Sunday, August 1, 2010

... because it's all about the drone, right?

Acoustic Ambience by Ela -- LONG PERIOD EVENTS [Lelavision]

Now this is interesting... seven tracks of shimmering, drone-heavy soundscapes from sculptor and composer Ela Lamblin, created with an unusual invention of his own making: a five-foot conical stringed instrument played from the inside out. Produced by Tucker Martine and featuring a tabla solo by Vishal on "Epicenter," the sound of his enigmatic device is one of acoustic ambience, with resonating string drones created by bowing and string percussion. It's a beautiful and otherworldly sound, often resembling that of a more harmonically rich theremin or a radically detuned piano; I don't know how many sets of strings are in the instrument, but the resulting sound is certainly orchestral in nature, with different-sounding drones winding around each other, fading and decaying in waves. Most of the material on this disc is free-form, unencumbered by percussion; tabla rhythms show up occasionally, however, as on "Pyroclastic Flows," in which a lilting rhythm creates a hypnotic pulse over which strings float and drone, and on "Epicenter," in which the tabla rhythm is a bit more insistent and the drones more melancholy and piercing. There are also some tracks like "Wavefields" in which some of the strings are rhythmic in nature; in that one, one set of strings creates a pulse over which other strings produce droning lines that swell and fade. While the use of such unconventional instruments makes the album experimental in nature, the sound is certainly far more accessible than one might expect. Droneheads should find this of great interest.

Ela Lamblin

Author & Punisher -- DRONE MACHINES [Heart and Crossbone]

What is it about Israel that breeds such great and unconventional bands steeped in heaviness? You could speculate all day on the subject, but the fact is that any region capable of spawning bands as heavy and weird as Rabies Caste, Barbara, and Tangorodrim is a place that warrants a lot more attention from the average metalhead. (For a handy primer on Israeli metal, check out the excellent site Metal Israel.) Which brings us to Author & Punisher, the one-man assault unit of Tristan Shone, who literally uses heavy machinery -- much of it hand-built -- and electronic instruments to create soul-crushing rhythms and blackened drones, intensely oppressive, claustrophobic music that uses unusual modern technology to bridge the gap between industrial music and doom metal. This picks up where early Swans and Godflesh left off -- Shone screams scary but intelligent lyrics over an endless parade of drill-press beats and inhuman bass drone. This is seriously some of the heaviest stuff I've ever heard, on par with the pre-Jarboe Swans albums (although it's nowhere near as monochromatic as those classic slabs of painfully stunted tempos and testosterone). What makes this really stand out is the masterful use of drone along with the punishing beats -- Shone's aesthetic is obviously rooted in drone as much as industrial metal -- and his ability to craft actual songs out of the groaning, moaning machine damage. Flourishes such as the military cadence of the vocals in "Beginning of End" (which eventually devolve into a looped phrase that melds with the machine sound until it's difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins), the ringing harmonic tones in "Lust For Scales," and the abrupt shift in dynamics in "Blue Flame" work well at keeping the songs vital and interesting. As for the drones themselves, they range from clean tones to lush harmonic squealing and edgy sawtooth wavetones, creating a variety of sounds to accompany the lumbering rhythms. The more arty moments, though, never come at the expense of the album's bottom-line blueprint of total heaviness aimed at turning your skull concave. Heavy, heavy, heavy -- are you tough enough to deal with it?

Author & Punisher
Heart and Crossbone

Charnel House -- THE LEPROSY OF UNREALITY [Sygil]

Bloomington, IA may not leap to mind as a spawning ground for black metal, but you'd never know this duo hail from there -- this, the band's third album, sounds like a lost artifact from the first wave of Scandanavian black metal. This is the classic sound of dark, freezing, lo-fi misanthropy, with blurry pounding drums hammering away in the distance over the sound of a serrated guitar bathed in reverb; it's the sound of fog rolling across a battlefield at twilight, all grim and dark and utterly necro. There are some deviations from the purely necro aesthetic, though -- the eerie intro "Law of Opposites" features grandiose guitar chords and disembodied moaning vocals over a shuffling beat, and the arresting vocal aesthetic is a motif that reappears throughout the album. The other big departure from the war-metal aggression is On "Passage (Out From Illusion)," where droning, dark-ambient guitar swirls around eerie noises, disturbing wordless vocalizing, and unhinged metallic percussion that owes a lot to Abruptum. The rest of the material is closer to the speed-obsessed destruction of early Marduk and the claustrophic sonic hate of Striborg, a combination that makes for a winning vibe of misanthropic evil that will also really annoy your neighbors. This is a band so kvlt they don't even have a website, you'll have to hit the mail link below to get your hands on a copy.

Charnel House

Custodian -- TOIL AND WASTE [Syzmic Records]

Talk about consistency, Custodian has it: this is the third or fourth Custodian release I've heard (the seventh overall) and is every bit as harsh and filled with paint-stripping sonic virulence as the earlier ones were. This time Custodian presents nine tracks of gruesome sonic death in just under thirty minutes, with clanging, screeching soundscapes built on thick layers of power-electronics, grinding industrial loops, and intense walls of harsh noise. It's difficult, if not impossible, to really do anything "new" in the harsh noise genre without turning into something else altogether, but Custodian neatly sidesteps this problem simply by turning the aggression factor up to eleven -- there are no weak attempts at "art" here, no digressions into other styles, just 29 minutes of unrelenting brutality. The tracks are separated by the briefest of pauses, giving the listener almost no downtime from a steady assault of incredibly loud audio violence that begins immediately and without fanfare. This is old-school noise made with the simplest of motivations, designed to obliterate your senses and possibly damage your hearing in the process. Nice? Not even remotely. Intense and punishing? Just the way it should be. Harsheads, take note (and pick up the band's back catalog while you're at it).

Syzmic Records

Eddie the Rat -- OUT BEHIND THE 8-BALL [Edgetone Records]

Multi-instrumentalist and full-on eccentric Paul Martin returns with a seventh outing as Eddie the Rat, playing piano with his hands and drums with his feet while the three other members of the quartet hang five in a zone somewhere between the avant garde and unabashed pop stylings. The secret weapon this time around is vocalist Molly Tascone, whose ethereal voice makes a nice counterpoint to the musical chaos. (She also plays xylophone, woodwinds, and various tools of a percussive nature.) The quartet is rounded out by Ronnie Camaro on bass and Dan Ake on percussion and "power tools" (it's an avant thing, you wouldn't understand). So here's the deal: Martin's songs mix classical and pop tones with extended, repetitive song structures rooted more in experimental minimalism and incorporate bursts of bone-rattling percussion (especially on the engaging opener, "My Little Red Stungun"). The album's twelve tracks (four of which comprise the 18-minute ending suite "March of the Haydevil") strike an engaging and surprisingly accessible balance between avant-garde weirdness and highly listenable, sometimes even catchy, pop music. The preponderance of piano -- an instrument that has inexplicably disappeared from much of modern music in the past decade -- is a welcome move as well.

Eddie the Rat
Edgetone Records

The Holly Martins -- NO. NO. YES. NO. [Edgetone Records]

This Bay area trio has an unusual configuration -- alto sax, guitar, and voice -- that immediately sets them apart from the average band. Firmly rooted in the avant garde jazz tradition, they nevertheless sound highly unique thanks to their lack of percussion and the spare but melodious sound of sax and guitar acting in concert. Things are made even more complex and "out there" by vocalist Lorin Benedict's unorthodox approach, featuring unusual cadences, unexpected turns of phrasing, and an expressionist style akin to beat poetry. Without the presence of percussion, the guitar and sax take turns providing the rhythm and melody, sometimes by combining the two concepts to create rhythmic melodies (or is that melodic rhythms?) that create the musical backdrop for Benedict's hyperkinetic vocalizations, making the need for percussion unnecessary. The inspired combination of musical elements here results in a sound that's not only fresh and original, but far more accessible than the concept might suggest on paper. It doesn't hurt that Eric Vogler gets a genuinely beautiful guitar sound that is nicely complemented by the lush and extravagant sound of Kasey Knudsen's saxophone. The surprising part is how little you'll miss the percussion.

The Holly Martins
Edgetone Records

Inhalant -- SAVE OUR SOULS [Syzmic Records]

Noise! It's everywhere! Even in Vernon, TX, a small town pretty much unknown to anyone outside of the state -- but since it's in Tornado Alley and dominated by industrial food processing plants, it's a perfect breeding ground for angst and machine noise. The six tracks here are, in fact, heavily indebted to machine sounds, which often form the backbone over which C. A. Odom slathers generous amounts of hissing white noise and the occasional muffled conversation sample. Odom's approach reminds me at times of The Grey Wolves minus the political content, or Whitehouse minus the hyped-up controversy; there's less emphasis on sheer skull-frying violence and more on the power of repetition welded to a colorful spectrum of white, brown, and pink noise. The throbbing noise attack is especially enthralling on "Body Trap," where the varieties of noise color ebb and flow in overlapping waves over a seething bass-heavy machine rhythm akin to a damaged car running on stripped gears. The intensity factor does increase as the disc goes on, though -- while the tracks continue to be mainly noise over machine rhythms, by the final track, "Save Our Souls," the white noise is thick and corrosive, nearly drowning out the rumbling machinery at work in the background. Now that Whitehouse has gone digital, this makes an excellent substitute for scouring your ears, and your girlfriend won't be as uptight about the content, either.

Syzmic Records

Thollem McDonas and Arrington de Dionyso -- INTUITION SCIENCE AND SEX [Edgetone Records]

What do you get when you put one guy with a beat-up piano and a guy with a bass clarinet together in a recording studio? If the guys in question are McDonas and de Dionyso, you get four boss tracks of synapse-frying drone, that's what. McDonas plinks and plonks at the damaged piano while his clarinet-spanking pal drones and bleats, and the combination sounds absolutely amazing. The minimal instrumentation means the sound resonates freely in the studio space, unencumbered by other sounds -- this is definitely a spacious-sounding album -- and thanks to a remarkably resonant piano, they can (and do) take turns at droning, offering each one the opportunity to solo. Both players get great sounds from their respective instruments, and despite being theoretically limited by the simple choice of instruments, they manage to pull off an incredible variety of sounds, moods, and playing strategies. It's always nice to see players from the avant tribe getting their drone on.

Thollem McDonas
Arrington de Dionyso
Edgetone Records

Murder By Static -- EXSITS [Deadsix Communications]

The ever-prolific Chris Stepniewski returns with another disc that combines elements of techno, breakbeat, noise, and ambient music to create thirteen brief bursts of electronic fury. Drill-press beats are joined by bursts of static, ambient keyboard washes, and other forms of electronic effluvia in a series of shifting configurations. Despite the constantly changing layers of sound and noise, the basic aesthetic is rooted in an agitated and often noisy form of drum 'n bass built on galloping techno rhythms -- this is caffienated music, to be sure. There are moments of ambient grace to give the listener some breathing room, but those moments are fleeting; most of the time the action is intense and built on heavy jackhammer rhythms. Whether these sound snippets actually constitute songs or not is debatable, but there's no question the intent is to set your body in motion, and regardless of the song structures, it definitely qualifies as aggressive body rock.

Murder By Static
Deadsix Communications

Murder By Static -- LUXICON PHASE [Deadsix Communications]

This disc -- released before the previously reviewed one, if you're keeping track of such things -- is similar to that one (and the rest of the one-man band's canon). The eleven tracks are various combinations of frantic techno beats, strange noises, ambient washes of sound, and electronic debasement. The tracks use these regular elements as snippets of recombinant DNA, adding and subtracting layers of electronica and noise over hard and high-tempo beats; the result is a series of mini-soundtracks steeped in sonic violence. Like previous releases, the songs on here are less actual songs than beat-heavy electronic confections, but they're designed to stimulate physical motion on the dance floor, and in that respect they're highly successful. There's no shortage of punishing beats to accompany the constant stream of sonic frippery; for devolved electronica, this is pretty intense stuff.

Murder By Static
Deadsix Communications

Seeded Plain -- LAND TRACTS [Featherspines]

Public Eyesore mastermind Bryan Day sure is in a lot of bands; this one, with Jay Kreimer, is the latest. Both are credited with "objects, time" -- a nifty way of saying they like banging on things in cryptic waves of rhythm (or maybe anti-rhythm, if you're one of those people who insist on having your beats evenly spaced and all that boring stuff). Here they spend six tracks (with titles like "arise-d" and "namstre-d" -- don't ask me what it all means, I'm out of the loop here, dig?) banging and clanging on a variety of mysterious objects with a fever that's not quite completely random but certainly not persistently consistent enough to approach commercial music. There's some intriguing honking and bleating on "arise-d" that might be samples, found sound, or audience participation, occasionally leavened with feedback and springy noises and shouting. Fizzy noisemaking rears its head among the chaotic improvisation on "done-d" along with an actual rhythm manifested through some obscure item drafted into service as a percussion item. The other tracks proceed in similar fashion -- which is to say, lots of screeching and scrunching and thumping and bumping -- as the duo display great enthusiasm for demonstrating the sound of unpredictability. Like all live improv, it sounds pretty enigmatic divorced from the visuals, but the random factor keeps it entertaining.

Seeded Plain

Uke of Spaces Corners -- FLOWERS IN THE NIGHT [Corleone Records]

Dan Beckman and Amy Moon O.S. are proponents of lo-fi noise folk (or something like that); the songs on their third album are sparse and hypnotic, driven by simple arrangements built as much around incidental noise as truncated folk guitar. Muted percussion and spiky piano make the occasional appearance, but mainly their sound is that of a folk duo performing in a space invaded by jagged shards of ambient sound. It's a strange but bizarrely compelling aesthetic, all in service of deceptively simple (but not simplistic) songs about dogs, tea, arugula, and other equally esoteric subjects. This is the sound of the Velvet Underground gone acoustic and harmonizing on obscure folk ditties, lo-fi and transcendent, enigmatic without being welded to unnerving academic concerns. These are the songs you expect homeless avant musicians to play on cheap acoustic guitars to pass the time on a cold winter's eve, singing together while huddled around the fire burning in a cast-off oil drum. Evocative and mysterious, it's the place where traditional folk songs meet the new lo-fi ethos. Strange, yes, but oddly comforting in its own demented way.

Uke of Spaces Corners
Corleone Records

Yehudit -- IN THE ZONE [Edgetone Records]

Violinist Yehudit brings the swinging sounds of what I think of as cocktail jazz -- smooth and serene, but occasionally fizzy like a good martini -- on this disc. Accompanied by a chamber jazz ensemble employing drums, vibraphone, bass, guitar, sax, and clarinet, the band percolates with rhythmic style as Yehudit waxes melodic on both electric and acoustic violin. The instrumentation makes this a strong fusion of the classical and jazz worlds, and the talent of the ensemble is significant enogh that the driving, complex rhythms are executed with unerring precision -- and yet the sound is loose and nimble, focused without being uptight. Yehudit's quixotic melodies build off the rhythmic foundations in seamless fashion, adding yet another dimension to the layers of sound. The band cooks in energetic fashion without becoming strident, and on "Mango Nights" and "The Hidden Place," even manages to be languid and introspective. The band's busy but enthusiastically engaging sound benefits from a tendency toward polyrhythmic intensity and strong, innovative melodies, resulting in seven strong tracks that don't require a degreen in jazz or avant philosophy to enjoy.

Edgetone Records

Robert Ziino -- AN UNUSUAL DAY IN MONTANA [Experimental Artists]

Each of the twelve tracks on this disc is exactly five minutes long, and each of those five minute pieces is an electronic soundscape incorporating bleeps and bloops, strange noises, and chopped-up keyboard samples. If you've heard Ziino's previous work, then this will come as no surprise -- this is similar in style and execution to his earlier albums -- and the only real difference is a changing palette of sounds and a more pronounced affinity for songs anchored in rhythm. Beats abound, albeit mostly in simple fashion, forming a framework over which devolved sonic bleating, tweaked and processed, wavers back and forth like electrically charged drunks in the machine. The arbitrary five-minute limitation to the tracks is offset by the tendency within each track for one set of sounds to fade away and mutate into others; this makes it difficult to tell where tracks begin and end without consulting the cd player clock, but it also makes the tracks more unpredictable. As always, Ziino comes up with a swell-sounding bank of sounds, most of it pure electronic tones, some of it bordering on white noise; the use of highly repetitive and infectious rhythms provides a steady baseline sound over which he solos freely with processed sounds. Strange and colorful, the tracks bear little resemblance to traditional songs, but the sheer variety of sounds and cold, cold beats will do much to warm the cockles of the electronerd's heart.

Experimental Artists

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