Profligate: Somewhere Else: ALBUM REVIEW

Riding a wave of arpeggiated synths, minimal drum machines, and dance-able bass lines, Noah Anthony’s Profligate conjures a seething aura on Somewhere Else.  A mainstay of the DIY electronic community, Anthony steps into somewhat of a new realm here.  The ominous landscape that sets in with distant percussion and oscillating keyboards on the title track finds a mood not unlike 2014’s Finding the Floor, but the rhythmic drive is left up to swells of the instruments and noise at his disposal rather than a consistent techno sensibility.

After Somewhere Else sputters out, A Circle of opens with screaming shots of noise, eventually jolting itself into a post-punk feeling groove highlighted by eerie high vocals from Anthony’s new collaborator Elaine Kahn.  Enlist exhilarates with a punchy bass line and another spike in energy as a massively distorted melody draws viciously outside the lines.  The project is remarkable in its unity, always seeming to pick up where the last track left off and over the first three tracks, the album evolves from a muttering wind to a barreling freight-train.

Elsewhere, the rhythmic momentum stalls and Kahn’s lyrical side adds complementary poetic imagery to the anxious darkness of the sonic pallet.  After the haunting melodic line on Lose a Little dissipates, she takes over the droney landscape, speaking about “the water’s grey narcotic web” and how “to live is to disorganize.”  Anthony’s vocals tend to remain contained and monotone and Kahn’s ability to both match that and add instances of heightened energy elsewhere helps flesh out the swells of activity.

Between the loosened rhythmic feel and the edition of Kahn, Profligate has reached a new zone.  There’s room to grow from here, but Somewhere Else is a masterful amalgamation of DIY experiments.  Who’s counting but a singular work spanning noise, spoken-word, post-punk-rock, electronic feels so right on Wharf Cat Records and so fresh in the year of our lord 2018.

8/10

Advertisements

The Uncoverables: Jane/Kin LIVE on CKUT

Next up in the live line-up was Montreal experimental duo Jane/Kin. Bridging the efforts of saxophonist Ida Toninato and laptop musician/Foley artist Ana Dall’Ara-Majek, Jane/Kin seeks to blur all lines and boundaries and provide the listener with an immersive musical experience.  I’m sure even the most trained ears will be shocked to hear what was used in this particular creation.

Click Here to Download

Arca-Arca: Album Review

Arca’s video “Reverie” is a good marker for the overall effect of his self-titled work and a true must see of 2017.  Stilted up like a gazelle, Alejandro Ghersi painstakingly inches back and forth on screen, before an animalistic phallic shape emerges out of his groin and takes control of his body, leaving his face in even more pain.  From his rear, the viewer sees blood stains.  It’s confrontational, unsettling, and carries the scars of the queer experience.

Sonically, this is embodied with the violent, minimal sound space that underpins Arca’s whispery vocals—a new addition to his songwriting.  With lyrics in Spanish, I’m admittedly not listening for a lyrical or poetic experience.  Those interested can find translations online, but Arca also conveys his message with his sound alone.  His sense of space is breathtaking and the vocals offer another gateway to his psyche.

The album requires a front to back experience.  With a couple stand-alone tracks coming towards the end, the listener needs to hear the way the work builds up into “Reverie” and “Fugaces” to fully get absorbed.  Pressing play on the opener “Piel,” there’s just a presence there with vocals harping on a simple descending melodic pattern.  Florescent flashes come next with high drones squealing to add to the atmosphere and white noise giving a cushion to the low end.  “Anoche” beefs itself up a little bit at the chorus, but it still carries the same patience as instrumental cues come only with the lilt of the vocals.

“Reverie” becomes the first singular piece, as all the ideas thus far coalesce into one jolting mass.  The tempo is still a bit abstracted, but as the catchy chorus seeps into your pores, smearing rhythmic activity gives the illusion of speed and spilling noise.  Three tracks later, “Desafio” falls along the same wavelength with another sing-able chorus and a great deal of rhythmic activity making the track sing, but before then Arca takes a step back.

“Castration” sees the absence of vocals and a rumination on a single industrial loop, whereas “Sin Rumbo” shifts back to the vocals with some stunning high notes.  Arca isn’t necessarily adding songs to the world for other folks to sing, but the experience of the ups and downs of the recording makes it emotionally moving.  Perhaps by the standards of a more straightforward pop artist, his sonic design wouldn’t be so strong, but within the atmosphere of this project, they stick out.

Arca’s talent for pure sound also comes through in his use of sound effects and fascinating textures.  The track “Whip” presents the most obvious example with his on-going artistic connection between sex and violence coming through in the BDSM sounding whip sample that opens the track.  Elsewhere, sound-art type decisions are more used to highlight the space.  “Saunter,” for instance, evokes sci-fi with alien surface noise.

The record’s “ballad”—if you will—is beautiful, but perhaps could’ve been blown out a bit more.  Drones and keyboards float in and Arca’s voice is deeper than most spots on the record.  The chorus is pure bliss with a cushion of backing vocals and a distant melodic device, but it just fades out a bit too quickly.  This could’ve been a five-minute mammoth, making for a slightly more flourishing centerpiece.  After that, the record wraps up with a vocal epilogue of sorts in “Miel” and an instrumental epilogue of sorts in “Child.”

Arca’s got such a unique sonic fingerprint.  Everything he does is completely left-field, but relatable at the same time and the addition of his voice is flawless.  Perhaps some architectural issues could sort themselves out on the next record, but his self-titled has again left a great impression on the electronic art-musical landscape.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Astvaldur-At Least: Album Review

On his debut record At Least, Icelandic producer Astvaldur paints a grim industrial picture that never really reaches the level of violence that the anticipatory tones allude to.  Instead, the tunes play with the listener’s ear, holding a cloud of approaching danger over every musical decision.  Aesthetically, the work features constantly shifting sands that pass key musical themes and motives through different contexts and instrumentations.  To some degree this results in a bit of a mixed bag as it can a bit difficult to grasp the individual songs, however, the variety of sounds presented makes for striking textural explorations and an especially dynamic overall sonic portrait.

“Hark” kicks things off with an almost incomplete sounding rhythmic motive that obsessively repeats itself.  Following the anxious pulses that begin the track, the motive is first uttered in the high range by this icy keyboard sound, before getting transferred to a more mellow instrumental sound.  Tense machinery sounds surround the action constantly from metallic quarter notes to more pressing, arpeggiating synths.  This track perfectly exemplifies the anticipatory nature of many of the tracks on this album.  The whole thing feels like a build-up, making for an almost off-putting emotional affect as we’re never treated to a stagnant dance beat.

Following is “Rotary Credo” with a more acoustic-sounding opening provided by circulating violin samples.  Popping surface noise enters, serving a bit of a rhythmic function as tense countermelodies building up the anxious nature of the track.  Here, we get an example of Astvaldur’s skill of changing the context of a melody.  At the beginning of the track, the aesthetic is especially human-sounding, but by the end the song is more metallic and sterile.  Rather than building layers and layers in a traditional dance way, the track takes one set-up and puts it through a different lens.

“Flesh” is perhaps the most traditionally contrived song structure.  Opening with non-specific robotics, the track eventually dives into an almost hand-drum patterns with quick, subdued rhythmic sounds.  This becomes the foundation for the track as sweeping electric sounds develop over top serving a quasi-melodic role.  Still, there’s a bit of a detached mood to the track, but this would probably be the tune most worthy for the trance/dance setting.

The last major accomplishment of the record is probably the intriguing textures that Astvaldur is able to put together.  This is something that’s achieved over the course of the whole picture.  It’s not just that Astvaldur achieves a unique sound-space and works with it on each track, it’s moreso that he’s consistently able to offer new musical findings.  From the scratchy acoustics of the beginning of “Rotary Credo” to the swirling candy of “Mother” that gets bottomed out by pressing piano pulses and even the plucked electronics of “Punture”, At Least proves that Astvaldur’s bag of sounds is especially large and unique.

At seven tracks, the album is certainly a quick listen and the slight lack of standout singles makes it a bit forgettable.  In the future, it would probably be best for Astvaldur to focus his energy on structured pieces, but his ability to play with anticipation and conjure unique sonic spaces is clear and his work could offer a nice balance between dance-able and violent experimentation with a bit more focus on songwriting down the road.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

Lisa Mezzacappa-avantNOIR: Album Review

On AvantNOIR, Lisa Mezzacappa showcases a knack for achieving a great overall ensemble sound in an aesthetic that strikes a balance between noisy avant-garde jazz and more straight-ahead materials.  Beginning with a quirky three-minute tune, diving into some ambient realms in the middle, and ending with a floating, back-beat jolt, this album truly offers seven contrasting tunes, yet there’s a moody quality that connects each number.  Mezzacappa has been around the bay-area jazz scene for quite some time now, but this is my personal introduction to her music and it’s clear that she will become a staple of my jazz listening for years to come.

After giving a taste of the players on the record with the introductory “Fillmore Street,” Mezzacappa beckons in the tightly syncopated blues sensibilities of “The Ballad of Big Flora” with a brooding bass solo over textural electronics and samples.  By leaving a great deal of space between phrases in the middle of the track, Mezzacappa opens up a lot of room for drummer Jordan Glenn and electrician Tim Perkis to trade ideas.

“Army Street” offers another quick tune not unlike the first before the hefty “Medley on the Big Knockover” offers many interlocking sections over the course of ten minutes.  First, we hear a pressing rock groove with some pounding drums and disorienting, screeching-tire sound effects.  Later, we get free-metered space with sparse ideas from each member of the ensemble, before a frantic swing feel with exquisitely broken ride patterns from Glenn.

This track does feature my main reservation on the record, which is the sarcastic dive into a twangy country sound with up-beat accompaniment.  Between this and the sound effects, there’s certainly an element of humor on this track, but the country idea didn’t go over so well for me.  It’s clear that the first half of the record offers a great deal of different sounds, without losing accessibility; there’s a constant melodic focus that primes the listener for later experimental ploys.

The second half of the record distills melodic activity with a great deal of open-ended space.  “Bird in the Hand” comes first with some really well-integrated vocal samples from a movie.  It doesn’t feel like Mezzacappa is forcing anything here as the tune is sort of haunting and empty, with the samples operating as blips on the radar.  Even at the end, with more action in the film sampling, the ensemble remains floating and detached.  It’s great to here sonic work like this on a jazz record.

“Quinn’s Serenade” then offers a somewhat stark, yet gradual change of pace.  The tune kind of fades in around the same tempo of the last track, but as Bennett’s solo grows, the group fades into one of their angular melodies.  This sheds light on Mezzacappa’s over-arching planning on the record.  It’s a really cohesive listen, where each composition sensibly transitions into the next.

Although the record values ensemble sound over individuals as a whole, Aaron Bennett and John Finkbeiner provide standout performances.  When Bennett takes over the spotlight, he’s able to really unleash emotion with this really raw and unhinged saxophone persona.  Finkbeiner, on the other hand, is the character behind the operation with his off-kilter guitar tone.

AvantNOIR really strikes all the markers of a great album.  Each track brings something to the table alone, but their full impact is contingent on the rest of the work.  Also, the ensemble sound balances risk and tradition quite well in a collectively driven setting.  I wouldn’t say it’s a work that totally transcends time and genre and there’s a handful of choices I didn’t love, but it will certainly appeal to jazz fans all over the place and it proves that Lisa Mezzacappa is a compositional force to be reckoned with.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

The Uncoverables Podcast: Raphael Foisy-Couture Interview

Click Here To Download

This week is a special episode featuring Montreal DIY legend Raphael Foisy-Couture.  Raph plays bass, runs the excellent Small Scale Music record label and use to book shows at La Passe music venue.  We speak about housing musicians on your couch, fighting for diversity, and finding close relationships within a larger community.

Playlist:

Henderson, Mettler, Foisy, Lachance- “4” from Built Like A Brick Shithouse

Snake Whiskey- “Million d’éléphants” from Snake Whiskey

Hoax Hoax-“Ablution” from Shot Revolver

Pierre-Luc Simon- “Apparition” from Fixations

Uniform-Wake in Fright: Album Review

In using such a dense percussive and synthetic foundation on most of their songs, Uniform’s Ben Greenberg and Michael Berdan set themselves up with the daunting task of cutting through enough to add their own personalities into the pummeling environment of their electronics.  Both tend to ride a strained, animalistic delivery on vocals and guitar making for an absolutely jarring work, particularly on the tracks that anchor the project. However, the duo does do a great job of contrasting their default setting.  From tracks that dive into a bit of horrifying spoken word, to others that feature slow, methodical punches of noise alongside Berdan’s screams, and even one that strives into a more optimistic mood, Wake in Fright manages to surprise at every turn.  Although the lyrics tend to be pretty indiscernible, the two major points where they become more clear seem to construct a bit of a narrative, making for a cohesive project that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

“Tabloid” puts the pedal to the metal right away.  A snappy, repetitive vocal melody runs throughout to match a chugging guitar pattern.  The rhythmic electronics are completely filled to the brim making for stagnation in a vicious, cloudy space.  This track works very well as an opener.  It’s three minutes of what Uniform does best with no glimmer of light to spare.  The pure energy of the first track carries over to “Habit,” but already we see a difference in sonic landscape.  Suicide’s trademark high hat eighths and plainly styled kick drum part come through in the electronics rather than the mass of blackness.  Again Berdan’s vocals sit in a singular snappy place, but the guitar begins with soaring, distorted chords before jumping into a thrashing, fast-paced melody at the chorus.

“The Lost” pushes the band out of their comfort zone even further.  Between the fun bass drum pattern and the bright major chords, this track achieves a near-wholesome tonality.  The brightness is fleeting as brutality is due to return with the second half of the album, but having this visceral, almost catchy moment really shows an ability to change up the sound and Berdan keeps up the cohesion by maintaining his trademark vocal delivery.  Right out of the gate, the band develops their sound with three contrasting tracks.

The dense intensity then makes an immediate return with unrelenting, pounding activity.  Perhaps it’s because my experience with metal is a bit lax, but “The Light at the End (Cause)” and its counterpart “Effect” are the only spots on the record where I can actually make out the lyrics.  Nonetheless, the group paints a bit of a narrative element to the work.  With the title “Wake in Fright,” it’s fair to assume nightmares and “Cause,” after hearkening back to the mammoth sound of the first track, jumps into some tortured spoken word in the spacey, out of time outro to this track.  Speaking about flesh and blood and pain, Berdan utters the phrase: “I’m not going anywhere because I’ve got nowhere to go.”  He’s feeling some unescapable mental pain.  Perhaps his vocals on other tracks are simply a metaphor for what he’s going through and the final “effect” of all this pain is a rather bleak yearning for death: “as I die all is right with the world.”  Obviously it’s a dark and sad piece, but it is interesting to hear such a stark vocal struggle, then more understandable analysis of all the pain being presented.

Besides the finale of “Effect,” the second half of the record somehow manages to again turn up the brutality.  “The Killing of America” is the most straightforward in terms of structure.  The throwback guitar intro and the flashy solo combine with the robotic background to give a nice glance at the band’s influences and what they’ve done with them.  Next, the band shows their uncanny ability to combine the massive and the quick at its most extreme with “Bootlicker”.  The synth sounds here are so deep yet the whole mass of sound almost bounces with the blistering tempo.  Also, this track rearranges the hierarchy of sound a bit.  The snare drum—of all things—seems to come into the foreground and Berdan’s vocals are moved into the instrumental pallet.  It would be interesting to see more of this in the future, especially considering the almost rhythmic function of voice on pieces of this album.  The drama of this track carries over to “Night of Fear,” but this track drones at a much more mellow energy level to make the transition into the static spoken word of the final track.

Wake in Fright is an exhilarating ride with a great degree of contrast between songs and a depressing, but moving lyrical impact.  On their next project, I hope to see some expansion.  The band could do more to make their lyrics speak throughout and perhaps craft a more complex narrative.  Also, they could try their hand at some longer song lengths; those droney numbers could easily last ten minutes.  Nonetheless, this project is comprised of some great tunes and showcases a hardcore band on the cusp of their prime.

-Donovan Burtan

7.5/10

Listen/Purchase Here: https://unifuckingform.bandcamp.com/