pitched bleating and seasick warbling, but this eventually gives way to skittering guitar and beautiful synth drones that rise and fall as the guitar rambles on; the synths grow louder and more overmodulated with the passage of time, overpowering everything else, and the sound just continues to evolve, unfolding with deliberate and stately grace. "Living Room" is the most subdued work here, with a morose keyboard melody floating on a frozen river of muted synth drone and what might be amplifier hum, with intermittently recurring phaser noises providing texture and tension. The final track, "Disappearing Ink," features dark, swelling keyboard drones and another hypnotic, burbling keyboard melody that plays hide and seek amid the rise and fall of those fabulous drones. Tonally rich and constructed around swirling, ever-shifting blankets of analog synth, this is one of the best electronic albums I've heard since... well, since Tangerine Dream. Highly recommended for those who can't get enough of that old-school synth sound.
No Fun Productions
Engel -- ABSOLUTE DESIGN [SPV]
The debut album by Sweden's Engel is apparently the next step in the evolution of the Gothenburg sound, marrying the region's affinity for melodic guitar and super-catchy riffs to imaginative and varied songs encompassing a wide variety of musical genres. It's definitely a metal album, to be sure, and a supremely heavy one at that, but the heaviness is accompanied by plenty of melodic passages, guitar soloing that at times borders on jazz, and layers of sound that rise and fall in density, creating a sound that's textured and nuanced without ever turning wimpy or unnecessarily florid. It's obvious that the band put a lot of thought into the construction of their songs, and unlike a lot of current metal bands, they've also worked hard to trim the fat from them; the songs are short enough to fit twelve of them onto a album less than fifty minutes long. Such consistent quality on a debut album becomes a bit less surprising when you consider that the band's members have previously been in well-regarded bands like In Flames, The Crown, and Lord Belial -- the band may be new, but these are hardly neophytes, and it shows. The vocalist switches seamlessly and unpredictably between highly melodic singing and a near-black metal screech, the guitars are a relentless engine of body-shaking riffs, and the drummer is both dextrous and punishing -- in other words, everything a good metal band should be, and proof that you can be catchy without devolving into a twee pop band. It's not hard to see why the European press has been slobbering all over the band while they were touring with Dimmu Borgir, Atreyu, and Amon Amarth; the official release of this album should give the American press plenty of opportunity to do more of the same.
The Epicureans -- A RIDDLE WITHIN A CONUNDRUM WITHIN A GAME [eh?]
Cryptic stuff, man; the group employs drums, sax, and bass in such an unorthodox manner that if you didn't know what instruments were involved, you'd be hard-pressed to guess. Even knowing what they're working with doesn't tell you how they get such weird sounds; the opening track "Cumulative Wound" is a series of squeaking, clanking, clattering noises that sounds more like someone sweeping up scrap metal than actual music, and the wheezing, grunting sludge of "Awn" is equally impenetrable. Too devolved in its sound to accurately be called free jazz, this is improvisation aimed at making severely untraditional sounds through the use of standard rock equipment. The closest they come to anything recognizable is in the muffled sax bleats on some of the later tracks and the sparse beats of "Delayed Appearance of Putrefaction," while the bass is employed mainly in service of creating noises like a dying machine captured on tape and slowed down to a crawl. This is a sound that makes no wave sound like pop music by comparison. Strange, enigmatic, and at times unsettling, it's an art-damaged aesthetic that certainly lives up to the album's title.
Gold Record Studio -- LIVE AT LANEY FLEA MARKET [Edgetone Records]
Sun Ra would have approved of this eccentric double-album, not least of all because it was recorded in Oakland, CA, the same area that figures prominently in the classic film SPACE IS THE PLACE. From April 15 to May 20 in 2007, Oakland artists Jon Brumit and Lisa Mezzacappa operated an open-air recording studio -- equipped with an antique record cutter, blank plastic records, various instruments, and guest musicians on hand -- at the Laney Flea Market in Oakland, offering free recording services to any and all who cared to cut a record. Plenty of people chose to do so, including a Serbian prog-rock band, DJ Ready Red from the Ghetto Boys, and plenty of amateur musicians and solo singers. The highly eclectic mix of professional musicians, amateur players, and curious wannabes, along with the staggering number of tracks (83 tracks on two discs), makes for a highly varied listening experience. Given the nature of the project (supported by the Oakland City Council and funded by the city's Cultural Funding Program), many of the tracks are exquisitely lo-fi, and even on the better recordings there's frequently plenty of background blather from the flea market crowd, but that's okay -- it just adds to the surreal ambience of the project's aesthetic. Some of the performances are primitive and amateurish, sure, but even those efforts are interesting for their sheer bizarreness, and the work by actual practicing musicians is frequently astounding. There's certainly a high entertainment level to some of the more whacked-out pieces, especially the ones that feature free-jazz and improv music in the background for spoken word performances. The nature of this project also means there's a considerable level of variety to the tracks and a wild unpredictability to the performances. Wild, weird, and like Sun Ra's most cryptic and obfuscatory work, out there a minute.
Gold Record Studio
Heat From a Dead Star -- SEVEN RAYS OF THE SUN [Ace of Hearts Records]
The thirteen tracks on this album, the full-length debut (I think) by this British band, combine the spirit of pure rock 'n roll and the catchy appeal of pop with the edginess of punk and new wave -- echoes of bands like Joy Division, Fugazi, and the Refused appear in the band's sound, especially in the tinny, chiming guitars and pulsing, melodic bass, but the vocals and tightly-wound song structures are pure pop goodness. The energy in the songs may come from punk roots, but the layering of sound and attention to detail are more consistent with pop music; the band is essentially a power trio, but they round out their sound on the disc through the judicious use of keyboards, piano, mandolin, and castanets when appropriate. (Their lyrical stance, too, which revolves mainly around relationships and other facets of ordinary life, rather than politics or heavy intellectual themes, is considerably more attuned to the pop idiom than to punk.) This is not to suggest that they're a lightweight-sounding band, however; there's a hefty dose of attitude to their playing, along with hard-rocking percussion, and the guitars are fuzzy and razor-like just as often as they are jangly. Best of all, even at their punkiest, the guitars are drenched in melody, lending a stark beauty to many of the songs even while they're rocking out.
Heat From a Dead Star
Ace of Hearts Records
Khors -- MYSTICISM [Paragon Records]
The third album from Khors rests comfortably in the traditional of progressive, atmospheric black metal, as the opening track "Through the Rays of the Fading Moon" makes clear; building layers of gorgeous, melodic guitar (both electric and acoustic) and keyboards creates a sound that combines elements of progressive rock and black metal. It segues into "Raven's Dance," where steady but uncomplicated beats and a more traditional blackened guitar sound are joined by psychedelic guitar melodies, and from that point onward the album successfully incorporates elements of black metal, prog, neo-folk, and psychedelia into a unique and highly listenable sound. The song structures, harsh vocals, and rhythm section give the songs their anchor in the trappings of black metal, but the progged-out keyboards and occasional bursts of psych-tinged guitar take the material to another place entirely, lending a fresh sound to what would otherwise be a relatively straightforward black metal album. Excellent production and playing make the album far more accessible than many black metal releases -- this is certainly not a raw, lo-fi affair, and while the pace is insistent and commanding, the songs are not overly aggressive. Genuinely beautiful acoustic passages draw from neo-folk, too, occasionally giving off a pastoral feel. Even the more violent moments are more grandiose and majestic rather than truly violent, and it's this sense of grandeur and melancholy that mainly propel the album forward. If nothing else, this release confirms Paragon's continuing good taste.
Killick -- THE AMPLIFUCKER [Solponticello Records]
Killick calls this "Appalachian trance metal," which is appropriate enough, and it's music of a most fractured sort, made with an eighteen-stringed instrument he calls the H'arpeggione or the Devil's Cello. It's an extremely versatile instrument, too, combining properties of a bowed guitar, sitar, violin, bass, and cello, and consequently the eighteen tracks here are quite different. Killick is an improv artist by nature and these tracks are more about the exploration of different tones and sound techniques than anything resembling, say, pop songs; he shares the same kind of avant aesthetic favored by labels like Public Eyesore and Edgetone, and if you're familiar with the output of those labels, you'll have some idea of what to expect here. For one guy using one instrument (even if it is a highy variable and eccentric one), there's an awfully high level of diversity to the tracks, as he employs a number of unorthodox techniques to create a surprising cornucopia of odd sounds, from shredding freejazz to percussive thumping and all sorts of pinched squeaks and creaks. If you weren't aware of the limited instrumentation, you'd certainly never guess it was the work of one guy and one instrument. Is it exotic sounding? It is. Will it mystify your mother / girlfriend / roommate who's not into experimental sound? It will. Is it worth checking out if you're hep to the possibilities inherent in using unusual instruments to create equally unusual sounds? It is indeed.
Landed -- HOW LITTLE WILL IT TAKE [Load Records]
Contemporaries of bands like Lightning Bolt, Arab on Radar, and Six Finger Satellite (and featuring members of that band and Coachwhips), this disc (and bonus 3-inch cd) rounds up some of the band's compilation tracks, material from their 12-inch lp TIME I DESPISE, a single track, and various live oddities, along with some new stuff. It's all pretty out there, driven by lurching rhythms, grinding dissonant riffs, and deeply twisted vocals. At times they sound like a tribe of primitive shamans hopping around a burning bush, using guitars, drums, and bass to call forth sleeping demons to rise and lay waste to the earth; at other times they sound like sweaty, pilled-out disco dancers trying to keep the dance moves happening even as the world turns sideways and slides down a rabbit hole. This is the kind of seasick music that initially sounds like maybe it was played by drunks, until it becomes obvious that the timing is too impeccable (and too weird) to be handled by the intoxicated. They may indeed be sober, but the wobbling, circling sound will give you the slow ovals if you get too caught up in it -- better to kick back and let it wash over you, dig? They get an exquisitely dirty sound, too, with tinny, clanging bass and brownout guitars to go with the yowling, howling vocals. For all the chaos lurking in their sound, the band is remarkably tight and driven, with machine-gun drumming on "The Biggest Shit" and exotic rhythms everywhere; they also show a healthy appreciation for blown-out noise on tracks like "Dairy 4 Dinner" and "How Little Will It Take," which boasts some of the most impressively fuzzed-out guitar ever captured on tape. The main disc's closing statement, "Hit the Land," is a joyously molten tar pit of sludge-laden noise that eventually morphs into an insistent beat and squeaky noises set on repeat. Speaking of that simulated lock-groove, I like the way many of the songs gradually devolve into endless hypno-riffing with a monolithic grinding sound, sort of like a cement mixer going round and round; it's not "musical" in the sense that, say, Fleetwood Mac is musical, but it sure feels good. The bonus 3-inch disc adds one unreleased track, "Pass the Buck," and a live one, "FM 91.1"; the former is insanely loud and crunchy, with a sound like Black Sabbath on bad angel dust, and every bit as grotesque and hypnotic as anything on the main disc, while the latter is even more obnoxious and blown-out. This is what they call noise-rock nirvana, and an excellent opportunity to grab a lot of the band's extraneous material in one convenient place.
The Man from the Moon -- ROCKET ATTACK [Black Mark]
This is a strange affair -- the songs are the kind of earnest ballads you would expect of an adult contemporary singer-songwriter, but the guitars are pure buzzing fried-metal attack half the time, and while the Moon Man's singing voice is distinctive, it's also often kind of irritating. The poop sheet claims this is symphonic prog rock, which is sort of true, but it's a very retro and 80s kind of prog rock, which is not always a good thing. The songs are okay, and the musicianship is fine, but ultimately this is soft-rock with occasionally fizzy guitar thrown in -- not exactly my cup of tea. There is a lot of excellent guitar playing on the album, but it's not enough to counteract the muddled aesthetic that makes it difficult for me to get behind this. Fans of contemporary prog-metal with a confessional bent will be more likely to enjoy this, I think.
Marduk -- NIGHTWING [Regain Records]
What can I say? It's Marduk, and Marduk is Marduk. You expect blazing speed, serrated barbed-wire guitar, drums like a landslide, hateful screeching, and a blasphemous attitude problem, and that's exactly what you get. (Note that this is not a new album, but rather a reissue of the 1998 release.) There are a few surprises on this one, though -- the opening "Preludium" sounds like an industrial noise soundtrack, the sound bite that opens "Slay the Nazarene," the slow and harmonically rich guitars at the beginning of the title track, and "Dreams of Blood and Iron," the heaviest track on the album, whose dark and grinding vibe owes as much to classic doom as to black metal. The military marching drums on "Anno Domini 1476" are a nice touch, too. On the whole, though, the rest of the album is classic Marduk, obsessed with speed and power, dark and heavy, and drenched in hate. As with most Regain reissues, this comes with a bonus dvd, in this case featuring the band live at Rotterdam in April, 1998.
Ministry of Rites -- GRID [Edgetone Records]
The cryptic electronic soundscapes on this album are a work of collaboration between Tobias Fischer (aka Feu Follet) and Rent Romus, and the result is essentially a mixture of dark ambient and musique concrete spiced with enigmatic vocals (samples, perhaps?) and dissonant freejazz. Fischer contributes loops, electronics, field recordings, and piano, while Rent Romus contribute analog electronics, alto and soprano sax, voices, radio, and flute; I have no idea how they assembled the pieces and decided on the mix, but the finished results are certainly impressive. There's a distinctly urban feel to the proceedings, and the use of found voices and conversations is mildly reminiscent of Scanner's mid-90s experiments using misappropriated scanner recordings, but the prevalent use of severely tweaked saxes and a fondness for wrenching dissonance adds a mutant freejazz feel to the droning, otherworldly soundscapes. The sax attack isn't always dissonant, though -- on "Saturnine Shores" it's straightforward and melancholy, sounding like an outtake from the jazz nightlife of the sixties, floating over a more subdued bed of electronic noise that occasionally rumbles like an approaching thunderstorm. Strange noises that could be percussion or machinery reverberate through "Fadethrough" over more relatively quiet background drones, and similar motifs come into play on "Embers," where the mystical bleating saxes make another major appearance. The album ends with the title track, where shrill drones from processed flute compete with a rhythm hooves clopping down a sidewalk and floaty, cosmic electronica burbling in the background. The entire album is a nice and reflective exploration of tonally rich dark ambient noise and minimal but potent freejazz, and the successful collaboration invites further work in the future.
Plastic Boner Band -- ISAIAH 66:6 [self-released]
Whoa daddy -- this is LOUD. It doesn't exactly open in subtle fashion, either; the sound explodes like a bomb going off in your face and what follows is a harsh, brutal avalanche of grinding, seething power electronics. Machine-like buzzing and the sound of whirling knives howl and throb on the first two tracks with unrelenting force and a visceral intensity akin to shaving your face with an industrial sandblaster.This is less music than a punishing, aggressive assault on your senses. The third track lets up on the brute force a bit, opening with a vibrating drone that steadily grows louder and more powerful, like a giant motor trying to shake itself apart; it segues into the fourth track without stopping, at which point the vibration takes on an even deeper intensity. The fifth track is similar but adds more crunchy electronics and ends in a painful orgy of high-pitched noise shred that will probably permanently damage your hearing if you have the stereo turned up too loud. Intense, powerful stuff. And loud. Did I mention it was loud?
Plastic Boner Band
Jess Rowland -- THE PROBLEM WITH THE SODA MACHINE [Edgetone Records]
Now I've heard everything when it comes to strategies for producing unified lyrical themes on an album: the fourteen songs on this album, both composed and improvised, include lyrics entirely lifted from work emails revolving around a vending machine in the unnamed company's break room. The emails, part of an ongoing correspondence with the company's human resources department arguing over what to stock in the machine or whether to even have a vending machine at all, form the lyrical text of the album. Along with the songs featuring lyrics, there are also improvised freejazz workouts that include the sound of unwrapping items and popping bags of chips. As wacky as this sounds, the music itself is -- on the composed songs, at least -- surprisingly more like a smooth and stylish blend of the Beatles, Frank Zappa, and early 70s California soft rock like Jackson Browne. Rowland plays all the instruments except drums (that's Pete Stalsky's job) and sings, and the songs are dominated by piano and pipe organ, all sounding like they were lifted from an obscure 70s singer-songwriter album (but with occasionally more adventurous parts and considerably better production). The relatively spare songs are leavened with occasional guests playing tambura, bass, sitar, and additional percussion, but most of the heavy lifting comes courtesy of Rowland, who is a lovely piano player and often hypnotic singer. The more experimental tracks revolve around weird sounds and improvised drumming, among other things, but it's the genuine songs -- and the inherent psychodrama of people arguing over something as pointless as bad vending machine food choices -- that are the real meat of the album. Those songs are not only entirely accessible to people who don't spend all their time listening to weird music, but in fact supremely gorgeous and highly listenable. This album is just more proof that inspiration is everywhere if you look hard enough, and that real talent can turn any subject into a series of songs worth hearing.
Say Bok Gwai -- CHINK IN THE ARMOR [Edgetone Records]
What do you get when you put two guys -- one Chinese, one not -- weaned on hardcore, punk, thrash, and experimental music together? A big, noisy, shape-shifting sonic omlette, that's what. Alex Yeung and Andre Custodio mix all of these elements and more into a dense and often frantic collage of sound that's only made more confusing by the use of vocals in both Cantonese and English; the songs (31 of them, with titles like "Chow Fun Chow Not So Fun," "Return of the Monkey King," "Not All Chinese Are Good At Math," and "Year of the Cock") are short and violent attacks on your central nervous system. They tend to sound like a technical metal band veering off in a dozen different directions at once -- there are plenty of obscenely heavy riffs on hand and lots of titanic uberdrumming, but they're joined by explosive shards of noise, experimental song structures, bizarre electronics, and plenty of pure sonic craziness. The metal core is what holds it all together; Custodio's manic drumming and Yeung's buzzing metal guitar form the bedrock over which they shovel on as much disorienting sonic effluvia as they can possibly manage, and it all speeds by so far that it will take several listens to properly decipher what the hell is going on. Imagine Hatewave colliding with Lightning Bolt and that's a pretty good indication of the metallic chaos level happening here. The wild piling on of sounds is what captures your attention the first time around, but it's the heat-seeking riffs and velocity-obsessed drumming that will keep you coming back for more. They're from San Francisco, which somehow makes perfect sense.
Say Bok Gwai
Suidakra -- CROGACHT [SPV]
The poop sheet calls them pagan metal, but they sound like thrash to me. Sure, the opener "Slain" has the requisite pagan metal stamp on it, but after that it's largely a nonstop barrage of fast, violent riffing and frantic drumming with a vocalist barking like he's trying to cough up a lung. On occasion the onslaught lightens up a bit and the pagan feel does surface, especially on "Isle of Skye," "Ar Nasc Fola," and "Feats of War" (which also features the melodious vocals of Tina Stabel, a welcome respite from the aggravated howl of main singer Arkadius), but most often the pagan elements are minor parts -- introductions or interludes -- employed as a counterpoint to the relentless thrashing. This is not to say the band is bad -- far from it; on song after song they whip up an admirably ferocious tsunami of bone-shattering sound (although that metallic roar is blunted somewhat by the preponderance of wispy synths), and the more pagan-styled tracks previously mentioned are excellent, especially "Ar Nasc Fola," which is filled with intricate acoustic guitar passages and loping drum rhythms that occasionally turn militaristic. For the most part, though, this album falls considerably more into the thrash category, making it considerably heavier than your average pagan metal release. It's worth noting that they have a progressive bent as well, and a tendency toward highly-orchestrated symphonic sound; when they're raging, which is often, they sound huge, like the thunder of calvary storming the fields of war. Their sound may not be totally pagan, but their attitude sure is.
The USA Is a Monster -- SPACE PROGRAMS [Load Records]
Now this is a bit of a surprise -- the gadget-loving duo have modified their sound again, this time incorporating heavy slabs of overmodulated synth madness and progged-out vocal harmonies into their cut-up approach to sound. Imagine William S. Burroughs with a synth instead of a shotgun, jamming with King Crimson (or maybe Gentle Giant) after a long night of drinking and bonding over obscure gospel records, and maybe you can begin to grasp the significant levels of outright weirdness at work here. The lurching, often spastic rhythms are heavily fortified by layers of synth in addition to hocus-pocus guitar and obscure drum patterns, while the vocals are often delivered in a bizarre sing-song delivery, making an already warped sound even more surreal. The synth sound comes in two flavors -- creamy smooth and severely fried -- and the combination borders on the magical. At times their vocal phrasing reminds me of Sleep's DOPESMOKER, which is probably appropriate; with a sound like this, I have to believe bowls were smoked somewhere in the recording process. The synth sound is pure hyped-up prog rock, though, and their fascination for bent but hypnotic rhythms and off-kilter song structures remains just as intense as on their previous albums. This new sound is captured best on "Frozen Rainbows," where the tempo slows and speeds back up, the synths build and build until they explode in delirious and intoxicating bursts of bombast, and the fuzzed-out guitar races back and forth like a chihuahua chasing its tail. There's a deeply spiritual vibe of sorts to many of the songs, as well, which is kind of interesting. The wildest part of the whole deal is how perversely accessible it is, something I thought I'd never say about a band on Load. Catch the latest wave in the band's evolution of sound or remain hopelessly lost, doom childe.
The USA Is a Monster
To Blacken the Pages -- NORTH [Colony Records]
Sculptor (of both art objects and sound) Paul Aree returns with more epics of drone and reverb, but while the sound -- one part Skullflower to one part reverb abuse -- remains largely the same, there are some new elements in the mix this time around. The opener, "Crossing," fades in from absolute silence into a cavalcade of heavily-reverbed percussive sounds, sounding very much like a guitar being dropped repeatedly in the world's largest cave, while two tracks, "Give to the sea" and "Lowlands," feature vocals for the first time. The use of silence is the album's secret weapon; several of the songs begin with silence and take their time fading up and building to the inevitable tower of drone. "I am screes on her escarpments," the first epic song, opens with a more restrained version of the same sound strategy employed on "Crossing" and eventually blossoms into vast sheets of drone and feedback that billow for thirteen minutes like cosmic dust trailing in the wake of a comet. "Give to the sea" fades up into a ominous cycling drone and forlorn vocals that ultimately give way to more wailing feedback and writhing drones, while "Lowlands" -- another epic at nearly fifteen minutes -- opens with dark, clanging percussion that's eventually joined by clattering sounds, guitar notes repeating endlessly, and a steadily growing thickness in the mordant guitar sound. By the time vocals appear, nearly ten minutes into the track, the droning, distorted guitar sound is so enormous that the vocals appear submerged, buried under ten tons of guitar-driven fear. The best track on the album, though, is "To be Dead," in which the fiery blasts of feedback and furnace drone play out over a simple but hypnotic beat for fifteen minutes, lighting out for the far reaches of the cosmos, anchored only by the insistent rhythm track. The track also features some of his most bowel-scraping guitar, not to mention plenty of painful high-end feedback wailing. "Night Drive" is almost as long but not quite as apocalyptic, filled with drones that sound like wind roaring through giant pipes and more endlessly repeating guitar lines, a sound less about dread than painting pictures of abandoned satellites drifting through deep space. The album ends with "August," built around the same brand of percussive rattling that opened the album, neatly bringing things around full circle. As good as the band's back catalog is, this is by far Aree's best and most consistent release, and one of the best drone-rock guitar albums you're likely to encounter anytime soon.
To Blacken the Pages
Twentyagon -- DANGER FANTASTIC [self-released]
The mysterious dudes of Twentyagon -- Figure 1B on accordion and keyboards, The 1943 Pyramid Tableau on bass and guitar, and 40.000 Lbs. on live drums -- may or may not be figments of one man's imagination, but the band's sound continues to evolve, and at this point sounds like a deranged drum 'n bass reinvention of the spaghetti western soundtrack. Possessed equally by the spirits of Ennio Morricone and the Residents, the nine instrumental tracks on this album draw considerable inspiration from surf music and film soundtracks (especially those by Morricone), but by processing these influences through instrumentation decidedly foreign to those original sources, come up with a really distinct and original sound that's nevertheless familiar enough to make it highly accessible. It's kind of surreal to hear the processed electronica version of flamenco guitars and warbling lines of classic surf guitar, but it sounds good, and as strange as the idea may sound, the band certainly has a concrete grasp on the form and structure of soundtrack music -- a lot of this sounds like Morricone channeled through more modern equipment with the occasional addition of fuzz guitar, and it's all incredibly catchy. The band's songwriting skills have improved immensely, too, and this is by far their most accomplished work up to this point (they have an even newer album out that I haven't heard, and for all I know that's yet another step beyond this one). Bonus points for the uber-swank Day of the Dead-influenced cover art, too.
v/a -- COMPENDIU DE MUZICA ELECTRONICA VOL. 2 [FIR]
FIR is a Romanian industrial / power electronics label, home to number of excellent but obscure Romanian acts like Narkoleptik and Infectator.com, and this is the label's second compilation, making its appearance five years after the first one. (Apparently they take their time about things in Romania.) The label favors bands with a distinctly old-school aesthetic hearkening back to the first wave of power electronics and dark ambient, which is cool; as this compilation indicates, there's still some great work being done in these genres in the more obscure parts of the world, and Romania is no exception. The sounds appear to be generated mainly by analog synths and pedals, with the occasional use of samples; this is not a digital workout with tracks composed in ProTools, which is a large part of why the compilation sounds so good (and so retro). The artists represented here are Infectator.com, Noverbia, Abbildung, Koldvoid, Ekasia, La Ghica Hainu, Hunyadi P.H., Narkoleptik, and Spectru Nocturn, and they all turn in good to excellent work that's heavy on electronic beats and dark, groaning synths. Several of the bands make good use of atmospheric samples and noises, especially Noverbia and Abbildug (whose "Lost Journey to the Hypersphere" segues from clattering industrial noises into a malestrom of dark, droning synth work that's simultaneously eerie and beautiful). My favorite track is Koldvoid's "Ephemeral," an avalanche of desolate synths that's the coldest and dreamiest track on the album, although the gritty noise and submerged black-box beats of the Hunyadi P.H. track "329 to Dementia" and the howling, reverb-soaked drones and grainy machine noises of Narkoleptik's "Morbid Obsession" are right behind it. The final track, Spectru Nocturn's "Overtaken," is a nice slice of churning mechanical rhythm and sandstorm noise, and closes out the compilation nicely. It's rare to hear a compilation that can be listened to from start to finish, but this is one of those -- the tracks are all good, with an overall vibe of dark, alien mystery. This is probably not easy to find unless you live in Europe, but it can probably be obtained directly from the label via the link below, and if you're a fan of old-school industrial / darkwave, this is definitely worth seeking out.
Oliver White -- THE ORIENT [Void of Ovals]
The one track on this disc, just over twenty minutes, is a quirky collection of diseased sounds originally recorded as the soundtrack to a 2005 film by Belfast director O'Gara Sherts. I have no idea what the film was about, but it must have been a weird one, because the soundtrack is filled with cryptic, often crunchy noises followed by ambient droning, unexpected bursts of heavily-revered percussion, and more strange noises. Tense and full of surprises, the uninterrupted flow of sound is unpredictable and occasionally violent, like the soundtrack to an arty spaghetti western filled with scenes of abrupt death interspersed with panoramic views of a desolate countryside. Weird and haunting, at times utterly mesmerizing, and filled with moments that recall the mid-90s isolationist movement, White's brooding sheets of sound carry a sense of mystery that a times turns menacing, but is mostly otherworldly.
Void of Ovals