Winter’s winding down, Spring is on the wind, and Please Enjoy Responsibly is back to get you fired before you can even start dipping into that sweet, sweet 2014 vacation time. Plug in those over-priced, over-sized headphone, and let’s get ourselves real, real gone.
AN APPETITE-TEASING ASSORTMENT OF RICHES: DEATHBOMB ARC, SELF-DEFEATING SOUNDWAVES, PENNY ROYALE
Some consciousness-concaving food for non-thought: Deathbomb Arc’s for-charity Evil comp collates nasty noise and guts-busted hip-hop, Self-Defeating Soundwaves’ Apathy Is Ascribed to the Modest Man brings on a steam-rollering fugue of power electronics, and lost Penny Royale treasure Go Wilde strip-mines an aural no-man’s land. Dig in.
NON-NYC NOISE ALBUM OF THE MONTH: TOTAL LIFE
Burner (Cassauna) is a classic long-game con: ostensibly polarizing enough that, if so inclined, one may slip into an assumptive trance two or three minutes into the first side, if one is foolhardy. The default setting here is a jagged elephantine throb that Total Life-r Kevin Doria massages into near perpetuity, with Northern Lights synths burning up the air in the background; the miracle is that each successive reverberation is distinct enough that the attentive listener will come away with a sense of narrative progress or shifting continuity. Side B takes the baseline established by Side B and drastically shortens the distance between each throb, so that instead of a porcupine’s array of quills you’re staring down a single quivering spike the side of an F-10 fighter jet. By the end, this mess somehow is simulating a gong effect. If I get stuck in traffic in a blizzard anytime this winter, this is the jam I want to have at hand. Chicago, represent.
NYC NOISE ALBUM OF THE MONTH: RAAJMAHAL
As part of Redhook’s Flower Orgy, Carla Baker willfully contributes to the delinquency of our nation’s impressionable youth (read: rad sun-bleached junk folk). As a part of Decimus, Key of Shame, and the No-Neck Blues Band – and, on occasion, Sightings – NYC’s Pat Murano is arguably liable for tinnitus insurance claims up and down the East Coast (read: cold-Tasing your equilibrium on the regular, in too many ways to tally).
So it’s a curious thing to have to report that Charybdis/Scylla, the duo’s new tape as Raajmahal, sounds a lot like the immediate aftermath of an especially insane pillow fight, where the combatants are slumped over sofabeds and the air is thick with down feathers. This is sonic driftwood in the best sense of the phrase, loose-laced and haunting in a way that suggests that those qualities weren’t what the participants were even aiming for; they just commingled their talents, and wound up with this result. Murano spins a gossamer web of acoustic gold, micro electronics, and samples; Baker feeds incantations through an echo filter when the mood strikes her. At times they stumble upon melodies, or melodies happen to surprise them. At moments the bottom drops out of the music all together, as if the group’s muse abandoned them on the side of the loneliest country road ever, before they find their thread again. And make no mistake: pretty as Murano’s cat’s cradle phrasings and scrapings can be and emotionally plangent as Baker’s ululations are, this is skeletal, interior-facing music; it’s also as achingly beautiful as rainbow paintball splatters on a condemned Quonset hut in Arizona in August.
STANDALONE TRACK OF THE MONTH: ELIZABETH VELDON
In the autumn of 2012, the terrific U.K. imprint Black Circle launched Black Circle Field, an offshoot dedicated to sub-textual field recordings. Of late, I’ve particularly enjoyed “An Empty Room,” from label head Elizabeth Veldon: fifty Tascam DR-40 enabled minutes capturing flickering snatches of conversation so distant that they’re unparsable marooned by oceans of atmospheric, pressurized hiss; it’s the ultimate headphone recording, in the sense that laptop-speaker listening renders it inaudiable to the extent that, otherwise, you might as well just tune in to the cosmic anti-frequencies of the room where you’re keeping your computer company.
The difference between the original “An Empty Room” and “An Empty Room (Redux)” is night and day; if the original was an extended, compelling slice of nothing, the remake is a compressed, concussive industrial study. Here, dry beats slide, scrape, and shuffle like balls in a lotto-machine hopper or choreographed pinions pummeling drywall. Over the course of this fifteen-minute piece, Veldon toys with intensities, cycling from a mottled, peek-a-boo playfulness early on through to a sharper-edged, airtight approach as the midpoint nears, inclining the volume all the while; by the conclusion, the sputtering feedback that opened the door is enthropicly ushering us all back out onto streets as unforgiving as January in Juno, Alaska. It’s not dissimilar to listening to a malfunctioning cyborg wolverine trying to claw its way out of a shipping crate – not that I’ve had that particular experience.
INTO THE WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYBACK MACHINE: DEAD MACHINES
There is one right way to listen to Dead Machine’s Futures: on a good boombox that is situated on the floor where you are laying, pillow beneath your head, in absolute darkness and stillness. To absorb this classic in a dismissive or cavalier way is to disrespect it and to disrespect yourself; I’m not a violent or confrontational person 99% of the time, but I will argue with strangers on this point because I am right.
A vivid roll-up of music concrete, noise, test signals, and distant alarms, Futures plays like an experimental movie for the ear, one where there are no recognizable characters or linear narrative. Wraiths snap and ripple, snaking manically in unlimited three-dimensional space within the stereo plane – so that sometimes they seem very distant, another entity’s problem, and at other moments they are frighteningly near.
The nature of these wraiths changes constantly. You know how the rings surrounding Saturn seem solid, but close up, they’re made up of billions of asteroids? Sometimes the wraiths are made of vampire bats, or nano-machines, or ocean-going steamers blaring into port; sometimes they’re shape-shifting razors or hijacked Emergency Broadcast System exercises. Sometimes the music isn’t even matter as we understand it, but a sort of anti-matter that’s translating the listener’s neuroses into something bristling and bruised just long enough to confer sheer terror, before moving on to some other related extreme.
A refreshing constant here is a high degree of anti-continuity: there is never the sense of listening to the same distention of reality from one moment to the next to the next. The worst thing I can say about this album is that there is no way to stream any of its tracks online, which is absolutely criminal and unfair. Gold standard, my friends: gold standard. If this is what Michigan sounds like, I need to take a road trip soon.
A WHITMAN’S SAMPLER OF SUNSHINE BLITZES TO SEE YOU HOME OKAY: RIZA EXILE, TANNER GARZA, EXCEPTER, SONIC YOUTH
Sunshine is something that’s in short supply this time of year. Foreboding horizons, laden clouds, and asymmetrical sheets of snow always seem to be on the menu, and even when our favorite star does peak its head out to say hello, the weather drains it of any degree of warmth, welcome, or nourishment: a white, post-nuclear orb of glower. Having Christmas up ahead helps mitigate the accompanying depression, but once we clear that, we’re left with a rather extreme emotional hinterland.
So in the spirit of sharing and pay-it forward humanism, I offer three substitutions for the manufactured radiance we’ve all been so desperately craving:
Cubist synthesizer phantasmagoria “Waking to the Sun” from Naked City Cinema member Riza eXile, which is very “Lord of the Dance” in its own abstract way
Lurching, illuminated scrambled New Age-y nugget “Washes Over Me” from Black Leather Jesus’ Tanner Garza
Excepter’s chip-chirp, pump-action head-trip “Maids,” off their forthcoming LP Familiar
Plus – what the hell – who doesn’t wanna revisit Sonic Youth’s “Plastic Sun” again, just for kicks?
If those weren’t reasons enough to shrug off the doldrums, consider these happenings: Sux By Suxwest, RVA Noise Fest III, Denver Noise Fest, and Ende Tymes IV. Ergo, let’s all join hands, sing “Kumbaya,” and cheer the fuck up.