The Best Noise Music in May: Diaphragmatic and Josh Millrod/Shingles



[Ed. Note: In Please Enjoy Responsibly, columnist Raymond Cummings tracks down the best noise music of the month, while keeping an eye out for the best of recent months and saluting noise triumphs of yesteryear.]

Earlier this month, I attended the 2014 Ende Tymes Festival in Brooklyn and overdosed on a shitload of noise. I also bought a bunch of CDs and cassettes, most of which were mind-blowing — and for this month’s column, I’ll focus on my favorites from those sundry merch-table scores.

See also: Highlights From Ende Tymes Festival 2014

The result is an interesting mix of Ende Tymes 2014 vets and scene forces who weren’t on the lineup this year. Indianapolis-based Diaphragmatic was on the Ende Tymes 2013 bill, while the Sick Llama half of Ohio/Michigan concern Stagnant Fluids slew Ende Tymes 2011. The rest killed it on varying levels earlier this month: Shingles and Josh Millrod (each half of Brooklyn’s Grasshopper kickin’ it Speakerboxx/The Love Below style), Japan’s Hiroshi Hasegawa on a split with Sweden’s Positive Adjustments, Brooklyn’s Megan Moncrief as Lazurite, and NYC-based duo Limax Maximus.

Stagnant Fluids, Laboured Breath (Alien Passengers, 2014)

One side of Laboured Breath (Alien Passengers) plays like its name reads, sort of: it unfolds, uncomfortably, like a slow-motion reenactment of a lung or system collapsing under its own weight with nowhere to go but down, down, down. The earth beneath keeps crumbling; the foundations continue to give way, infinitely. The other side – the sides aren’t labeled, for whatever reason – at first suggests an underwater recording of a swordfish slicing through a marina of creaky, barnacle-studded shifts during a light tropical storm, then the above-water experience of that heavy weather, then a frenzied, fractal jabberwocky of electronic mayhem. Overall here, Stagnant Fluid generate what might best be described as an atmosphere of erosion: sometimes virulent and sometimes benign, but always capable of drawing the listener into a specific sphere.

Lazurite, Secular Geometry (Popular Chant, 2011)

“The Moon Reversed,” the woozy opening stomp on Lazurite’s great Secular Geometry, sends me reeling back to Earth Grid, Zomes’ 2010 stone-drone classic. But since Megan Moncrief has a far broader imagination and sense of adventure, Geometry evinces a measured sense of wanderlust: submerged runes at dusk on “Forty Circles, Each Side,” kazoo’d-out typewriter blear submitting to mania on “We Don’t Have Time For A Hypothesis, Science Is Fleeting,” flickering minimalist murmurs for “Li Symmetries.” On stage at Ende Tymes 2014, she employed a bow, a ukelin, and a series of other tools to build a sound that was positively macro, but on this tape she was operating on a sub-dermal, cerebral level, wandering the line between folky madrigal and sublimely abstract; there are melodies everywhere here, but they’re lovingly smeared and threshed.

Hiroshi Hasegawa/Positive Adjustments, Cryptic Void (41B, 2013)

In my Ende Tymes 2014 write-up, I waxed rhapsodic about Hiroshi Hasegawa’s lunar eclipse of a set; it seemed inevitable that the prospect of experiencing the man on record would be a comparative disappointment. Sadly, I was kind of right; the first half of Cryptic Void, Hasegawa’s split release with Sweden’s Positive Adjustments, can’t measure up to the punishing waves of desolation he let loose on a rapt, (mostly) reverent crowd at the Silent Barn a few weeks back. But it comes damned close, and that has to be enough unless I can find a way to pay him to hang out in the kitchen/dining room area of my apartment, rattling the building to its foundations and boldly alienating my neighbors. The playbook for “Cruel Street Goddess” is about what you’d expect: the gingerly composed unleashing of every power electronics squirt, gush, Taze, and alarm known to humanity, with an intensity that the uninitiated will mistake for randomness. “Higher Than Mountain Heaven” opts instead for full-court-press noise saturation; you’re less likely to have an eye poked out, but the churn obliterates any and all vestiges of rational thought. Did you happen to catch Days of Future Past? Did you see the fucking Sentinels? This is the sound of dozens of them roasting you alive.

Krister Bergman, who records as Positive Adjustments, takes a more fire and brimstone approach to noise that involves demonic exclamations, the aroused corkscrewing of metallic sounds, dub-like loops you have to strain to detect, liquidy sloshes, massive, sustained fireballs, braces of broiling feedback, and unsettling stretches of quiescence; the effect is not like being teleported, with very short notice, to many different areas in a galaxy in the midst of a Big Bang.

Limax Maximus, s/t (Arealon Musique, 2014)

This self-titled long player (Arealon Musique) differs from the duo’s Ende Tymes 2014 set in that a multitude and depth of sound sources seem to be the goal on aluminum; live, Thermos Unigarde and Robert L. Pepper seemed to concentrate more on volume and sometimes violent dynamic segue, though they were generous scene-setters. Weighing the two, I prefer the LP, which definitely rewards headphone listening.

Because it involves a few kitchen sinks full of samples and ideas, pigeonholing this sound is foolhardy – the moods shift as mercurially as the weather even as textures bleed from one movement to another. For instance, take “Driving Cognate.” It starts with a threshing effect at alternating speeds before dealing in some very odd, very disorienting synthesizers that lead the listener into a dark, trippy maze; throughout, the disembodied, almost spectrally distended chuckle of the brunette half of Beavis & Butthead is piped in, diced, and echoed. “Web Condensation” feels more inherently spiritual, but equally busy and ultimately as nightmarish; its like a New Age interpretation of early Noxagt.

“Kurzy Mien,” the last and longest track, is the one I’m most partial to, maybe because it seems to find Unigarde and Pepper at their most playful. It’s a galloping, herky-jerky romp of DJ swipe and stretched-time vocals that lets some welcome sunlight into the mix near the end, then exits with a coda verging on the meditative. All of which reminds me: it’s time to unearth my WZT Hearts and My Cat Is An Alien records.

Josh Millrod/Shingles, Mugen (Hausu Mountain, 2013)

I’ve made no secret, here and elsewhere, of my affection for Brooklyn’s Grasshopper, and watching EVI player Jesse DeRosa and trumpeter Josh Millrod lay down an annihilating floor set was one of Ende Tymes 2014’s great pleasures. Nonetheless, I’m almost more intrigued by what these two get up on a split cassette release on Hausu Mountain, which Millrod handling one side under his birth name and DeRosa filling the flip as Shingles.

On his side, Millrod offers a less bombastic take on the signature Grasshopper sound, feeding an increasing array of repeated trumpet figures – some frisky, some somber – through a gradually deepening thicket of effects over the course of 15 minutes. The frequencies bleed and bristle, and the versions of himself Millrod introduced previously swarm, in concert with the resulting distortion, into something lumbering, belligerent, buzzsaw. Only when a new, searing melody emerges from the flames do you realize you’ve been played.

Wrought via Steiner EVI and a Boss looper, the Shingles side boasts a cascading, fountain-of-youth warmth. A friend recently introduced me to Roy Masters’ meditation recordings, and this music seems to fit right into that particular mold: bright, radiant waves of tone that overlap and expand in apparent perpetuity. I’m reminded a bit of Laurie Spiegel and very early Boards of Canada. There’s something to be said, certainly, for an outlay of positivity with an insidious undercurrent of dread, but this – happily, to my ears, anyway – sidesteps that dread, instead extending an open palm and smiling beatifically.

Diaphragmatic, Fear Biters (Alien Passengers, 2013)

Diaphragmatic is a project featuring Dayton, Ohio-based Nate Tandy – also of Orgasmic Response Unit and Half Glass – performing “film projector fan and reel-to-reel.” If the veracity of the tools used to ply his trade is questionable, the results are anything but. Over the course of 20 burst-knuckle minutes, Fear Biters (Alien Passengers) elbows its way through the maddening crowd and down your gullet with the sort of nonsensical, flayed-septum fury that characterizes early Sightings recordings, where it’s impossible for the layman to say where machine and man end and madness begins.

If I were inclined to be reductive, I would say that it sounds like a howling Bane keying an interstellar spaceship with a drill bit with too much enthusiasm – but this tape is more complicated and convoluted than that, a squalid, squalling undertow that loiters in a no-wave alleyway for a few minutes before submitting to a whip-lashing torrent of scrapes, heaves, and wreckage – borne, possibly, of a godforsaken guitar, then misshapen via electronics – with inhuman utterances stewing along in volcanic anti-harmony. The only fault to be found: Side B of this thing is blank, as though Tandy were daring the listener to dare, just to dare, motherfuckers, to step to his world-ending Side A game.