The Ghost: The Hole
Tombed Visions (2016)
I know next to nothing about The Ghost. I stumbled across a review in Tristian Bath’s consistently top-notch Spool’s Out column in The Quietus, which opened with a quote from Tombed Visions, the label that released this cassette: “This is the new Queer improv and it is unreal how fucking good it is.”
New Queer improv? I’m in!
This 40 minute avant-jazz freak out ain’t for the faint hearted. It’s restless and abrasive, and even its quietest moments are angry as hell, which is perfectly justified against an opening monologue warning that homosexuals will destroy the fabric of society. The Hole was released pre-Trump, but listening to it now this piece of 1950s propaganda supporting a white, Christian, heterosexual patriarchy strikes home harder than ever. Its fear mongering message could be applied to any group bearing the label of ‘Other’ – black, muslim, female, the list goes on….
Perhaps my favourite thing about The Hole is that you rarely hear such abrasive, experimental music being made by Queer artists. The scrunching sax, collapsing drum kit and junkyard rubble are a far cry from the spandex and mirrorball cheese of most ‘gay’ music. There is absolutely nothing Camp about The Ghost, nothing sexual either. Even Harsh Wall Noise artist Richard Ramirez, perhaps The Ghost’s closest sonic relative, cultivates a Tom of Finland aesthetic drenched in cheap thrills.
I realise I’ve done little to describe the actual sound of this tape, and to be honest I’m not sure sound is the main point of this release, but as a sonic reference point The Hole calls to mind Sun Ra’s wildest freak outs minus the funk. I’m reminded of the Art Ensemble of Chicago as well, but way, way heavier. The muscular Saxophone work of Mats Gustafsson is also present, without his sense of groove. The Ghost combine all of these references into violent cauldron of political revolt. And their protest is absolutely thrilling to listen to.
Phirnis & Trium Circulorum: Solitary Shards Split
Trium Circulorum (2016)
While Trium Circulorum is a new name to me, I picked up this split cassette based on the involvement of Phirnis. Dave and I have chatted about this Austrian based artist on The Antidote a couple of times now. Previous releases have deftly combined musicality with abstraction and electronica, but his contribution to Solitary Shards is a glorious collage of noise eras past. A series of vignettes that can only be listened to as a whole. Trium Circulorum’s side is awesome too.
Phirnis opens up side A with some Merzbow crunch that exhales into a rhythmic pulse, and then blooms into a flock of birds settling into the trees at sunset. Further on we get the cavernous sound of delay drenched feedback echoing into nothingness. And, at the 19 minute mark an unencumbered head bursting wall of harsh noise that switches into a cracked and decayed transmission from somewhere beyond. He finishes with what sounds like a washing machine or dishwasher, something mechanical but watery, all distorted and frayed and fading out into tape hiss.
Phirnis mentioned to me on Twitter that he really wanted to explore some old school Noise on this release. That vibe definitely shines through. But he manages to do this without smashing your face in, as many records did in the hey days of Noise. His series of sound explorations are a playful homage to the scene as well as shitloads of fun for your ears.
On the flipside, Germany’s Trium Circulorum conjures up a serious dark ambient drone. He traps the listener deep in the bowels of some cave-like abandoned subway where air vibrates through rust riddled ducts, and unexplained things rattle and scatter in the shadows. Occasionally a pipe loses steam, a metallic clank skitters out of the gloom, a low vibration lurks around the corner. This is 30 minutes of blackened unease akin to Abruptum’s quieter moments, or even Burial Hex’s Initiations.
I think the rumours are true. There’s a ‘new’ noise scene burgeoning. It’s been 10 years since Wolf Eyes jumped the shark releasing two albums on Sub Pop and scoring a slot on Lollapalooza. It felt like things simmered down after that. Pete Swanson went mutant techno. Dominick Fernow poured acid over new wave. William Bennett began exploring African rhythms.
10 years isn’t a long time, but lately it feels like artists are revisiting the tropes of noise and exploring the sound with less emphasis on volume and abrasion. Solitary Shards is a fantastic example of this.
Frank Bretschneider: Isolation
Minimalist music demands patience and focus. There is no room for casual listening. It’s all or nothing. Submit and engage, or don’t bother at all. Isolation is the perfect name for a record that can only truly be enjoyed in solitude, isolated from your surroundings.
Slip on some headphones, press play and sink into Frank Bretschneider’s muffled world of microdrones and flocks of static. Follow him down under the water, where the reverb has been sucked out of all sound. A singular hum; a subtle bass vibration; a wisp of digital feedback. These tiny noises resonate in the very centre of your brain. There are no bearing points. They simply exist, vibrating gently, keeping you buoyant but senseless.
But this isn’t the extreme end of minimalism explored by the likes of Chicago veteran Kevin Drumm (check out his awe inspiring Trouble record released in 2014). Every so often Isolation’s facade cracks and reality snaps back into focus. Like the moment halfway through White Light when Bretschneider suddenly cuts off his sustained note and speckles of reverb ricochet off into space, opening up your entire sound world.
The dance between such subtle sounds plays tricks on your mind. At times you hear melody, faintly, over there in the corner amongst the space dust. But as quick as you notice, it’s gone again like chasing butterflies in a dream.
That’s how Bretschneider keeps your attention. He’s a tease. Sounds bloom into stains of hiss and static, then dry out into steamy tendrils of nothingness again. Repeated listens reveal that Isolation isn’t quite the minimalist work you might have originally thought.
Roly Porter: Lifecycle of a Massive Star
This year I’ve listened to more great music than I’ve been able to write or think about. Perhaps it’s my involvement in the Antidote Podcast, perhaps 2013 has been a great year for weirdo music, more likely it’s a combination of both. This Roly Porter record is one of those gems that almost slipped me by.
It starts off slowly, rising from the murk in a swirl of synths. It’s like the soundtrack to a thousand alien spacecraft descending on earth while its population stands mesmerised in disbelief. From there we wander through fragments of deconstructed Jungle and Rave references, calling to mind Lee Gamble’s sonic experiments. Rhythm is eschewed for ambience penetrated by blasts of noise and sonic shrapnel. The entire monster moves at the pace of Doom but the feeling is one of meloncholic catharsis rather than crushing defeat.
If there’s a noise scene at the moment it’s dug it’s way back underground (probably hibernating for a revival helmed by a new cast of misfits), and instead we get artists like Porter applying the aesthetics of noise to an electronic world with closer ties to rave culture and chill out rooms. Pete Swanson, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement and a large chunk of Pan’s amazing catalogue are pursuing similar interests. Roly Porter is another fantastic example of this shift. Don’t let Life Cycle Of A Massive Star pass you by.
Body / Head: Coming Apart
I’ll try to talk about this record without going into some sort of sentimental Sonic Youth meltdown.
I was nervous about this Coming Apart. The hype was intense. And I treated it with great scepticism at first, almost like I didn’t want to believe it could be decent. And yet I listened to Coming Apart twice in a row today. Not because I felt like I had too so I could write about it, but because it’s actually quite good. Oh yes, it’s a challenge and it’s unlikely that you’re going to succumb to its charms on the first listen. Coming Apart is too sparse and aimless for any of that. But like all truly great music persistence is key.
Kim Gordon and Bill Nace serenade each other through improvised guitar work. They complement each other beautifully, one ratcheting up murky soundscapes while the other plays snaking melodies that create a misty atmosphere that’s difficult to see through, weightless and floating around all stoned and beautiful. The fact the guitars were recorded analogue style – Kim comes out one speaker while Bill haunts the other – adds to the disorienting nature of proceedings. When someone stops doodling, the audio world suddenly falls lopsided and for a second you’ll wonder if your headphones/speakers are on the fritz. I love that about Coming Apart, that it’s so human sounding and raw. There’s a lot of similarities between this and Sonic Youth’s SYR releases (dammit, how can you NOT reference that band?). Partly in the (seemingly) unedited and live sound but more so in the aimless guitar noodling, the lack of resolution and if that’s not your cup o’ tea than I suggest you look elsewhere for kicks. But me, I love this sort of stuff.
The most striking thing about Coming Apart is Kim’s vocals, in particular the honesty of her lyrics. She whispers, croons, scowls, yelps, yells and even barks about mistresses, actresses, murderesses and girls pissing like dogs to mark their territory. It’s nothing new for Gordon to sing about the Femme Fatale but this time her lead characters aren’t using their sexual prowess to fuck over white, male, corporate America or being subjected to the clammy gaze of a lascivious male audience. This time her female characters are sinister, predatory, praying mantis-like and conniving. I’m amazed that she’s allowed her personal life to shine through like this, but to be honest it’s fucking refreshing and she sounds more confronting and powerful than she has in years.
Despite Gordon’s abrasive (at times) vocal performance, Coming Apart is a very dreamy experience. It’s a complex maze to get lost in, largely because it demands your attention. there’s no dipping into and out of this record. You’re either in it for the long haul or you’re not. People with short attention spans should move the back of the line. Everyone else, have some patience and enjoy.
Posted in Bill Nace, Body/Head, Experimental, Experimental Rock, Kim Gordon, Releases 2013, Sonic Youth
Tagged Bill Nace, Body/Head, Coming Apart, Experimental, Experimental Rock, Kim Gordon, Noise rock
Kareem: Porto Ronco
The Death of Rave (2013)
It begins by oozing out of your speakers, and gently simmering in a murky puddle. Bubbles of radio miasma drift off and burst quietly in the shadows. The atmosphere is warm but airless and desperate. A series of electronic groans takes over and leads us towards a beautiful Kevin Drumm style drone, power lines crackle in the distance while feedback rings in and out of consciousness. The drone becomes more menacing, discordant, rattling. It mutates through crushing distortion, a static-y hum and detuned television reception before quietly drifting away on a single, ringing note.
This record is fucking amazing. Seriously. Patrick Stottrop, aka Kareem has been around since the 90s making spooky hip hop riddims and damaged industrial techno but it’s this drastic change of direction that’s grabbed my attention. Apparently inspired by a deceased relative and named after small European town where his grandfather lived, Porto Ronco is void of rhythm but overflows with ambience. It’s a unique record but if you think of Mike Shiflet, maybe a little of Ben Frost and the least menacing moments of Haxan Cloak you’re somewhere in the same shadow as Kareem on Porto Ronco.
I’ve been listening to the 45 minute mp3 version of Porto Ronco, but there’s also an edited, 30 minute version available on vinyl. Would this shorter, broken up version lose its effect? I don’t know, maybe. You can pick up both for the one price on Boomkat. Do yourself a favour.
Animal Collective: Strawberry Jam
A few nights ago I saw Animal Collective play live at The Forum in Melbourne. It was a great show, an amorphous pastiche of songs from right across their career. Every track bled into the next via noisy and atmospheric improvisations that harked back to the chaotic nature of their early recordings. Every song they played was warped beyond its recorded format, which was as exciting for us, the audience as it was for the band themselves. And when they played Fireworks, possibly my favourite Animal Collective song ever, I realised just how fucking much I love the album from whence it came – Strawberry Jam.
There are Animal Collective fans who struggle with this record for its significant change in direction. Its synthetic sound is light years away from the Shamanic climaxes of records like Here Comes the Indian. If you ask me, that’s why it’s so freaking awesome.
It’s as if they translated the magic and whimsy of what they’d become renowned for and processed it into something gelatinous, sugary and wonderfully artificial. It’s the sound of thousands of different colored plastics melted down in the sun and oozing together into swirls of candied goodness. Strawberry Jam is a series of 4-5 minutes songs that bubble and froth in unexpected ways, never quite grooving, never quite soothing, never quite breaking the mould but never sounding like anything else put to record either.
From the demented Calypso jam of Chores, to the evaporating electro bounce of Peacebone, to the sparkling collages of Number 1 and Cuckoo, Strawberry Jam covers a huge amount of ground in a short amount of time. And while this couldn’t be classified as noise in the sense of being abrasive, discordant or unstructured, Strawberry Jam CAN be considered noise in the sense that it has no peers, and only the vaguest of reference points. Those who like adventures will find plenty of unexplored territory here.