Acre -- ISOLATIONIST [Isounderscore]
Even without the blinding orange cover (so blinding that it takes a while to realize there's a subtle honeycomb motif stamped on it), the title alone -- referencing one of my favorite genres of music -- would have been enough to get my immediate attention. Acre is actually Aaron Davis, who has released a fair number of extremely limited-edition releases on cassette, vinyl, and cd; two of the three tracks here, in fact, are taken from the 2008 PAINLESS cd-r, issued on on Students of Decay in a run of 75 copies. (The first track is new, recorded in the summer of 2009.) Like most Isounderscore releases, this one is limited to 500 copies, so while it's not quite as destined for obscurity as the earlier, ultra-limited releases, it's not exactly a mass-market product, either. Which makes sense, because this is far too hardcore for most listeners -- this takes the concept of isolationism to its most natural extreme, with tracks so minimal and boasting such subtle variations in drone that it would drive mainstream listeners mad with fury. Take the first track, for instance; it's fifteen minutes of pure oscillating synth drone that takes its own sweet time in gradually modulating from one pure tone to another, a drone so powerful yet so incremental in its tonal movement that it appears nearly static for the first ten minutes, and even then the change in sound is mostly achieved through panning across the stereo field more than any shift in pitch. The other two tracks -- one just under thirteen minutes long, the other an epic 22 minutes -- are similar in aesthetics but somewhat different in execution. The second track opens with another monolithic and slowly wavering drone that is eventually augmented by chiming bell-like tones that become louder and more persistent over time; the third track's drone is fuzzier and more bass-heavy. and this time the sonic counterpoint arrives in the form of a distant, high-pitched shimmering drone that hovers over the bass throb like fog on the horizon, and as time goes on, the high-end wail takes on a cathedral vibe at times while the bass drone undergoes subtle warping. The bass modulation becomes considerably more pronounced around the ten-minute mark, and at some point the high-end drone evaporates as the bass drone begins to ripple, only to return to a more slow-moving, monochromatic drone in the last few minutes. This is manna from heaven for the pure-tone drone fanatic. Don't sleep on this; work of this quality, in such a limited run, won't be around forever.
Aluk Todolo -- FINSTERNIS [Utech Records]
The key to understanding the enigmatic black metal (sorta) band Aluk Todolo is in realizing that their unique brand of occult metal owes more to late sixties / early seventies trance rock than to metal. This, their second full-length album, follows much in the same vein as the first one, with five long tracks of minimal percussion and a rhythm section whose sound could have been lifted entirely from Pink Floyd's UMMAGUMMA, a hypnotic sound that's frequently jolted from its deliberately narcoleptic stupor by clanging, screeching guitar noise and other strange sounds. The overall sound resembles early Hawkwind and Faust giving birth to an extremely peculiar black metal record, and the vibe has more to do with ritual music than any stereotypical preconception of metal. The tracks flow seamlessly from one to the next, giving the entire disc the feel of a continuous live performance. At some points the guitar is drenched in reverb and given to epic bouts of high-pitched wailing over the plodding and usually monochromatic rhythm section. The sheets of sound tend to evovle in minimal fashion, with the guitar slowly mutating through different effects and playing strategies, even dropping out altogether for parts of "Totalite." This is black metal of the experimental and atmospheric variety, with a creepy and unpredictable sound that totally sidesteps the metal cliches of ordinary riffs and themes in favor of something closer to a soundtrack for heathen rituals. On "Troisieme Contact" they wallow in distorted guitar noise (a grinding motif that colors the sound in smaller doses on other parts of the album as well, adding textures that allude to noise and industrial influences), and by the final track, "Quatrieme Contact," the guitar sound has become harmonic and almost choral in tone. The magic in this album is not in the individual parts, but the convergence of minimalistic rhythms combined with a constantly shape-shifting guitar sound that allows for intense hypnotism without ever growing static or dull.
Kush Arora -- BOILING OVER [Record Label Records]
I know next to nothing about dubstep, but I have the distinct feeling this is not your ordinary dubstep album. Arora's style combines jittery snatches of bleating electronica with eccentric, hocus-pocus beats and slabs of deep bass heavy enough to rattle furniture at times. Of the seven tracks here, one is a remix (of Sub Swara's "Alabaster Dub") and four are collaborations; only the first and last tracks are by Arora on his own. For such a genre normally dominated by rhythm, the sound of this album sure is drenched in processed electro-wizardry; there are beats, yes, some of them heavy beats indeed, but they're balanced out most of the time by the imaginative use of electronic sound manipulation. Then again, the origins of dub and dancehall music are firmly rooted in futzing around with gadgets, so maybe this is not so surprising after all. A lot of this material resembles sophisticated soundtrack music (especially "The Staircase," the ambient-leaning collaboration with Lucas Patzek) more than dance music, which is kind of interesting. My personal favorite of the all the tracks here is "Constructing the Absence" (with Sub Swara), where ghostly electronic frippery gives way to a beat so soul-crushing that I fully expect hip-hop thieves to sample it heavily over the next few years. Despite the preponderance of other artists involved, the tracks are remarkably unified, and in contrast to the rawboned simplicity of much of dub's original sound, these tracks are complex and layered, filled with startling shifts in tone and smart juxtapositions of sound. Each track is complicated enough to reveal new things on repeated listening, with a wide variety of instruments (including some swank horns amid the growing tonal chaos of "We're Upstairs," featuring Maneesh the Twister and the Spit Brothers) and excellent sonic manipulation techniques. This is great stuff -- I've never heard of Arora before, but I'm definitely converted now.
Record Label Records
Bloom Project -- PRISMATIC SEASON (LIVE AT THE SUDDEN SOUND SERIES KRANNERT ART MUSEUM) [Edgetone Records]
This is a live recording of the Bloom Project (Rent Romus on alto / soprano sax, Thollem Mcdonas on piano, Jon Brumit on drums and small objects, and Steven Baker on challis drone), recorded at the venue mentioned in the album title (located at the University of Illinois). It was mostly recorded in October, 2006 while on tour and is a mix of free improv pieces, live interpretations of material from their first cd BLOOM; the final track, "Challis Drone # 1" (featuring Steven Baker's homemade instrument) was recorded separately at Pacifica California in 2007. Romus and his dueling saxes are a major component of the sound most of the time, but the others (especially Brumit) make themselves heard as well. There's plenty of dynamics to their exploration of sound, with quiet and melodic passages seguing into a much fuller sound filled with lots of clattering percussion, all of it punctuated by cool-jazz sax bleats. In fact, while Romus provides much of the melodic content throughout the disc and the other players contribute plenty in the way of counterpoint, it's Brumit's drums -- sometimes subdued, at other times positively thunderous -- that provide the rising and falling arc of the combo's dynamic curve. The final track, featuring a mysterious instrument called the challis drone, is another thing entirely -- nearly seventeen minutes of dark, sawtooth drone occasionally joined by other sounds (brief stabs at percussion, high-pitched squealing in the distance, and so on) that rises and falls with subtle movement before finally fading out entirely. This is some serious drone action; I'd love to hear Baker do an entire album using his mystical droning device. The final track is a stylish and unexpected finish to an excellent (and well-recorded) series of live improvisations.
Walter Gross -- L.A. PINK FILTH [I Had An Accident Records]
This is an interesting example of cross-pollination of genres, mixing crusty noise with rapped vocals and strange experiments in processed sound. The beats and vocals are obviously taken from hip-hop, but the beats are swaddled in excessive reverb (and sometimes delay, to surreal effect) and overlaid with strange noises and chopped audio loops. On tracks like "Draggin' You Down to Hell," the beats break down amid furious bleats of noise, with a cacaphony akin to someone running amok in the studio. "Headhunters" is closer to pure noise, with a plodding rhythm track that sounds like someone jumping up and down on a metal trash can and an assortment of odd noises and occasional snippets of extremely peculiar vocals; at one point an overexcited drum machine crashes the party and the track steadily descends into a whirlpool of industrial clanking. The last two tracks are a bit different, featuring ambient synths in addition to the cryptic noises, and make an intriguing contrast to the rest of the album. The album's noise factor is only enhanced by the distinctly lo-fi sound, and the bizarre approach to vocals combined with an esoteric approach to mixing noise with hip-hop beats makes for an extremely surreal listening experience.
I Had An Accident Records
Jesse Krakow -- WORLD WITHOUT NACHOS [Eh?]
You may not have heard of him, but Jesse Krakow has certainly gotten around over the years: he's played with Shudder To Think, Tatsuya Yoshida, Time of Orchids, Kate Pierson (B-52s), George Korein (Infidel / Castro?), Elliott Sharp and TWIN PEAKS chanteuse Julee Cruse, among others. I'm pretty sure the music he made with these people didn't sound like this, though. Here he fills up a disc with 72 micro-tunes, most of which (by necessity) last less than a minute, many of which sound like a deeply psychotronic mix of acoustic folk and funk. Strange elements turn up all the time -- faux-gospel choruses, weird farting noises that might be a kazoo, strange chanting, bursts of bongo fury, semi-classical guitar doodling, and a endless series of twisted mutations on just about every musical genre imaginable. Utterly eccentric and highly unique, but difficult to quantify (like most music of a deeply individual nature), much less fathom. Whether you find amusing, amazing, or annoying will greatly depend on your tolerance for high-octane bizarro music action, but it's certainly different, and you want different, don't you?
Mortuor -- I'M WAITING FOR YOU [Syzmic Records]
The disc comes in a black and white package referencing Italian horror flicks and is dedicated to "the memory of Marco Corbelli and the Italian Death Industrial movement," and the sound on the disc certainly lives up to the packaging. Corbelli, for those of you not steeped in industrial / power electronics lore, is the recently deceased dude behind the legendary industrial band Atrax Morgue and the equally influential label Slaughter Productions, and this release is very much in the vein of Corbelli's work, a release that would not have been out of place on Corbelli's label. The sound is all about dark, seething pedal fury and grotesque synth warbling clearly inspired by Italian horror soundtracks, and while the harsh, processed vocals are not always easy to discern, they sound appropriately psychopathic, and with titles like "Dead Love," "Whore on the Floor," and "I'm Waiting For You," it's not like you really need to understand the lyrics to understand where noise magician C. Davis is coming from, right? Davis favors a sound that relies more on brooding, agonizing death-creep than wild, shrieking noise hysteria; it's a sound that's definitely a throwback to the old-school days of early industrial music, more akin to Throbbing Gristle with a hangover or early Sutcliffe Jugend than the kind of blown-out white noise pedal-fu currently in vogue in power electronic circles, and it's a sound whose ugly minimalism will creep you out in a hurry. Grating, static rhythms soaked in square-wave distortion and lo-fi noise make the perfect accompaniment to the strained death-croak vocals; this is ugly anti-music for ugly thoughts, and an extremely satisfying example of the life still left in the genre.
Nommo Ogo -- ACROSS TIME AND SPACE [Record Label Records]
Wait, they have space rock in Alaska? How did this happen with uber-conservative Sarah Palin running the show? Perhaps they escaped her four-eyed gaze by being on the road often; the seven tracks on this album were all apparently recorded live on tour between 2002 and 2006 (with additional overdubs laid down in Oakland, of all places), in places like Oakland, CA, Evergreen, CO, Eugene, OR, and Kesselberg, Germany. No wonder so much of it reminds me of a more esoteric and keyboard-heavy Hawkwind.... The band's sonic masterplan involves the use of sequencers, analog and digital synths, and lots of processing to create mutant cosmic rock. Their rock is not exactly of the hard-rocking variety -- they gravite more toward cosmic drift -- but there's plenty of rhythmic motion to their burbling electronic doodling, and with so many synths and gadgets at their disposal, there's also a wide array of tones and exotic sounds happening as well. The use of both analog and digital synths means there's a nice mix of warm, buzzing analog tones and digital frost, with an overall sound rooted in Krautrock that's often highly reminiscent of early Tangerine Dream, among other things. Some of this material sounds otherworldly enough to pass for satellite transmissions set to music, but even during the more abstract moments where it sounds like meteorites crashing into the hull of a spaceship, it's still rhyhmic enough (and grounded enough in actual music) that it doesn't devolve into outright noise. At times the keyboard stylings even take on a new-age bent, albeit a new-age sound offset by quixotic buzzing and humming, with a result that's somewhat akin to cosmonaut cocktail jazz. This is the easy listening music of the future, the music that will be piped through the loudspeakers on space stations orbiting other planets. You'll certainly never believe it originated in Sarah Palin's Alaska. Bonus points for the swank packaging, a lush and full-color five-panel foldout digipak that houses a booket and the cd.
Record Label Records
Olekranon -- IDENTI [Inam Records]
This is a noisier direction for Olekranon; the ghost beats are still there, sure (although they're sometimes so buried under the immense sheets of drone that they might as well be inaudible), but mostly the album is dominated by huge-sounding guitar and keyboard drones that range in tone from gritty noise to nearly symphonic rock. Ringing feedback guitar shows up on "Vericose," one of the tracks where the beat is buried, and bass-heavy drones with a distinctly sawtooth edge crop up again and again, and piles of discordant sound bordering on white noise are a recurring motif, executed in most notable fashion particularly on "Elvin Throes." Just when you start to wonder if the beats totally disappeared, though, they abruptly show up again in a big way on "Lambghost," pounding away while surrounded by auditory fog. Sometimes the noises are as rhythmic as the beats (as on "Foresworn" and "Identi") -- noise is a big component of this album -- but most of the time the noisy blocks of sound float over the beats with no real connection to the rhythms, or appear without rhythmic backing at all. The tracks are sequenced in such a fashion that beats appear to surge forth in unpredictable fashion even while the clouds of heavily processed guitar remain a relatively constant presence, and the sheer variety of sounds and tones keeps things interesting. Like most recent Olekranon releases, the attractive packaging revolves around the beautiful and unearthly watercolor paintings of Megan Abajian, and the release is limited (this time to 100 copies). Olekranon continues to remain vital and consistent to its core sound without sacrificing quality, no mean feat for a band this prolific.
Olekranon -- RECYCLE HUMAN LUNG [Inam Records]
This is similar to IDENTI, but the beats are more prominent and the guitar sound is even thicker and heavier; in fact, this is an unusually aggressive entry in the Olekranon canon. The beats and guitar soup are especially heavy on "I Know You Still Want Me Dead," where the beats are restless and relentless and the guitar sound is a tremelo-heavy exercise in eighties shoegaze action. It's not all about the sonic violence, though; "Recycle Human Lung" features a pretty ping-pong guitar riff and lovely droning synths (or is that processed guitar?) over a sparse beat and a growing bed of rumbling noise. Of course, that's followed by the rude awakening that is "Black Sunday Brunch," where a seriously uptempo beat thrashes away as an avalanche of noisy landslide guitar skates overhead and turns into screeching noise when the beat abruptly comes to a halt as the track slides into a lower gear before the pummeling beat fades back in with unnerving persistence. "The Son Never Sits," the last track on the album, is closer to the sound of the early albums, featuring a spooky rotating guitar drone offset by a noise rhythm that rumbles along in circles, all of which eventually fades away to be replaced a roar of jet-engine drone that in turn fades out as the song ends. More stellar listening, in another nifty package featuring the artwork of Megan Abajian, and limited to 100 copies.
Strotter Inst. -- BOLZPLATZ 10" ep [Everestrecords]
Christoph Hess is the Mark Z. Danielewski of sound, because he just can't stop fucking with the form. He has a real obsession with finding new and unique ways to transmit the finished versions of his audio experimentation, with releases including a single that plays from the inside out and a cd whose cover can be played on a turntable; this time the mechanical madness is transmitted via a 10-inch vinyl LP with one track on each side playable at 33 rpm, and two others in a different groove playable at 45 rpm. (Sissies who can't deal with changing the turntable speed -- or who don't own a turntable, for that matter -- can buy the EP in a digital download version.) The tracks themselves are more of the man's patented rhythmic machine noise generated by modified and damaged turntables; on the 33 rpm tracks, bass-heavy plunking is gradually overlaid with layers of sound, from weird pinging noises to crusty rhythmic noise, until the tracks begin to resemble the sound of motorized industrial machinery slowly coming to life, one lumbering gadget at a time. The action on the 45 rpm tracks is a bit faster and more "normal" sounding, but still every bit as rhythmically intense and layered with strange sounds.The result of these strange experiments in turntable abuse is something akin to a devolved form of techno created with analog rather than digital machinery, which probably sounds like a terrible idea on paper, but sounds awesome in actual practice. Limited to 300 copies.
Sujo -- MORTE E DESCIDA 3-inch cdr [Inam Records]
The enigmatic Sujo returns for another round of deep, dark drone rock, nineteen minutes of uneasy listening built on the back of a morbid, droning analog synth, amorphous guitar noise, and a baroque percussion track that takes a while to make itself heard above the clouds of drone. The brooding cyclone of droning noise circles slowly around a simple beat for quite a while before dissolving into something more sparse and ambient, until the beat disappears and the serrated blades of noise begin to swirl in circles again. As the piece progresses, the sound grows quieter and simpler, resembling vapor shot through with esoteric ribbons of noise toward the end, finally ending with a combination of amplifier hum and static keyboard drone. Great stuff, as usual, and probably real limited, so don't let it pass you by....
Terminal Lovers -- AS EYES BURN CLEAN (LP) [Public Guilt]
Cleveland seems like a strange place to me to harbor such a vast, sprawling cast of bands dedicated to weird music; then again, it is the home of Pere Ubu, so maybe it's not so strange after all. Which brings us to this Cleveland band, featuring vocalist and guitarist Dave Cintron (who also plays in several other bands, including The Downside Special and Scarcity of Tanks), guitarist Chris Smith (Keelhaul, Integrity), bassist Jamie Walters (Midnight, Boulder, Destructor), and dual drummers Brent Genmill (Lung) and Bob Zeiger (Midnight, Darvocets). Given that the band contains members of twelve other totally different bands, it is hardly surprising that they bring a lot of different sounds and styles to their oceanic brand of psych rock. The seven songs (four on the A side, three on the flip side) all flow from one to the next, with a constantly shifting sonic landscape that incorporates elements of punk, metal, psych rock, Krautrock, alien soundtracks, pop, drone, and pure unalloyed weirdness. The heavy psych vibe is the cosmic cornerstone from which all these other sounds radiate, though; this is definitely an album made for tripping through the inner realms of your psyche (pyschotropic drugs optional but not necessary). Unlike a lot of trippy cosmic rock, this is not marred by excessive doodling or endless passages of some stoned dude whapping on bongos while his bandmates descend into pointless wanking; there's plenty of tripped-out moments, sure, but the band has made a serious effort to avoid descending into cliches or getting stuck in a particular groove. Instead, they've concentrated on whipping up an amazing pallette of distinct and memorable sounds and spreading them out in carefully selected chunks across the entire album, then chaining those bizarre explosions of sound to a constantly percolating rhythm section. For an album rooted in a genre of music whose practictioners tend to get lost in their own nebulous clockwork, this is supremely focused and consistently high (in more than one sense) in quality. This is an acid-rock album you don't need to take drugs to enjoy (although it probably wouldn't hurt, either). Mastered by James Plotkin (him again!) and limited to 500 copies on swirly yellow and black vinyl.
Waristerror Terroriswar -- THE BRUTAL REALITY OF MODERN BRUTALITY [Edgetone Records]
This is an unsettling record in a great many ways. The brainchild of one Thollem Sickofwar, who wrote the harrowing anti-war lyrics in Prague during the the long, hot summer of the rockets when Israel and Lebanon were going at it hammer and tong in 2006, this recording materialized several months later when he went to Italy for a series of improv concerts and ended up with three days off. Anyone else would have spent those days sucking down Italian food and chasing Italian girls; he found a recording studio with a disintegrating piano and hastily assembled a band. He then wrote the eleven songs on this album in three hours, based on the previously existing lyrics, and cut the tracks without bothering to teach them to his new band. The result is a sound that's loose, frantic, and at times utterly demented -- led by Thollem and his furious piano playing, the tracks are wild and unpredictable; bar room singalongs abruptly explode into mutant freejazz complete with tortured wailing, crazed punk rants devolve into atonal fury, untamed percussion and thundering piano crashes are accompanied by stark howls and the occasional guitar bleat. Like rockets falling from the sky without warning, the songs ricochet from one bizarre extreme to another, linked only the declamatory lyrics. This is strange, delirious stuff, music that matches its subject matter in terms of unease and intensity. It's definitely not feel-good music, but powerful nonetheless, and far more musically together than you might expect given its quick and off-the-cuff gestation.
White Mice -- GANJAOVAHDOSE [20 Buck Spin]
It's sometimes hard to tell if the White Mice are a band indulging in performance art or a performance art troupe pretending to be a band; either way they're willfully obnoxious and possessed of a really black sense of humor, and as a sonic entity they're totally soul-crushing, so I guess it doesn't really matter, does it? This is what passes for metal in Providence, RI, where all the noise-loving bands appear to have sipped healthily from the same water that poisoned H. P. Lovecraft's mind, but where he was compelled to write earnest, rococo stories about slow wasting doom at the hands of giant alien space vaginas with tentacles, Providence bands have manifested their sickness in caustic spasms of metal-flecked noise that frequently (and most deliberately) sounds like those Elder Gods heaving in God's cosmic toilet. No Providence band in the noise-rock orbit has been more determined to emulate the sound of clogging celestial toilets than the White Mice, who combine a warped sense of humor and stage sensibility owing much to Gwar with a sound that encompasses the likes of Godflesh, Buzz.oven, Flipper, and a lot of really obscure noise and extreme metal. Their act would have already turned into a tired joke by now if it weren't for their music -- it's really hard to out-Gwar Gwar -- but underneath their sonic emulation of a terrifying brain aneurysm they not only have considerable chops, but actual songs (something that's always been a bit of a problem for a lot of Providence bands, whose hyperactive but often formless freedeathjazz compositions frequently start to sound alike after a while). Their cause (namely, sliming your mind) is helped considerably this time around by a swank mixing job courtesy of Ken "Hiwatt" Marshall, the guy responsible for making sense out the endless tracks of cut 'n paste horror on Skinny Puppy albums. Song titles like the title track and "The Hard On of Edam," "The Ape-Caca-Lips," and "The Crapture" make it clear that they're sticking their foot up the collective ass of religion this time around, and just to nail the point home, the album is shot through with samples from religious talk shows and other pious soundbites (possibly a nod to Buzz.oven and Eyehategod, only their use of the device is far more clever). For pure bludgeoning heaviness, it's hard to improve on "The Hard On of Edam," where thundering drums pound out a clunky rhythm as Anonymouse shrieks like Varg Vikernes passing a kidney stone over a gross and slowed-down grindcore riff. Which is not to say the rest of the album is any less ferocious; there's an equal amount of pure heaviness at work on "Peeeugenicyst" and "The Ape-Caca-Lips" (which has a great churning riff to go with the rising, falling drum slaughter), and the rest of the tracks grind and pummel away with equally senseless abandon. (Mad props, too, for the scummy noise guitar on "The Shroud of Urine.") This is Providence's version of industrial black metal, and while the visuals and presentation may be funny, the music itself is scary fucking shit. They also get overwhelming bonus points for the totally hilarious (and tremendously sacriligeous) booklet and the Residents reference on the cover.
20 Buck Spin