Helm: Impossible Symmetry
Sorry. I’m going to be writing about 2012 records for months to come, I believe, because it was just such an amazing year for music. Especially experimental music. And fucking hell what a year it was for the Berlin based label Pan; Eli Keszler, Lee Gamble, NHK’Koyxen and that kick ass Aaron Dilloway/Jason Lescalleet collaboration. And then there’s this creepy record.
Helm is one Luke Younger, formerly a member of Birds of Delay. This is the first Helm record I’ve heard and I don’t know why I still haven’t chased down the two preceding this one. Impossible Symmetry trades in the same smoked out, eerie minimalism that former and current members of Wolf Eyes are dealing with in their solo projects these days. But Helm sounds more calculated, less DIY. Younger’s other career as a sound artist is an obvious influence here as he reconstructs the Industrial vibes of his London birthplace in delicious stereo sound. Machines clank along cobblestone streets and dislocated voices chitter-chatter in the distance while city-scape ambience hums gently in the darkest corners of shadowy lanes and alley ways. In Helm’s world life and urbanisation are present but always out of reach.
Occasionally the clutter slips into a rhythmic shuffle which segues into the next lonely passage. Or vague vapour trails of melody seep out of sewage grates. These tiny details are perfectly placed to tantalise us. Impossible Symmetry is a great example of the Noise’s recent shift beyond DIY bang-stuff-to-make-new-sounds aesthetic of the 2000s. More and more artists are taking the fundamentals of Noise and using that to toy with traditional musicality – be it dynamics, tone or composition. If you enjoyed Mike Shiflet’s absolutely stunning The Choir, The Army from last year, then Helm’s Impossible Symmetry will be right up your alley.
Pig destroyer: Book Burner
Relapse Records (2012)
I’m no Grindcore fiend by any means, but Pig Destroyer have always been different enough to appeal to a broader base of music nerds. When I saw them live back in 2007 there were kids in the crowd wearing Smiths t-shirts. At a fucking Grindcore show. Pig Destroyer have mentioned Bjork and Matthew Barney in their liner notes, and referenced the likes of William Burroughs and Bruce Springsteen in interviews. Despite looking like thugs, Pig Destroyer come from somewhere much more cerebral.
What Book Burner lacks in the bottom heavy production found on its ‘breakthrough’ predecessor Phantom Limb, it makes up for in dirty, grimy, puss infused, unwashed Hardcore infected Grind attitude. Personally I love Phantom Limb, it was such a leap forward in production and lyrical attitude, and while Book Burner harks back to the lo-fi storms of earlier releases (great records in themselves) it’s still slick as fuck and rips through 19 songs in 30 minutes.
New drummer Adam Jarvis syncs blast beats and rollicking double-kick rhythms with machine like precision while Scott Hull’s spastic, atonal but somehow groovy riffing cuts like a knife (how do they sound so heavy without a bass player?). Noise guy Blake Harrison supports the mayhem with rogue crunch, clatter and snippets of eerie conversation.
But it’s lead screamer JR Hayes and his death-chic lyrics that bring it all home. His voice is less distorted on Book Burner but he loses none of his intensity. Personally I love that he avoids the guttural voice farting so prevalent amongst Death Metal and Grindcore bands. His raspy, hardcore squawk is intense as fuck, especially once you’ve decoded his Brett Easton Ellis fucking Jim Thompson lyrical world. “I never saw that girl again, and it’s a shame. I just wanted to hold her, like an Anaconda.”
Grindcore might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and to be frank there’s little point preaching to the un-converted. People either ‘get it’ or they don’t. And yet, the slabs of guitar-noise produced by bands in this genre are often referenced by the noise mongers out there – John Weise, Merzbow, Lasse Marhaug have all mentioned Grind as an influence at one point or another. Pig Destroyer are at the top of heap – fans won’t be disappointed in Book Burner, and for the curious this is a good place to start.
Vatican Shadow: Ghosts of Chechnya
Hospital Productions (2012)
I’m going to kick this off with a shameless plug. Dave over at Ducks Battle Satan and I have started up a noise and experimental music podcast called The Antidote. Check out our site or download the first episode from iTunes. Expect discussions about new records, and even some older ones, along with interviews and other junk.
Dave and I live at opposite sides of Australia, so we’re recording via Skype which means one of us is always going to sound a bit tinny. But you know, if you’re a noise aficionado then I reckon you can handle a bit of digital decay, right? Especially when two eloquent and though provoking individuals are waxing lyrical about music from the outer fringes… umm, yeah, whatever. Check us out.
Of the three records we chat about in our inaugural episode, Ghosts of Chechnya is the one that’s ended up staying on my mind. Vatican Shadow is the new incarnation (another one!) of Dominick Fernow, he of Prurient fame. But if you’re expecting feedback screwed, hellish emo noise……don’t be disappointed. Vatican Shadow is like dance music for vampires in dank basements with mouldy walls and overflowing sewage drains. Ambient rhythms pound aimlessly, while synthesisers and aural scuzz float around in blackened clouds. Industrial percussion enters the mix at odd intervals and gives things a Warp-label edge.
Fernow’s change of direction isn’t all that surprising when you think of his involvement in Cold Cave, and some of the latter Prurient records such as Cocaine Death, Rose Pillar and especially Bermuda Drain. Instead, it was the military imagery that confounded me for being so at odds with his past aesthetics. We discussed this on The Antidote and afterwards I did a little extra research, which encouraged me to pay closer attention to Vatican Shadow’s track titles. “Snipers as a Breed tend to be Superstitious“, “Voices Came Crackling Across a Motorola Hand-Held” and “Chechnya’s Ghosts Loom Large in the Death of Former Spy“. The Vatican Shadow aesthetic stems from the media’s portrayal of war in the Middle East. The absurd way that war is horrifying, but also somewhat glorified. Fernow wears Middle East Camouflage gear when he plays live as Vatican Shadow.
I realised the synth lines and metronomic beats, which I originally thought were borrowed from 80’s horror films, are actually the soundtrack to some fucked up first-person warfare computer game. Lets all connect online and virtually shoot the shit out of the bad guys, who ever they are. Lets blow all those motherfuckers up, and dance a little while we’re doing it. Dominick Fernow isn’t angry and depressed about his insides anymore, he’s not making noise as a form of self-harm. Now he’s very aware of what’s happening in the world around him. He has made this shift very subtly, without any blatant statements. Does that make him some sort of weirdo artistic genius? I don’t fucking know. But there’s a whole ream of Vatican Shadow releases out there, and everything I’ve heard so far has been pretty great. So go buy some
Burial Hex: Book of Delusions (reissue)
Cold Spring (2012)
It kinda concerns me when I want to describe a record that I really like as Gothic. Thankfully I’m not talking eyeliner, capes and teased hair. No.
Originally released on vinyl, and now re-issued on cd with additional tracks from an earlier split with Zola Jesus, there’s something distinctly Gothic in the sense of art history and architecture about Book of Delusions. It’s in the choirs and violins that drift through the record. Its cavernous sound, as if it was recorded in a giant, 12th Century Church. Decaying altar pieces and frescoes come to life. Shards of dusty light sear though stone rose windows.
My only other experience with Burial Hex has been the four track drone epic, Initiations which I quite liked at the time, but fuck me this is so much better. The tracks on Book of Delusions are noisy but song-like in structure, at one point even slipping into a Public Image Ltd style jam. They’re painful and cathartic. Like Prurient with less synths. Main man Clay Ruby does some seriously anguished howling throughout on this record, which somehow merges nicely with the choirs and strings. The occasional drum beat, glacially paced and doom ridden, heightens the drama and adds to the gigantic sound.
Is this what Burial Hex sounds like on on other releases? Someone please confirm. Book of Delusions is almost a prefect storm of horror noise, drone and post-post rock. Most recommended.
Laurel Halo: Quarantine
Exploring the world of noise the way I have in the past four years or so, you start to forget that your definition of ‘noise’ is probably quite different to that of people who might not listen to music with an experimental edge. My partner heard me listening to Laurel Halo’s gorgeous Quarantine recently and he was confused. “It’s just noise with a girl singing over the top.” I guess on some level he’s right, but for a moment I was shocked at his reaction because I actually think this record is quite beautiful and mesmerising, and while it might have ‘arty’ overtones I’ve never thought of Quarantine as noisy.
But then, I’ve survived (and enjoyed) Merzbow’s Pulse Demon, and records by the likes of Cherry Point and Lasse Marhaug. In comparison Laurel Halo sounds like fucking Bambi trotting through a forest filled with butterflies and daffodils.
When I first started seeing Laurel Halo’s name I was hesitant to take on someone who on the surface might be seen as playing with a craze that’s getting a bit stale. It seems Oneohtrix Point Never is the new black, if you know what I mean. Until the day I happened to see Quarantine reviewed on yet another blog/music site and noticed that the record cover, which I thought depicted some cute, hyper-coloured cartoon rip-off was actually a group of school girls committing Hare Kari with Samurai swords. Blood and rainbows spraying everywhere.
I realised there was something more going on here.
Quarantine is a gelatinous creature. Each time you manage to grab hold of it, the music oozes through your fingers and forms a new pool of pink and purple goo. With the synth as her base instrument Halo builds soft clouds of drone and rhythmic melody heightened occasionally by her slightly out-of-tune and somewhat monotonous voice. The songs are shapeless for the most part, and although motifs and lyrical lines reoccur within each track there’s few identifiable verses and choruses. Often, tracks end abruptly or segue into a hazy mist before simply fading away.
Wow sounds like her voice has been sampled, pitch shifted and bent into a creepy avant choir. Carcass rides a throbbing bass surrounded by watery keys and strange alien computer rings with Halo occasionally interjecting something about a carcass in a non-human, squeaky voice. After four minutes thirty three seconds the tune simply stops. Earlier on, Thaw kicks off with an atonal hum as some sort of field recording bubbles to the surface and gives way to a pretty, triadic tune while Halo asks whether it’s raining and warns you not to get addicted to anything.
Laurel Halo makes curious music, it’s warm and fuzzy but weird. She’s being lumped in with the hypnagogic pop and synthesiser detritus gang, but Halo is definitely doing something all her own. I had three wisdom teeth removed a few weeks ago and Quarantine was my saviour. I didn’t need pain killers to float away in a haze.
Shit and shine: Le Grand Larance Prix
Riot Season (2012)
Shit and Shine are one of those bands that you don’t hear about a great deal. They drift along under the radar, going about their schtick, bouncing around in fucked up bunny masks, beating Black Sabbath riffage into Krautrock sculptures. They can ride a single idea for 25 minutes and somehow not be boring. They push boundaries without ever losing their sense of humour. Shit and Shine are one of those acts that only a handful of people listen to today, but which music kids of the future will be namedropping in interviews with Pitchfork.
For now, they’re just doing their own thing and being picked up on weirdo blogs and left-of-centre magazines. Le Grand Larance Prix is a cd reissue of a vinyl release and it ain’t your typical Shit and Shine record. Dare I say it’s their ambient record? Bass heavy chug has been abandoned for samples and synths, a loop-filled remix of their signature racket. Switching 2 Night Mode sounds like a party of forgetful stoners unaware the needle is stuck in a scratched groove. Typical of Shit and Shine’s perverse humour, the funky bass and dance-friednly 4/4 rhythm is erratically smashed up with blasts of distorted voice spruiking banal party tropes. “I can dig it!” Elsewhere, French’s Automotive is a meditation on Oneohtrix Point Never’s synthesized world ; How to Rattle a White Tailed Buck takes the stunted beats of Autechre down into a deep, dark k-hole, and the record’s closing number Klipp is a cute little homage to Nue! the pioneers of Krautrock.
It’s a diverse and sometimes challenging listen but is Le Grand Larance Prix any good? Yes. Yes it is.