Prurient: Bermuda Drain
Hydra Head (2011)
According to Bermuda Drain‘s liner notes you should “listen at night while driving through European tunnels”. I was in Japan over the new year and this record is also the perfect soundtrack for speeding around Tokyo’s freeways, winding through neon lit and smog stained skyscrapers like a scene from Bladerunner. Despite the hype leading up to this release things have gone quiet for Prurient. Critics praised Bermuda Drain for the most part, but his fans seem unsure about the goth-wave direction. This shift in sound shouldn’t come as a surprise really, given Dominick Fernow’s involvement in the synthetic emo project Cold Cave, and his increasing interest in keyboards and poetry over his last few records. And on a track like Watch Silently, where the percussive stomp sounds like a Wolf Eyes impersonation, he should be keeping the noise Nazis satisfied, but it seems the moody synths found throughout the other eight tracks are too foreign for most.
The more I listen to Bermuda Drain the more I appreciate its stark landscapes and knack for manipulating noise and atmosphere into something that almost resembles a song. Rarely has someone been able to make synth lines sound so menacing without melting in cheese. The vibe is foreboding, Fernow’s spoken prose is sparse, clear and threatening. He sounds like a man on edge, and when he erupts into gut wrenching screams, their contrast against the emotive synthesisers is unsettling. Sure, Suicide were doing something similar in the 70s but their schtick was way more inspired by blues and rock. And Alan Vega thought he was Jim Morrison. Suicide didn’t sound menacing (even if their live show was), in fact at times they almost sounded funky.
The easiest and more accurate reference point for Bermuda Drain is Horror and Action movie soundtracks of the 80s, where keyboards and drum machines provided cheap backing tracks to schlock. John Carpenter and Dario Argento are all over this and that’s probably why I can appreciate Bermuda Drain. Despite its angst and claustrophobia there is a sentimental edge to the record; nostalgia about being both repulsed and attracted to the video nasties of yore, watching something forbidden. Rooting for the monster on-screen. I like Bermuda Drain, I like it a lot. And I think the noise nerds need to ease up on Fernow for pushing his own boundaries.
Merzbow: Dead Zone
(Quasi Pop) 2011
If you didn’t know that Dead Zone was Merzbow’s aural response to the natural and man made disasters which devastated parts of Japan earlier this year, you won’t be enlightened upon listening to it. Even despite the haunting cover art from Chernobyl Dead Zone doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve, but the devil is in the detail.
Merzbow has always been about the detail. The joy of listening to him comes from drawing out the sound sources, finding snippets that you are able to identify with and latch on to. Making sense of the madness. And for listeners who go into Dead Zone with some background knowledge there is plenty that you can read into. Like the ten minute marks in both The Blade of Oblivion and The Spirit Indulges in the Sadness (Merzbow’s most sombre title ever?) where that theremin sound he’s been into lately comes off like a Geiger Counter lost in the fall out.
Throughout Dead Zone Akita’s favourite sounds take on new meanings – crunchy metallic noise stands in for crumbling buildings, whooshing static becomes the roar of a twenty foot wave, buzzes and whirs sound like melting nuclear reactors. Of course, this is all just me projecting my own pre-conceived notions of what Dead Zone should and does sound like. It’s just me trying to make sense of what is essentially non sensical. The beauty of Merzbow is that another listener won’t hear any of this in Dead Zone’s dense and evolving palette.
And this is definitely a dense listen. I’d place it in the harsher, and less penetrable realms of his work. But it’s also kind of beautiful in its own ugly way. And that might just say more about me than Dead Zone.
Knife Culture: Buried Melbourne
I openly admit to suffering from cultural cringe. Especially when it comes to local films and music, particularly experimental music. But I can’t recommend strongly enough this double-disc compilation of Melbourne based noise artists. Seriously. Noise has been boring me of late, but this has rejuvenated my interest in a genre that I was starting to feel stagnant for me.
If I hadn’t recognised some of the names on the back of this deliciously packaged release I probably wouldn’t have bought it. Marco Fusinato is a visual artist/noisemaker that I’ve admired for some time (and years ago I used to work a shitty job with) (check out his awesome installation at ACCA a few years back), Rob Mason used to drum for the mighty Grey Daturas, and I’ve written about Ben Andrews’ (of My Disco) alter ego Blarke Bayer in a previous post.
What’s fucking awesome about Knife Culture, especially given it’s a compilation (which I generally avoid because they usually feel like bunch of random tracks slapped together) is that Sabbatical has put real thought into the track listing to ensure each piece flows on from the next, and that each disc has its own character arc. So many noise records feel like improvised recordings chucked together and released willy nilly. Not this.
At 29 songs spread over two discs, it’s impossible to provide a decent sense of Knife Culture’s scope, but some standout moments include: a super slow burner by Wife, that starts off with spasmodic fuzz and then cuts to silence before gently building into a comforting drone; a shimmering whirr by Justin K Fuller that sounds like Emeralds smoking crack with that Richard Pinhas/Merzbow collaboration; spooky rattles, crunches and feedback from the Bleach Boys; Marco Fusinato turning guitar debris into a sharp blast of distorted gunk; blown-out walls of noise from Screwtape; a playful collage by Steve Law that makes me think of early Merzbow; and a hollowed out, grim and frosty dirge from Krystoffkrvstoffiston.
Nothing on Knife Culture stretches out much further than the 7 or 8 minute mark, and every piece on here is stronger for it. Each track feels focused on a specific concept, which enriches the listening experience. I’m sure there are plenty of Australian readers rolling their eyes at this post but I urge you to check this out. I doubt you’ll be disappointed and I think that if Sabbatical can keep up with releases of this quality, Australian noise merchants might find themselves appearing on the world map. Hell, the guy at Polyester Records raved about this when I took it up to the counter, so if you don’t want to take my word for it, take his instead.
Posted in Ben Andrews, Blarke Bayer, Bleach Boys, Bone Sheriff, Experimental, Justin K Fuller, Krystoffkrvstoffiston, Marco Fusinato, Releases 2011, Rob Mason, Wife
Eternal Tapestry / Sun Araw: Night Gallery
Thrill Jockey (2011)
Improvised live on American radio and then edited into digestible chunks, this collaboration between the mesmerising Sun Araw and (the unfamiliar to me) Eternal Tapestry is a psychedelic freak out, maaaan. It’s all Coyotes and Eagles stalking arid deserts with watery mirages on the horizon, while glistening snakes curl around Peyote trees.
Don’t go into this expecting much of Sun Araw’s dubbed out jams because Night Gallery is more rooted in the hazy rock of Acid Mothers Temple and Religious Knives. This is to be expected I guess, given the man behind Sun Araw is collaborating with an actual band. Night Gallery eases up on the delay pedals, reverb and repetition in exchange for wind instruments and conventional drumming.
None of this is a bad thing though. Night Gallery shifts from doodling ambience to rock grooves with enough quirkiness to hold your imagination for a 40 minute ride that culminates in a beautiful, extended rumination on soothing organs and panicky flutes. Night Gallery won’t go down in music history but it‘s the perfect companion to Quaaludes and ponchos, and at the moment it suits me just fine.
Necro Deathmort: Music of Bleak Origin
Distraction Records (2011)
The internet might tell you that Necro Deathmort are some sort of Hip-Hop Black Metal hybrid, but don’t believe the hype, as Public Enemy would say. Music of Bleak Origin might open with a head-nodding riddim but the listener is quickly thrown into doomier and more industrial territory. This is a Post Rock soundtrack with some neat little tricks thrown in to keep things interesting.
Temple of Juno flirts with grime infused beats before it unleashes droning guitars and whirring electronics, and then closes out like an Acid techno meltdown. In Binary mixes dark Jazz in the vein of Bohren and der Club of Gore with stunning doomscapes indebted to Nadja.
Necro Deathmort are at their best when the electronics take a back seat, the beat slows to a crawl and the guitars are allowed to drone away in thick slabs of blackened muck, as they do on The Heat Death of Everything which ends in a gorgeous cacophony of guitars detuning themselves into oblivion. But the album is let down on the middle run of tracks where gothic Industrial takes over, creating a nightclub scene for people in eyeliner and platform boots.
It’s obvious this duo likes the balance between Industrial cheese and shoegazy doom. Necro Deathmort’s previous record is called This Beat is Necrotronic, if that tells you anything about where their head is at. Thankfully, the majority of Music of Bleak Origin falls into the doom category, albeit an electro-fied take on doom, and as long as they stay focused on that element I’m willing to keep listening.
Battles – Gloss Drop
Warp Records (2011)
I wanted to hate this record. Isn’t that ridiculous? Battles’ early eps were overhyped and lifeless, according to this here unqualified blogger, but they gained a member and their debut full length Mirrored turned out to be an awe inspiring disco-Einstein romp. I fell in love with Battles even more after witnessing them recreate the record’s complexities live.
Then they lost a member and I thought it was all over. My suspicions seemed justified when I heard Ice Cream, the sugary first single released after their return as a three piece. But I became intrigued enough to give the album a crack after I saw the single’s hilarious film clip. Now I cant stop listening to it.
Gloss Drop might not carry the mystery and intrigue of Battles’ earlier works but it’s a whole lot more fun. It takes the bounce of what’s become their signature song, Atlas and cranks the dial up to 11. This is a calypso orgy bastardised by Crunk vibes and heavy metal virtuosity. What this means is that I have no real idea how to describe Gloss Drop so I’ll just improvise. Its flamboyant. Borderline arrogant in its complexity. It’s almost classical in the number of layers that make up each track.
Gloss Drop is John Stanier’s record; his dexterous drum skills provide much of the album’s personality, its light and shade. Take Africastle for example, where a quarter of the way in a drum roll ends not in a cymbal crash but a bum note plonked on a piano; or when Stanier purposely drops out of rhythm and then slowly slips back into time during Futura‘s breakdown. The guy is a drum machine, literally.
Gloss Drop is a happier record than the band’s previous efforts but that doesn’t make it any less engaging or credible. There’s still no telling what’s man and what’s programmed, besides those incredible drums which are definitely man. Battles still sound like hybrid of every post-something band of the last 30 years (does that make them a future-something band?) and as far as I’m concerned it proves that Mirrored wasn’t an anomaly. Thumbs up.
Skull Defekts: Peer Amid
Thrill Jockey (2011)
Throw a cow bell behind even the most atonal guitar lick and the power of ‘groove’ naturally takes over. It works with other percussive elements too, and that’s what The Skull Defekts teach us on Peer Amid. I think they want the message to be deeper than that, given Lungfish singer Daniel Higgs has joined the Swedish group to give psycho-spiritual sermons, but there’s no ignoring the powerful rhythms that guide his voice.
If you haven’t heard Skull Defekts before, imagine if The Cramps discovered Indian ragas while snorting Krautrock’s ashes in Berlin galleries with Sonic Youth during the late eighties. The riffs are simple mantras that drone out from wobbly, open tuned, sitar-like guitars, occasionally garnished with a digital flourish. Notes are regularly bent out of tune in homage to Sonic Youth’s days of interfering with their instruments using screwdrivers and such. The drums are a metronomic but bouncy force dressed in tribal percussion.
Songs like the title track, and No More Always are warped rockers. Meanwhile In Majestic Drag is a threatening jam of atonal fuzz and thundering drums where Higgs squeals, moans and yelps incoherently like a shaman losing his fucking mind. The band pare things back to a single haunting chord on The Silver River, which they allow to ring out for a few beats at a time while Higgs ‘oms’ in unison. It’s spooky, almost supernatural, but also a soothing break from the rest of the record.
If you’ve heard any other Skull Defekts records you’ll notice how significant Higgs’ effect is on Peer Amid. His Bela Lugosi vocal approach and demented self-help rants give the band a powerful and ominous tone which sets this apart from their earlier stuff. It’s bucket loads of fun too. Skull Defekts have been doing this for a long time, and are also known for more experimental vinyl releases delving into drone and noise, which unfortunately I haven’t heard. I need to get my hands on some of those. Meanwhile, you need to get your hands on a copy of Peer Amid.
Panda Bear: Tomboy
Paw Tracks (2011)
There aren’t many people making music this joyous nowadays. And of those that are, not many can do it without sounding horribly false, synthetic and cringe worthy. Panda Bear and his Animal Collective pals have a knack for making uplifting music that doesn’t come off trite. It’s their willingness to embrace pop without forgoing their noisy, experimental roots that keeps their shit fresh. So is Tomboy a worthy successor to Panda’s absofuckinglutely delightful Person Pitch record from 2007? Well that’s dangerous territory we’re getting into.
Person Pitch is so unique in its sound and vibe that trying to recapture its magic would have been a deathwish for Mr Lennox, not to mention that retreading ground isn’t the Animal Collective way. And still, it’s impossible to hear Tomboy without thinking about its predecessor. I’m not making excuses here, this a solid album and Lennox is crazy skilled at sewing together unconventional sounds into a warm and comfortable blanket.
Tomboy‘s songs are shorter, concise and focused. Rhythm has a major focus but the beats are never conventional, everything’s dubbed out and blown out into a lazy mirage. Even when there’s no drums (sampled or otherwise) the music is collaged together in head-nodding arrangements. The Beach Boys harmonies, a major strength of Panda’s have been pushed to the fore which is both a blessing and a curse; the vocal emphasis scrubs out the dreamy lo-fi charm of Person Pitch, and yet I keep catching myself humming Tomboy‘s melodies. And each time I hear this record I find a new squelch, gurgle or flutter that surprises and amazes me. Panda is emerging as a major force within Animal Collective, not that I think he’s consciously trying to outshine the rest of his gang. Tomboy stands on its own, outside both the Collective and Person Pitch. If you can, then you should judge it that way.