When our communal and political life begins to resemble a hallucination, the only reasonable response is to turn to hallucinatory music. When that sense of surreality is heightened, our intake of sounds that collapse and expand in unsettling ways should, clearly, increase. Stock up, true believers. After all, by the time you read this column, we’ll still have almost three months to go until election day; that’s a long, long time.
Starvation Time, House of Dust
This record is the product of a collaboration between San Diego’s Steve Flato and Olympia, WA’s Jeff Williams. Dust is, at root, terse rock’n’roll poking its head out from an undergrowth of Rorschach spatters: an array of effects and filters deployed in almost painterly fashion, a judicious seasoning of samples, throbbing synths, electronic blips, scraped guitar strings, distorted waves. Williams’ vulnerable vocals – spoken, muttered, or whispered – are narration for a journey into industrial hinterlands; guitars grind out rainbow feedback that flatters the melody. The conflict at Dust’s core especially compels: Flato’s dynamic, compositional meticulousness vs. Williams’ gasping, on-the-lam psychosis. At moments, the album’s ambitions put me in mind of Nine Inch Nails’ less-pyrotechnic adventures in anxiety and Deconstruction’s widescreen desperation.
Newagehillbilly, These Are Not The Final Days
One of my regrets about not keeping up with Baltimore’s MT6 Records: I miss the long soaks in the various sonic cesspools of label founder Alex Strama. Newagehillbilly was and remains Strama’s bread’n’butter, a post-post-everything kitchen sink heaping with busted beats, raw feedback, and near-punk. Particularly focused and amiably corroded, These Are Not The Final Days somehow became my favorite of his releases on first listen, and it continues to gain. An indispensable underground release is one that seizes the attention like a terrier worrying a new squeak toy, and each moment of Days delivers on that front. “Nothing Is Sacred” whips up a noisy blizzard that threatens to swallow itself; “Shelter” and the title track trade on machine-shop blues du jour. But “Massive Aggressive” might be the standout cut, ping-ponging and then retarding a denatured vocal sample against a keening din that suggests the Jolly Green Giant preparing to suck Strama and his studio whole into the world’s biggest Hoover.
Cara & Mike Gangloff with the Great American Drone Orchestra, “All of Me”
The question posed here is a noble, novel one: would standards from the Great American Songbook hold up if deconstructed, couched within atypical drumming, and outfitted with drones? “All of Me” – whose past interpreters have included Dinah Washington, Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, and João Gilberto – fares best, kick-flipping beyond traditionally saucy or smooth readings into a more literal broken one. Spoken more than sung, Cara Gangloff’s vocals feel poised, pained, and increasingly distressed; they’re perfectly mirrored by the orchestra’s eerie, broiling drones and the furious, soundscaping percussion from MVP Tatsuya Nakatani. It’s the sort of rendition that should be Track 1 on a playlist for someone who just broke your heart.
The Dead C., Trouble
I’ve had this double LP brooding on my iPhone since late June but didn’t quite realize just how smitten I was until around the time Usain Bolt swept the Rio Olympics. It’s a beastly epic: Michael Morley’s vocals are scant and muffled, motifs are ridden hard, the pace is largely glacial. On opener “1,” The Dead C. gamble that near-boredom will pay off, as snarling guitars and a churning bass loop give way to a thumping, effects-pedal fueled blare that’s difficult to connect with and easy to tune out. Then – if you’re playing Trouble on a long walk or drive – the magic happens: the record temporarily loses you, until suddenly, it doesn’t. “2” adopts a martial lope, drifts into anthemic, abstracted ax heroics, then dons a harder, bluesier swagger; “3” transitions from free-form blizzard isolation into something approaching a protracted stoner-metal jam, which “5” solidifies, heavier than granite. By the time “4” arrives – yes, they know the sequence is off – the Dead C. are good and ready to really go gonzo, spazzing out and fucking around in every way they know how, not especially interested in whether we’re invested. But by that point, we most certainly are. It’s the very definition of a grower.
YOLOMIC, “False Promises”
The “quicksand pivot to Hades” is a well-known experimental technique in which a familiar song is at first teased as originally recorded, then effectively gutted. As evidenced via a recent string of one-off bombshells, Mexico City’s enigmatic YOLOMIC has demonstrated a propensity for pressure-cooker rupture. On “False Promises,” the victim is a slice of dusty vinyl Italian opera – decorus, resonant, heartfelt – that’s left scuffed, distorted, and dented as YOLOMIC drags it unceremoniously through subterranean tunnels. Eventually that opera becomes something unrecognizable, tagged relentlessly in scouring scree sprays and decomposed into a grotesque mockery of itself.
In other news…
Tickets are still available for the New Orleans Sound Art Festival, set to explode on Friday, October 21 and Saturday, October 22. Artists from across the nation are slated to perform, including Austin’s Breakdancing Ronald Reagan, NYC’s Compactor, L.A.’s Crowhurst, and hometown anti-heroine Rosemary Malign.
Chicago’s Daniel Whyce offers a soundtrack to the heat-stroked, mid-day catnap you wish you could take with “I Give My Language to More Than History.”
School’s back in session in Brooklyn, but this autumn, Brooklyn’s Josh Millrod wants you to chill. Millrod, a member of Grasshopper and Hex Breaker Quintet, puts aside some on his more abrasive tendencies for the mellow, enveloping New Age of Summer Meditations; they come highly recommended.
Whether you’re leaving here to cry, fly, or fry, you could do worse than to ride out on this mid-August Mind Machine, a sweet act of genre-juggling:
See you all next month!