Monday, January 31, 2011
Desire Path Recordings.
SCQ Rating: 79%
What Solo Andata are doing, frankly, no one else is. That’s apparent as early as their LP Ritual’s first track, a slow-burning surge of buzzing, chirping, and whirling which approximates how we’d all hear nature if we lay drugged-up and motionless in a forest. More than a mesmerizing exercise in organic drone, ‘Aggregate’ speaks through our internal understanding of nature, the groundwork of likelihoods and curiosities we’ve nurtured since childhood, and reinforces them over any disciplines we as listeners might pride ourselves on – steadfast against those who’d refer to Ritual as tedious noise.
In other words, Ritual takes us beyond the argument of electronics trying to be “warm” as opposed to “cold” and into aural space positively dripping with characteristics. It isn’t just the vague liquid-y effects that make ‘Myrmecia’ so foreboding, but that its miniscule streams surfacing through soiled cracks are met by tones that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a convincing thriller score. Even if Solo Andata are wielding loose structures at their suspenseful prime, those moments arrive comprised of natural dimensions; no differently than water droplets for percussion, ‘Myrmecia’’s creepy high-registering synths are mistakable for distant, possibly pitch-shifted crickets.
Since the creation of Ritual, without many obvious instrumental tell-tales to speak of, is clearly beyond my technical comprehension, the intentions of this review really cater to what I’d prefer to emphasize in the first place: Solo Andata’s half-formed but articulate universe, how it envelops and how adjectives can be worth just as much as nouns. When ‘Incantare’ unfolds into a twenty-minute dreamscape, replete with a variety of echoed sounds that stitch together a moving, ever-changing environment, the listener couldn’t care less how this illusion was practically designed and constructed.
Such is reflective about Ritual and all good ambient records, for that matter; they blindfold and let you grapple for progressions or aural signposts to find your way and, at the best of times, like the disembodied hands swimming in textures, we submit ourselves to its course.
SCQ Rating: 76%
As I sit here in the darkly lit confines of the SCQ office, a jack-and-coke fizzling on one side and a sullen owl’s jewel-cased eyes glaring to my right, I fully recognize that I’m not a massive Deftones fan. Maybe I’ve never struggled with the level of testosterone necessary to warrant devotion for Adrenaline or Around the Fur, but those weren’t prerequisites for being hell-bent absorbed by White Pony’s preening hybrid of Pro-Tools soundscapes and metallic riffs. Moreover, Saturday Night Wrist beckoned my formative years at their most nocturnal, cooing the drowned-out atmospheres of ‘Cherry Wave’ and ‘Xerces’ while I sunk deeper into my apartment tiles at 4am.
In other words, I’ve tailored an impression of Deftones – an emphatically beloved one – by ignoring the crunchier, less layered half of their discography. That 2003 self-titled effort? Yah, never heard a note of it. So, despite my slanted perspective suppressing my first-listen until four months post-release, Diamond Eyes remains my most anticipated Deftones album.
Whatever’s always struck me as rhetorical about metal’s riff tendencies – those insular, chugging repetitions – falls by the wayside when Chino’s running the mic, and his dramatic turns pitting heartfelt croons against guttural screams feel increasingly nuanced over the opening title track. Tight, spitting verses pave to more elegiac, even-keeled choruses on ‘Royal’ but the outfit’s sixth record begins transforming at the onset of ‘CMND/CTRL’, a pulverizing riff that worms inside-out like a lassoed intestine – visceral, scathing and beautifully compact.
A switch-up, then; a widening of scope that with ‘CMND/CTRL’ and ‘You’ve Seen the Butcher’ begins to create a narrative evocative more for its use of keys and space than the relentless guitar-work overtop. And for Diamond Eyes’ first crossover track (read: not metal), ‘Beauty School’, to land square after such a punishing sequence of events seems like a rare mid-album victory round; one of those we-can-write-modern-rock-songs-in-our-sleep reminders.
‘Prince’, with its loitering-alley of a bass-line, calls to mind one of the few compositional mainstays of the Deftones’ canon and reflects briefly on what’s come before. None of these songs have rocks in their pockets like the whole of Saturday Night Wrist heaved, and both LPs benefit from this sharp-as-knives contrast. Diamond Eyes’ palette remains even stricter than that of White Pony and, although I’d be remiss to expand upon the band’s pre-millennial output, the furor of ‘Rocket Skates’ surely suggests the band’s early, aggressive styling.
A new drink in time for Deftones’ first subdued breath, as ‘Sextape’ bends morning’s bedroom glow around pared-down rumblings and Chino’s most conventional, sing-along chorus this side of ‘Change (In the House of Flies)’. One song over and ‘976-Evil’ takes an increasingly full-blooded approach on the same thick melancholy. Even for the staunchest fan of their break-neck material, these slower numbers are to be savoured; too seldom (save Saturday Night Wrist) do Deftones encourage this kind of self-exploratory navel-gazing, even when they execute it so well.
As alluring as Diamond Eyes’ back-story tries to steal what is ultimately Eros’ back-story, I’ll avoid stretching for the emotional shortcuts many die-hards have already cut and pasted. Perhaps because despite my admiration for Deftones’ ability to pull me toward the fringe-nexus of metal, scream-o and their indefinable them-ness, I’m still not a massive Deftones fan. Diamond Eyes, for all its frothy and acute presence, doesn’t alter my positioning in the Deftones’ directional debate so much as sedate me to their possibilities. With their hardest, most concise offering, Deftones succeed in pulling me helplessly toward the primeval pole of their sound.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Deerhoof VS Evil
SCQ Rating: 79%
Even amid their most successful releases – Runners Four and Friend Opportunity both spring to mind - Deerhoof have reigned but a marginalized fraction of the indie-rock throne, attaining no shortage of good press but a fickle fanbase. Why that is likely breaks down to every obvious suspicion we’ve assumed playing their parts; Satomi Matsuzaki’s cute-when-rationed vocals, the band’s playful teasing with commercial templates – these obstinate traits come to mind anytime an album (cough, Offend Maggie) comes and goes with virtually no worthwhile mention to speak of. For sixteen years now, Deerhoof have welcomed a diverse crowd of fans both casual and curious to dance along their weirdo-fringe and it’s no surprise that, on a release-by-release basis, scores of them fall indifferently by the wayside.
From a single spin, Deerhoof VS Evil looks to bolster and register that fickle public until at least the next full-length. They’ve abandoned San Francisco and “what a Deerhoof record sounds like” but rumbling deep from within a forest of drum-edits and twee-leaning harmonics, ‘Qui Dorm, Nomes Somia’ bursts forward like Deerhoof 3-D; their hooks more digestibly defined, their impatient tempo-shifts finessed but punctuated with a volume befitting of college radio. Rarely have verse and chorus been as identifiable and concrete as on ‘Behold a Marvel In the Darkness’, nevermind how Matsuzaki’s sweet vocals bait a ferocious, distortion-filled riff that while central to the song, never gets old. Credit Deerhoof with some serious production props: Greg Saunier’s dexterity behind the kit, already imposing over many of these tracks, has an added depth to it, while miniscule embellishments like the starlit synths keeping ‘Hey I Can’ airborne, leave little room for boredom.
Is there weirdness, though? You bet there is, only this time it’s less divisive than on past efforts. Aimless but brief ambles ‘C’Moon’ like a practicing improvisation, but these intermezzos link naturally to their always appealing neighbour (what would ‘Let’s Dance the Jet’ be independent from its half-second-detached highlight ‘Super Duper Rescue Heads!’…). So easily and repeatedly consumable, Deerhoof VS Evil should offer pause after all of the praise Friend Opportunity received for being so pop-oriented and accessible. This is the band’s liberation-point, a maturing moment where they’re able to pull the mainstream tablecloth toward them without breaking anything. A fleeting dose of indie-rock spiked with dream-pop, this battle against Evil finds Deerhoof fighting the good fight.
SCQ Rating: 67%
Those in pursuit of minimalist treasures take note: Jerry Granelli, a veteran percussionist who graduated the San Francisco Jazz scene to work as a session-player for the likes of Vince Guaraldi, has gone solo. Finally, at the age of seventy, and if Granelli’s timing wasn’t enough to file his solo debut under the label “curious footnote” for a career so colorful, 1313 boasts percussion and nothing but. Even a few years ago, I would’ve found the existence of solo drum records easier to swallow than a rabid fanbase actively seeking them out; oh, if only I’d heard Granelli’s improvisations at my most ignorant and impressionable.
Still, 1313’s creation - in a single take, with minimal overdubs – represents a challenge to anyone who prefers the imaginative possibilities of the studio. Granelli’s imposed limitations, too numerous to list, are gradually upstaged by a discipline which bridges the gap between experimental and accessible. The dimensional quality of ‘A Nice Bunch Of Guys’, with its several rhythms conversing at once, meets expectations but just shy of Granelli’s multi-talented vision: moments when Granelli becomes a full-band virtuoso on the kit. Warmth and weirdness flow from the strung-up bell melody of ‘Walking On a Road With Some Bells Around Your Neck’ as a patient kick-drum moonlights for a bass. Following experiment ‘Wait For the Machine’ takes a similarly structured/nonsensical tune through a series of drum deconstructions that bizarrely parallel Tortoise’s odd freak-out.
Some wise sequencing ultimately prevents too many of these full-band illusions from taking shape, thereby crafting a stronger statement in spite of some dwindling sparser moments. Facing my own listener-limitations on this niche recording, I best enjoy when 1313 sounds like more than a well-armed drum-kit at work (as on the creeped-out airship drones of ‘Love Song For U’) – mostly for the sake of variety but also because I like knowing that it isn’t.
The War On Drugs
Secretly Canadian Records.
No Ripcord Rating: 6/10
SCQ Rating: 66%
In a crudely reductive way, anyone’s record collection can break down into two camps: albums we rely on for public consumption (house-parties, get-togethers) and albums we rely on for personal satisfaction. Every host should instinctively play to their crowd’s communal preference, meaning that my obsession for introverted electronica gets roundly ignored every time people pack my fridge with beer. Oh, the trials of amateur deejaying. So when The War On Drugs first stole my heart with Wagonwheel Blues, they managed the task by merging two unique and combative listening experiences into one. Their muse clearly rooted in classic rock but bearing a spacey reverb so rich it nearly swallows the whole procession, The War On Drugs presented a hybrid so seamlessly built, you could just as easily socialize or zone-out to its chameleon-esque company.
As word of Future Weather surfaced, promising a heavier use of keys and ambience following Kurt Vile’s no-surprise departure, I rejoiced in what ostensibly sounded like a nudge toward their cosmic end. 'Comin’ Through', with its steadying Tom Petty-approved bassline, and 'Brothers', leveled in exploratory guitar-jams, both prove that The War On Drugs’ perfect fusion of a template allows some elbow room for extra experimentation, but these are exceptions to the rule. Typically this gauzier finish forces a sacrifice, as how 'The History Of Plastic', which consumes nearly a third of Future Weather’s run-time, lumbers through a studio’s trick-bag with nothing to show for it. What’s worse, its final two-and-a-half minute stretch of disconnected sounds cap off an EP loaded with empty space.
Segues and reprises embody three of these eight tracks but none are built to sustain themselves, or even add any majesty to their parent song. 'Comin’ Around' finds the band loosely jamming around the perimeter of 'Comin’ Through' whereas 'Missiles Reprise' muddles needlessly between the chords of 'Baby Missiles', which itself operates a lean A to B trajectory with familiar organ-work and grinding percussion. Yes, some of these grooves still beckon the open road, but our intended destination is getting a little murky.
The War On Drugs haven’t undergone any major songwriting shifts with Future Weather and yet a quiet divide over direction steals the bite of these songs. It’s almost as if Adam Granduciel and Co. isolated their dual strengths - the riffs and the sound-collages - into separate songs, streamlining their classic-rock tunes while letting vacuous sound-collages fend for themselves. Perhaps Kurt Vile was the engineer capable of fusing these song-pieces or maybe The War On Drugs are simply withholding the best cuts for their upcoming 2011 full-length. Sadly, neither of these excuses warrants buying this vinyl-only 12” at a dollar-per-minute rate, especially when a solid half of Future Weather feels so aimless.
(This review was originally published on No Ripcord...)
Monday, January 17, 2011
Standard Form, a print shop and publishing-house based out of Toronto, first caught my attention when I spotted eye-catching 3” CD-Rs of Muskox and Feuermusik displayed on the shelves of Soundscapes on College Street. Their foray into music wouldn’t directly impact me until Kyle Bobby Dunn delivered his Rural Route No. 2, an EP I loved but ignorantly failed to understand its title as part of a bigger project. Finally, when Samu Kuukka from Gentleman Losers announced his participation in No. 5, I researched what each of these unassuming Standard Form releases were compiling into; namely, a concept-driven but creatively freewheeling collection of compositional essays detailing a variety of artists’ musical representations of “home”. Each musician was encouraged to take an experimental angle and delve into notions of memory, belonging and how that all relates to private geographies.
I was smitten with it, and in November set out to write up the collected works in all its unfurling, unending glory. With the help of Damian Valles, artist and curator of this series, I’m pleased to shed some additional light on this one-of-a-kind project that’s giving Canada’s electronic-music profile a serious shot in the arm.
Rural Route No. 1
Standard Form Records.
SCQ Rating: 79%
For a collection borne on the promise of experimental electronics, it's surprising that Rural Routes’ first installment by Canadian composer Damian Valles breaks the whirling ambience with the traditional edge of a patiently picked guitar. Rest easy, though: little about Valles' style can be deemed traditional. From two notes alternating over some background noise arises an interwoven web of serene yet desperate guitar figures, filling in silent cracks and finishing each other’s thoughts. What instinctively sounds like an instrumental mantra from Six Organs of Admittance continues to spawn unassuming flourishes, each anchoring the track’s airy sentiments to encroaching danger without complicating its linear structure. The track’s called ‘Low Population Density’ and its thirteen-minute progression, covering everything from ambience and noise to post-rock and soundscapes, introduces Standard Form’s Rural Route series as a modest tour de force.
The limited CD-R’s subsequent two tracks only register half the time of ‘Low Population Density’ combined but Valles uses their conciseness to embellish upon the woodsy isolation hinted upon over the course of that opening epic. The hostility behind ‘Swale’’s reverb-tinged twang evokes a do-or-die menace deserving of the Wild West, its steps fortified by lone drum-strikes all blunted and caked in mud. Somewhat alleviating the hardships of this country life, ‘Minor Variance’ floats rather than marches, its guitar timbre padded by the swelling of steady, almost plodding rhythms that seem determined to move on instead of fated to fall. For anyone who’s yet to peer into Damian Valles’ rustic universe, Rural Route No. 1 is a fine escape to that borderless country.
Rural Route No.2
Kyle Bobby Dunn
Standard Form Records.
SCQ Rating: 78%
As someone who’d never heard of Kyle Bobby Dunn before 2010, I had the great fortune to discover the composer’s work through A Young Person’s Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn, a double LP that collected Fervency (a 2009 Moodgadget release) with over sixty minutes of unreleased tracks from those same sessions. And yes, I’m aware that by describing Dunn as a composer, I’m putting him in league with some of ambient’s finest tightrope-walkers, like Stars Of the Lid or Brian Eno. I’m comfortable with that, as Rural Route No.2 handily pushes Dunn’s two sonic poles – noise-laced urgency and pristine calm - to new levels of emotional richness.
That may seem like a feat for a release that clocks barely twenty minutes in all, but Dunn has never let limitations diminish his reach. He’s a minimalist, after all, and although both tracks here wander a static purgatory, we listeners receive occasional channels that direct us through Dunn’s devious narrative. If not for the EP’s actual narrative - that of Dunn’s return to a childhood home and all of the pale memories it recalls – first track ‘Dissonant Distances’ could’ve made an excellent title to these faraway recollections. Bathed in soft, industrial tones and at one point honing in on what sounds like a nostalgic radio signal, ‘Dissonant Distances’ would feel sterile if not for its emotional crests. That same ebb and flow runs through ‘Senium III’, only less obstructed by conflicted memories and more at ease with the ghostly beauty of nostalgia.
Overdue to take a Greyhound bus to my own hometown, I let Rural Route No. 2 accompany me when my passenger-seat caught the first of Toronto’s smog-riddled skyline. And in the way these two longform tracks expand then curl, speak up and then cut themselves off, I remembered the city in a scattershot of half-memories that showcase, with impassive precision, how it felt to live there. ‘Senium III’ has that rare ability to beckon buried thoughts and merit them with the appropriate significance. Like nostalgia itself, it's a wonderful place to wallow so long as you don’t live there.
(This review was originally published on Skeleton Crew Quarterly in August 2010.)
Rural Route No. 3
Standard Form Records.
SCQ Rating: 55%
For the same reasons I dislike watching music videos, I avoid reading press-releases. And not only because I fear that their insistent use of hyperbole might worm its way into the vocabulary of my subsequent review; it’s in how they pre-posture our listening experience, evoking open-door metaphors and super-technical descriptions which almost pre-empt any disagreements over quality. That said, in the case of Martin Clarke’s contribution to the Rural Route series, I was chasing down any authoritative press-release I could find, hoping to contextualize the CD-R’s eight self-described “States” beyond their dislocated bouts of sound audible. Clarke’s brief press-release, tellingly, calls the work “semi-abstract non-representational spaces”. At least he’s honest.
Because ‘States 1’ through ‘States 8’ contain ambience without any discernable musical touchstones, however, this press-release reads more like a light-weight theoretical accessory. These field-recordings, capturing a forceful gale and the rattling of nearby clutter on ‘States 2’ or studying claustrophobic insect anatomy on ‘States 4’, fit cleverly into Rural Routes’ loose concept of environments and nostalgia, but their underlying purpose – as a disc to be listened to – feels more academic for sound-artists than any music-lover. The lengthiest track, ‘States 5’, records what sounds like a rusted gate creaking just shy of its latch for five minutes, whereas ‘States 8’ scores what very well could be someone trying to recap a stubborn filter onto a kitchen tap. As faithfully as these tracks display irritable sounds we’d knock politely on our neighbour’s wall in an attempt to cease, there’s no semblance of rhythm or depth behind even the atmospheric earlier numbers that would warrant repeat-listens.
Still, Clarke’s work illustrates a fresh although dry-as-hell perspective of time and memory that’s far removed from the other, more compositional Rural Routes segments, and that “non-representational” aspect broadens Standard Form’s considerable focus on this theme. While inconsequential on its own, its role as Rural Routes’ nihilistic low-end actually benefits the series as a whole.
Rural Route No. 4
Standard Form Records.
SCQ Rating: 72%
You’d be forgiven for thinking ‘Catalyst 1’ sets the establishing shot for an intense soundtrack of urban dystopian instead of a reflective study on one’s homeland. In this case they’re one and the same, as Alex Durlak merges both environments – the visceral and personal – over the course of Rural Route No. 4’s reverberating quarters. Meditating solely on a guitar so heavily processed it sounds like a malfunctioning fridge, Durlak nonetheless paves a robust capacity for emoting here by assembling tension from the cut-up samples of guitar, swarming like locusts, on the shape-shifting ‘Catalyst 1’ and the rhythmic slabs of oscillating feedback that stir up ‘Catalyst 3’.
It’s an adverse landscape, sophisticated and daunting, but Durlak’s instincts as a composer aren’t entirely cold. When the digital waves part midway through ‘Catalyst 4’ to reveal a dissection of its percolating layers, listeners are treated to the warm sterility of memories neutralized; those mental images of personal landmarks overwhelmed by a static disinterest, a defensive nostalgia. The catalysts of Rural Route No. 4 seem motivated by a gritty remembrance, not the knowing resignation that other artists have employed, and it results in Rural Route series’ harshest but no less alluring installment.
Rural Route No. 5
The Gentleman Losers
Standard Form Records.
SCQ Rating: 83%
When The Gentleman Losers signed on to record the fifth installment in Rural Route, a series of conceptual ambient recordings that hark back to a given composer’s snapshot in time, I knew Standard Form had a winner on its hands. Namely because Dustland was hands-down Skeleton Crew Quarterly’s sneakiest record of 2009, one that slowly revealed a world of detailed instrumentation beneath its oppressive plodding layers. No kidding, that sophomore album gets more bemusing by the day, in how it institutes these poignant but stretched plateaus for listeners to find their reflections in, so it’s no surprise that Samu and Ville Kuukka sound right at home amid Rural Route’s ideology of representing a particular time-and-place.
As far as instrumentation goes, it sounds as though the Helsinki-based duo have hardly changed their template. Still boasting an impenetrable hybrid of electronics and warm traditional gear – think down-tempo electronica with a twang – ‘All That Is Solid Melts Into Air’ follows the same meandering paths that dictated Dustland’s frustration-into-admiration clause with browbeaten organs and pedal-steel exploring the terrain of molasses-thick bubble effects which intersperse like a back-beat. Like three different shades of the same idea, that ten-minute main-event flows courtesy of some leafy and watery field recordings – something new, or perhaps simply something more overtly displayed, from the Kuukka Brothers. The following two tracks are more concise and nostalgically loaded, as ‘Valley Green’ taps the call of distant children to a bittersweet descent of guitar and keys while ‘At Dawn I Am the Morning Clouds, At Evening the Falling Rain’ ushers a surge of potent moods through nearly undetectable progressions.
Slipping naturally from the stereo without a cloying template, Rural Route No. 5 develops memories like a roll of undeveloped film passing through different lights. Inhale the good times, the rough spots, and all those indifferent moments with the right music, and none are spared from the potency of the past; a potency that The Gentleman Losers evoke with elegance and wonder.
Rural Route No. 6
Standard Form Records.
SCQ Rating: 85%
No sooner had The Gentleman Losers’ released their lovely contribution to the Rural Route series when Standard Form announced a sixth installment would be forthcoming via Netherlands-based artist Machinefabriek. Unlike the single improvised recordings that Alex Durlak committed and then divided into cohesive tracks, Machinefabriek (Rutger Zuyderveldt) keeps ‘Halfslaap’ unified as an unsliced seventeen-minute piece of multi-dimensional ambience, formless and beautiful.
Inspired by the sensations we experience moments before falling asleep – or “from reality to the dreamworld” - ‘Halfslaap’ floats upon an undulating music-box coda that swells with purpose only to dip beneath any audible level of consciousness. The focus relies on melody only for the first few minutes, establishing its haunting theme before Zuyderveldt goes to work modulating our aural perception with delicate quivers to its frequencies and a gentle blurring of each note’s self-reliance. No differently than how the distinct qualities of a memory wane over time, so too does ‘Halfslaap’ morph as a composition from concrete to vaporous. That this process doesn’t feel dutifully stripped back or phased-out becomes just as important as the melody’s durability itself; Machinefabriek’s gentle submission into forgotten slumber grows ever more nuanced flirting with silence, to the point where its few remaining traces evoke the most powerful nostalgia.
Rural Route No. 6’s a bit of a mind-fuck, to be honest, capable of rendering the most meaningless past memory somehow poignant. It’s also the crowning achievement thus far in this tremendously unpredictable series.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
SCQ Rating: 82%
2010 saw its share of electronic records that spent their running-times basked in menacing darkness; some defiantly sinister in their shadowy make-up (Crystal Castles' II), others bending toward distant refractions of light (The Sight Below’s It All Falls Apart). Ventricle staked its own territory not only as kind of a big deal – resurrecting Mike Cadoo’s thought to be one-off, decades-old Dryft project – but also by crafting the year’s darkest song-cycle that never dragged.
For all of Ventricle’s patient soundscapes tailored to industrial edges, one would be forgiven for assuming Dryft’s careful escalations on this template – which build toward stormy climax – would only intensify his nuanced foreboding. The bulk of these nine songs do intensify but not as a means of hammering home a gloom already established. Instead a purposeful optimism arises, undetected until Cadoo raises a track’s dramatic stakes, which subverts the overcast of ‘Recalcify’ and ‘No Bargains, No Pleas’ with an airy serenity. Laced throughout Ventricle’s stealthy genetic code, these unfastened synths play in pools of filtered light across ‘(Re)prise’ and before ‘Vapours and Waste’ develops its crunchy backbone. If Dryft’s delicate end lacks the aural presence of his thunderous beats, it’s to purposefully offset how visceral Ventricle can feel, to maintain that subtle playfulness with shade.
Delivering more than ample contrast – something that most records of this palette seem deficient in – Cadoo’s symphonic capabilities prove equally valuable when buried and left for dead. The industrial wave of ‘Knives As Gifts’ arrives pushing for a metropolitan collapse, armed with oppressive synth-slabs and thick glitches that seek to eradicate any compositional frailty. Luckily, a storm can’t swallow its aftermath and Ventricle deserves recognition for balancing two fateful environments: brute strength and intricacy, claustrophobia and the sweeping openness which follows.
No Bargain, No Plea (Featuring Xiescive) by dryft
No Land Called Home
Ad Noiseam Records.
SCQ Rating: 77%
As traditions go, it wouldn’t be an Ad Noiseam review without some brief preamble concerning the label’s regimented, tough-as-nails sound. A specialization in breakcore and experimental electronics remains their point of pride, but I mention it here while replaying mournful strings and piano that shoulder ‘Dusk’ like a coffin. With No Land Called Home, Subheim has activated Ad Noiseam’s potential in home-listening electronica’s quieter pastures with songwriting that, orchestration aside, bends and peaks upon minimal beats and drones.
Well, for the most part, anyway. More archaic than organic, ‘When Time Relieves’ could’ve been recorded upon a mountain-top with its mammoth swells of reverberating bass and live drums. It’s one of several enclosed achievements No Land Called Home executes when it isn’t translating distress through cinematic (‘Between Fear and Love’ and worldly (’Conspiracies’) lens. Often times Subheim’s edgy focus exceeds its duties, what with varied vocalists and a constantly shifting sense of urgency, by dropping a track as groove-based and atmospheric as ‘The Cold-Hearted Sea’. In other cases, like the heavy-handed ‘December’, the record steers into the mirror-image of a pounding, post-Batman Begins Hans Zimmer score. The album’s orchestration rightly deserves the most ambition-points, but its source of tension resides foremost in significant, if ornamentally positioned, electronic layers that, for my money, render this effort all the more hybridized and impressive.
No Land Called Home comprises a big step for Subheim, who created this rich listening experience, and Ad Noiseam for further expanding its cloudy comfort-zone.
Tympanik Audio Records.
SCQ Rating: 76%
Known as crunch-time for music-journos, November finds Skeleton Crew Quarterly solidifying its annual Best-Of features, tying up loose-ends and generally avoiding the temptation to uncover any new favourites. It’s a preventative measure that rarely backfires when one has kept a keen eye on their particular scene, but that’s precisely where Tympanik Audio Records caught me off-guard. Excelling at their own forward-thinking brand of beat-core – a scene SCQ only peers into occasionally - Tympanik Audio unleashed a selection of hot-from-the-oven releases in mid-November that shook up my year-end deliberations.
C.H. District led the pack with Conclusion, a propulsive outing and the polish beatmaker’s first LP in five years. Behind the weighty synth-saws groaning like elastics stretched to their limits, ‘Con-Trust’ hides a warm glow of keys that blur the ratchety gears crisply interlocked. Let’s not confuse that warm glow with the “humanity” many fringe-listeners insist on sticking ol’ cold-hearted electronica with, because Conclusion won’t thaw old memories while you linger in your favourite armchair; no, C.H. District’s choice weaponry involves atonal cuts through his rhythms as if torn across vinyl-grooves (‘Shrink’) and heartless synth-pop (‘Go Out’) that belongs on the most numbing dancefloors around. Despite such a frigid touch, C.H. District imbues enough warmth to warrant a listener’s double-take; ‘Burnout’ carries some zone-out qualities behind its strong-willed beat and ‘Like a Human’ lets vocals (by Tomtylor) pierce the Apparat-reminiscent melody.
That’s right – Apparat. And it doesn’t quit at German techno; Conclusion welcomes a few other unexpected influences, such as Gui Boratto’s Kompakt-styled trance (‘Creep’) and Thom Yorke’s hook (on ‘Practical Tool’, which sounds so similar to ‘Skip Divided’, I had to check C.H. District’s sample notes). Roping each of these outside influences into his strict-to-technique beat-core, Conclusion provides a galvanic incentive for genre-loiterers like myself to hop confidently over the fence.