Now, finally, the swooning scorch of summer is kicking in hard enough that we’re all pretty much ready for it to end, even as the pregame insanity of Election ’16 kicks into full, idiotic swing. In a better world, Hillary, Jeb, Bernie, Ben, Bobby, and all the rest would be forced to stake out positions on Stare Case and Lappetites and commission white papers on whether, say, Metal Machine Music has a role to play in overcoming the looming international energy crisis.
(I can’t be the only one jonesing for a Webb/Trump Twitter war debating Brainbombs’ apex, can I? I can? Tough crowd.)
The releases that jumped out at me in July all have one thing in common: They’re roundly antithetical to the crowded claustrophobia that characterizes much of the present season. This is music that telegraphs a refreshing alone-ness without necessarily being lonely. How you enjoy it is your business, of course, but I recommend supplementing your listening with a perusal of the recently revived Bloom County (!) or, perhaps more appropriately, the lawsuit-baiting Harsh Noise Wally.
SONIC THERAPY: Arrington de Dionyso
From his solo recordings to his collaborations to his albums leading Old Time Relijun, the music of Olympia, Washington’s Arrington de Dionyso is all over the proverbial map: spare, raw Tuvan throat song, guttural postpunk, noisy free jazz, and everything in between. On Sound Is the Medicine, he’s harnessing a Lalove flute and Siberian jew’s harps to weave woolen improv. The flute takes the spotlight on “Lalove Circular Breathing,” a suite of fluttered scale runs that falls somewhere between frenzied and soothing, reminiscent of Native American refrains and freak-folk’s more outré strains. Once you’ve succumbed to the apparent repetition, the lull is so complete that de Dionyso can shock you when, on occasion, the tempo triples or a stout butterfly of a melody escapes out into the ether. More varied in scope, “Khomuz Medicine” makes a determined case for the jew’s harp as Auto-Tune beatbox progenitor and font of bare-bones percussion, though he wins my heart in those scattered moments when he posits the instrument as a worthy vessel for a sort of compositional slapstick. The deeper into this Medicine one delves, the stranger and more beautiful it becomes.
FIREFLIES EXPLODING CANDLES: p0stm0rtem
A wicked restiveness colors the Beautiful Pain EP, one of a hailstorm of recent releases from Toronto, Ontario’s p0stm0rtem. Every tune here is a pulsating will-o’-the-wisp that laughs loudly at the idea that music should commit to a single color or shape before swiftly krumping through a handful of equally alluring modes. “IWANNAMURDERME” goes full dervish, vacillating between dense scraping, Day-Glo wavelength scramble, and arachnid beats. “Perfect Pain” prods music boxes with screwdrivers as if they were idly toys with dissolving effects. While “God’s Suicide” sounds like your hard drive masturbating to wave after damning wave of invading spyware, “The Devil’s Suicide” pits tinny church organs against distortion and suggests the orderly detonation of skyscrapers. “Outtro” fuses NES bleep-bloop and new wave into brain-damaged anti-dub. Something special and surreal is happening here, a lopsided trainwreck of loopy noise and pop buoyancy that bears watching. Keep an eye on this one.
SMEARED DRONES THRUM FREE: Hikikomori
As I’ve spent time with Traverse in Slow Motion over the last couple weeks, the reference point I continually arrive at is “Sonic Youth.” Not the Sister platonic ideal of Sonic Youth, mind you, but the free-form, no-vocals, no-hope ideal of SY, where melody is negligible and atmosphere reigns. So: the Silver Sessions/Destroyed Room/SYR series Sonic Youth, the version of that now departed band that started making the most sense to me post–Washing Machine. But listening now, I don’t know if that’s really a fair comparison, because California’s Hikikomori successfully transcend that ideal, landing in a more primordial, early-Gate/Dead C place — a psychic war zone where everything is echoey din without end. Cruelly tuned guitars are central, doling out drone chords that are sucked gradually into a centrifuge turning at caterpillar-like speeds. Separations between the three meditations on offer here can be made by the ways in which chords are employed: “The Mystery” sleepwalks into higher registers with greater frequency than “Post-War I” does, while “Endless Garden” favors a threshed-note approach, squirting in birdsong and arresting electronic effects. The whole of Traverse is undeniably of a fascinating piece, like dropping acid before embarking on a nature hike through an enchanted forest in a country you’ve never visited before.