Looking Ahead: 10/29

Hello! sorrY thIs is LATE but here’s what I’m listemimg to this week.

Julie Holter makes a wildly adventurous blend of experimental baroque and art pop and her new album Aviary is utterly MASSIVE.  90-Minutes, huge swells of vocals, and cavernous instrumental cacophony; it’s a wild ride.

Robyn remains singularly enthralling after an eight year hiatus.

Clark-Death Peak: Album Review

Deep into his career on Warp Records, UK’s Chris Clark is still surprising.  “Death Peak” continues his long streak of placing sound-art leaning material over a strong sense of rhythmic drive, but in terms of sheer length of songs this is his most ambitious project to date and the album’s early techno-induced numbers make for a new connotation to his sound.  The drama at the end of the work is huge to say the least with giant, shimmering stabs and Pink Floyd child-choirs coming into play as pulsing tracks bleed into one another, but the album holds onto fun dance-ability for the whole front half.  There’s a great deal of variety in the project and the logical march from light to mean makes it digestible and addicting.

Clark alludes to the violence that will inhabit the end of his project in the ominous first track.  After sparse melodies in a light, metallic texture, larger melodic motions start to inhibit the space with frightening vocals pushing towards a dark sonic landscape.  Although the next two tracks spend a lot more time on light-hearted material, this opening track helps prepare the taste buds for what’s to come.

“Butterfly Prowler” follows with a bouncy synth melody that remains in the equation throughout as the surroundings change color about 50 times.  Vocal pops on the twos and fours add a quirky dance vibe, before throbbing echoes add a dark smolder to the middle of the track.  “Peak Magnetic” picks up where “Prowler” left off with more jolting energy, this time a looping keyboard line remaining central throughout.

 

The album never has a moment where a song isn’t logically incorporated, but “Hoova” certainly heralds in a shift in mood.  The tracks very first moment is a big industrial explosion before relentless percussive noise takes over for the front-half of the track.  However, whereas songs like “Slap Drones” or “Catastrophe Anthem” only rev-up the storm, “Hoova” strives for a bit of a different ending.  Around the four minute mark, the song takes a turn to the atmospheric with soaring melodies and delicate vocals making for a break from the chaos.

“Slap Drones” is driving from the very beginning, but not in a completely violent manner.  Light shades of snare sound open before an abstract but club-worthy beat sets in.  Around the last 20 seconds of the track, the pummeling industrial sound is all-encompassing but again, Clark showcases an example of momentary clarity within the hectic intensity of the back half of his record, which makes his ploy into violence dynamic and palletable.  The album continues to amp things up for the next few tracks until the last number, “Un U.K,” offers a 10-minute reprisal of sorts of the path of energy on the whole album.

Clark is never one to offer an uninteresting project, but “Death Peak” is certainly an important work that utilizes his previously explored sonic talents while showcasing his ability to shine in the six to ten-minute long track format.  As he nears the second decade of his career behind the boards, it’s clear that his ambition is still strong and his talents are enough to execute his plans.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Blanck Mass-World Eater: Album Review

Living up to the Sacred Bones Record label reputation, “World Eater,” the latest from UK-based industrial/noise producer Blanck Mass, pummels and jolts.  After the quick, introductory track, “Rhesus Negative” fills itself to the brim with chaotic noise—tapping into some Aphex Twin influenced vocals and a bit of a hardcore punk bluntness in the percussive sounds—for a riveting nine minutes.

The backside of the record finds out of time electric spark on “Minnesota” and a bit more of an open sound in the guitar-driven “The Rat.”  The album quickly proves its ability to find contrast, however, as “Rhesus Negative’s” jolting mass heaves itself over to the next track, “Please,” finding spacious beauty.

“World Eater” is a work that finds life at every turn, but also does so differently on each track.  For every instance of chaos, the work seems to find another of angelic bliss; the rhythmic overdrive of the hard-hitters is matched by arythmic noise and spread out bass/snare pillars on less straightforward numbers; and the menacing violence is balanced out by enlightening optimism.

Each of his tracks averaging out to about seven minutes, Benjamin John Power finds time to transition from track to track and craft a specific identity at the heart of each song.  Whereas Power’s first solo record stuck to swaths of shimmering drone, and his second found the dance-floor, his third seems to toss all his talents into one place and somehow come out of the other end still making sense.

In terms of aesthetic, the work finds a bit of a classical aura within the industrial foundation.  “John Doe’s Carnival of Error,” for instance, opens with a twinkling, high melody, reminiscent of some sort of deranged xylophone. Between the bombardment of “Rhesus Negative,” Power also sticks in a bit of high, choral vocals that add to the drama.  The sound of the big moments is often so dense, that “orchestral” is the only suitable description.  These gothic/liturgical connotations might also help appeal to metal listeners, who are often subjected to references to past centuries.

The work also finds a lot of replay value in the consistently brilliant melodic offerings.  I’m reminded of the emotional ploys of The Range as tracks like “Silent Treatment” slowly center themselves on a gushing melody.  Single “Please” is a clear highlight.  The song opens with aquatic tones before the first vocal sample belts out.  As the first bass movement gets heralded in, the track instantly gains a huge sense of depth.  Another belting melody comes into play, eventually colliding with the first, before both get accentuated by stabs of backing “ahhs.”

Perhaps a point that I would raise against Power is that although the work is jarring and confronting, it somehow lacks a bit of rawness that makes noise tick.  As a whole, the work can be described as “lush.”  Even sounds that are essentially screams are super calculated and positioned perfectly.  It would be interesting to see the pure noise of “Minnesota” somehow filtered into the dance-able context of the hyper-quantized numbers.

“World Eater” is a highly enjoyable listen from a producer that has carved out an entirely new world.  I’d like to see things left a bit less refined and calculated, but this album delivers greatness on every track with countless climaxes of jaw-dropping beauty and eye opening punches to the gut.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Miwon-Jigsawtooth: Album Review

After a nine-year hiatus, the return of Berlin’s Miwon sees a sensible addition to his catalogue with more bright ambient landscapes and techno sensibilities.  True to the nature of N5MD records, the album continuously emphasizes melody with each 4-5 minute tune having a great deal of replay value while also expertly navigating open sonic terrain.

The album somewhat loses the rhythmic directness of 2008’s A to B and perhaps strikes a less emotionally moving tone.  Save the late-album dives into darkness, these songs are breezy and light. Still, the project keeps the listener engaged with spot-on songwriting with each passing track.

The beginning of the album serves as a decent representation of much of the project.  Opener “Fuzzy Words” builds swells above the active rhythmic foundation before the simple, but infectious melody comes in gently over the top.  This track doesn’t dig too deep as it sort of stagnates forward, but it works great as an introduction to Miwon’s particular aesthetic.

“Wolkengedoens” and “Shutter” are a bit more of the meat of the work.  Here, Miwon works in more drastic developments by continuously pilling on layers and emphasizing new melodic ideas. “Wolkengedoens,” for instance brings in a high synth melody towards the last 30 seconds of the tune to give a new splash of color that contrasts the slightly melancholy melodic centerpiece of the song.  “Shutter” is sluggish in tempo, opening the space for a blissful, wandering melody that gradually gets surrounded by more and more rhythmic activity, making for a natural, unpredictable development.

“Mondharke”—track 7—serves as the first full-fledged look at violence and darkness.  The crackling industrial sounds put the song on edge with pulsing low-end synths adding to the drama.  “Cool Your Jets” doesn’t necessarily read as violent, but it maintains the dark, smoldering nature of the previous track with an especially bouncy melody over brooding chords and low-end rhythmic sounds.

Although these two tracks contrast the sonic pallet of the beginning of the project, the exploration of this territory comes a bit late into the work.  Without these additions, the album would’ve been a bit one-dimensional, but it doesn’t feel all that well integrated into the project.  If Miwon had issued one of his more violent songs sooner into the track listing and then let that sound influence the tracks that followed the tug and pull between smoldering darkness and bright ambient sounds would’ve been more constant.

There’s no shortage of great songwriting and it’s great to hear a long-anticipated work that bites like “Jigsawtooth,” but it might have been a bit more impactful had Miwon dabbled into the violent, smoldering side of his sound aesthetic more often in the work.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

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

The Uncoverables Podcast: Daniel Ruane Interview

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Daniel Ruane is a UK based musician who has been dabbling in electronic music for only a short amount of time, but he has quickly managed to release music via The Silent Howl record label as well as Los Angeles’ Proximal Records.  In this interview we discuss his songwriting ideas and inspirations as well as some of his hopes for the future.

Also featured in the podcast are new releases from Eilean Records and Editions Mego.

Playlist:

Daniel WJ Mackenzie- Unser Blauer Morgan

Oto Hiax- Creeks