Ear Influxion

The Caretaker: “Friends Past, Reunited” (A Stairway to the Stars, V/VM 2001)

Leland Kirby’s alter ego The Caretaker emerged out of experiments that tipped the balance away from noise and toward repurposed old ballroom recordings, sounding more like the haunted Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s vision of The Shining than the unpredictable chaos of his main project at the time, V/VM.

Blocks & Escher: Moods / Razor (Metalheadz)
It’s been interesting to give drum & bass a try after so many years away from it as a genre in general. In some ways, nothing has changed — part of the reason I’d more or less abandoned the genre when I felt like it had largely started to loop back upon itself instead of forging new territory. The same breaks are there, the same sounds. But it all feels injected with a little bit of new life in the wake of dubstep, drumstep, and whatever other micro-genre has popped up in the wake of the last 10 years or so. “Moods” lives up to its name with a 3:1 change up in its main breaks, ferocious and then clipped alternately. It fits the Metalheadz ethos quite fully with the expected bass zaps, industrial clang, and relentless pacing.

"Razor" begins unassumingly with an airy prolonged pad, but the duo’s knack for skittering, furious breaks is in full effect once more before long. While neither of these cuts is so startling in terms of new ideas, it fuses various tropes of the genre with relative ease and also has a furiously technical ear for detail, with all kinds of reverb depths and a nearly-perfect mix. Like its title implies, there are some sharp edges here, like the wailing streaks of noise that swirl overhead while breaks skitter frenetically in the foreground. It’s another indication that after all this time, Metalheadz is still going strong with tight production and champions of the breakbeat underground.
Buy it: Boomkat | Bleep | iTunes | Amazon | Emusic

Blocks & Escher: Moods / Razor (Metalheadz)

It’s been interesting to give drum & bass a try after so many years away from it as a genre in general. In some ways, nothing has changed — part of the reason I’d more or less abandoned the genre when I felt like it had largely started to loop back upon itself instead of forging new territory. The same breaks are there, the same sounds. But it all feels injected with a little bit of new life in the wake of dubstep, drumstep, and whatever other micro-genre has popped up in the wake of the last 10 years or so. “Moods” lives up to its name with a 3:1 change up in its main breaks, ferocious and then clipped alternately. It fits the Metalheadz ethos quite fully with the expected bass zaps, industrial clang, and relentless pacing.

"Razor" begins unassumingly with an airy prolonged pad, but the duo’s knack for skittering, furious breaks is in full effect once more before long. While neither of these cuts is so startling in terms of new ideas, it fuses various tropes of the genre with relative ease and also has a furiously technical ear for detail, with all kinds of reverb depths and a nearly-perfect mix. Like its title implies, there are some sharp edges here, like the wailing streaks of noise that swirl overhead while breaks skitter frenetically in the foreground. It’s another indication that after all this time, Metalheadz is still going strong with tight production and champions of the breakbeat underground.

Buy it: Boomkat | Bleep | iTunes | Amazon | Emusic

Russell Haswell: Remixed (Downwards)
Three remixes of tracks originall found on Russell Haswell’s very limited vinyl release of tracks published by Regis’s Downwards label in 2012 (an LP consisting of tracks originally intended to be released on a series of 5” vinyl plates), retooled here by the likes of Regis, William Bennett, and Kevin Drumm. Anyone familiar with Haswell’s output over the last ten or more years ought to know that he’s nothing if unpredictable, though certainly not afraid to let it rip with a full-on assault of noise in many instances. I haven’t heard the originals here (and they don’t appear to be easily found online in any form, preview or otherwise) so I can only share my impressions of these tracks on their own merits. Regis’s remix of “Chua Rave” is an unexpectedly clean and accessible one, sounding more like vintage EBM meets techno than anything I’ve heard from either artist previously. The only giveaway of Haswell’s noisy tendencies is heard in the ultra-crunchy, gated samples that kick the four-minute track off, otherwise hinging on a hypnotic bassline and a steady kick and hihat combo. For anyone who checked out the pair’s Concrete Fence project that debuted earlier this year, this is some good insight into how that collaboration evolved into being.

On the flipside are two reworks of a track called “Harshing,” and it should come as no surprise I suppose that both William Bennett and Kevin Drumm deliver all out noise sculptures. Bennett, after all, made a name for himself for decades as part of the controversial industrial/noise outfit Whitehouse, while Kevin Drumm has been steadily releasing a stream of fascinatingly brutal albums of noise and doom drones. Bennett’s take on “Harshing” is quite short and has the squirmy physicality of Emmannuel Allard or Merzbow, hard to hold onto for very long as it continues to change shapes, each one sharper than the previous. Drumm’s track has a more deliberate arc to it, starting off quite scathing before shifting gears to something more mysterious and diffuse in its second half. It’s my favorite of these tracks, so far off the dancefloor that it’s almost ironic, and yet sculpted in such a way that it’s not just harsh but also quite interesting in its textures, dynamics, and details.
Buy it: Boomkat | Bleep | iTunes | Amazon

Russell Haswell: Remixed (Downwards)

Three remixes of tracks originall found on Russell Haswell’s very limited vinyl release of tracks published by Regis’s Downwards label in 2012 (an LP consisting of tracks originally intended to be released on a series of 5” vinyl plates), retooled here by the likes of Regis, William Bennett, and Kevin Drumm. Anyone familiar with Haswell’s output over the last ten or more years ought to know that he’s nothing if unpredictable, though certainly not afraid to let it rip with a full-on assault of noise in many instances. I haven’t heard the originals here (and they don’t appear to be easily found online in any form, preview or otherwise) so I can only share my impressions of these tracks on their own merits. Regis’s remix of “Chua Rave” is an unexpectedly clean and accessible one, sounding more like vintage EBM meets techno than anything I’ve heard from either artist previously. The only giveaway of Haswell’s noisy tendencies is heard in the ultra-crunchy, gated samples that kick the four-minute track off, otherwise hinging on a hypnotic bassline and a steady kick and hihat combo. For anyone who checked out the pair’s Concrete Fence project that debuted earlier this year, this is some good insight into how that collaboration evolved into being.

On the flipside are two reworks of a track called “Harshing,” and it should come as no surprise I suppose that both William Bennett and Kevin Drumm deliver all out noise sculptures. Bennett, after all, made a name for himself for decades as part of the controversial industrial/noise outfit Whitehouse, while Kevin Drumm has been steadily releasing a stream of fascinatingly brutal albums of noise and doom drones. Bennett’s take on “Harshing” is quite short and has the squirmy physicality of Emmannuel Allard or Merzbow, hard to hold onto for very long as it continues to change shapes, each one sharper than the previous. Drumm’s track has a more deliberate arc to it, starting off quite scathing before shifting gears to something more mysterious and diffuse in its second half. It’s my favorite of these tracks, so far off the dancefloor that it’s almost ironic, and yet sculpted in such a way that it’s not just harsh but also quite interesting in its textures, dynamics, and details.

Buy it: Boomkat | Bleep | iTunes | Amazon

Deru: 1979 (Friends of Friends)
Benjamin Wynn a.k.a. Deru first made a name for himself in the 00s with IDM releases on Neo Ouija, Merck, and Mush. 1979 is his first album in a few years, and it’s gorgeous. As its title implies, this is music that looks to the dusty nostalgia of the past, though the techniques and styles found herein are not necessarily a throwback to another era. Instead, the quiet, introspective pieces of 1979 capture that feeling of a sun-faded photograph or a small cloud of dust reflecting in sunlight (as if opening an old book or photo album). It might tangentially draw comparisons to the likes of Boards of Canada, but I think there’s just as much of the heartbreaking soft-spokenness of Harold Budd’s delicate piano pieces or M. Geddes Gengras’s modular synthesis meditations in the sweet and sad sounds found here.

By and large, these are beatless, stark synth excursions with no shortage of tape surface noise, adding a hazy, warm dustiness to the whole thing. Only on “The Future Never Comes” does Deru incorporate some rolling percussion patterns, still understated and secondary to its undulating leads and pads, but with a more propulsive sense of momentum. It borders on sentimental, but there is a sweet sadness to most of 1979 that grounds it and makes it feel intensely intimate. I imagine that whether listening on a sunny, hot day or a snow-dusted winter morning, this is music that will continue to resonate on a level that’s deeply moving to me.
Buy it: Bandcamp | Boomkat | iTunes

Deru: 1979 (Friends of Friends)

Benjamin Wynn a.k.a. Deru first made a name for himself in the 00s with IDM releases on Neo Ouija, Merck, and Mush. 1979 is his first album in a few years, and it’s gorgeous. As its title implies, this is music that looks to the dusty nostalgia of the past, though the techniques and styles found herein are not necessarily a throwback to another era. Instead, the quiet, introspective pieces of 1979 capture that feeling of a sun-faded photograph or a small cloud of dust reflecting in sunlight (as if opening an old book or photo album). It might tangentially draw comparisons to the likes of Boards of Canada, but I think there’s just as much of the heartbreaking soft-spokenness of Harold Budd’s delicate piano pieces or M. Geddes Gengras’s modular synthesis meditations in the sweet and sad sounds found here.

By and large, these are beatless, stark synth excursions with no shortage of tape surface noise, adding a hazy, warm dustiness to the whole thing. Only on “The Future Never Comes” does Deru incorporate some rolling percussion patterns, still understated and secondary to its undulating leads and pads, but with a more propulsive sense of momentum. It borders on sentimental, but there is a sweet sadness to most of 1979 that grounds it and makes it feel intensely intimate. I imagine that whether listening on a sunny, hot day or a snow-dusted winter morning, this is music that will continue to resonate on a level that’s deeply moving to me.

Buy it: Bandcamp | Boomkat | iTunes

Merzbow & Pan Sonic: “68’18”” (V, Les Disques Victo 2003)

I sometimes forget about this fantastic collaboration between Masami Akita and electronic music’s favorite Finns. After hearing Pan Sonic’s remix of Merzbow on his superb remix project album, Scumtron, I was eager to hear more collaboration between them. This single long live collaboration certainly delivers.

Nico: “It Has Not Taken Long” (The End, 1974)

Nico’s music became significantly more interesting after she left the Velvet Underground, exploring morose and experimental sounds in collaboration with VU guitarist John Cale and, on The End, electronics courtesy of Brian Eno. But unlike her reputation as a glamor model foisted upon VU by Andy Warhol, Nico revealed herself to be an auteur in the truest sense on these mesmerizing, timeless albums. Anchored by her stark and persistent harmonium, I find this arrangement disorienting with its rhythmic bells, quiet pulse, and deeply wounded vocal.

"It has not taken long
The hunters they are hiding from me
A wooden hand
A golden reed
A waiting end for them to bleed

It has not taken long
To feast our naked eye upon
The open blade
The hungry beast have found her calling
Calling help me please”

Army of God: Salvation (AOG/Delsin)
I don’t know much about Army of God, but this first 12” single is well worth a listen. The original track is fairly dour, smacking of the same melancholic goth club dancefloor stylings of Trust, looking back to the past but with an edge that feels current. The vocal is alternately sulky and yearning, giving its mid-tempo italo-disco sound a little bit of extra emotive swoon. The dub mix strips out most of the vocals, faithful to the dub mixes of the 80s, sprinkling vocal bits throughout while the backing track is slightly reworked. Oddly, the dub mix is mastered much louder than the original (I suspect the original has a little more dynamic range, though), but it serves its rather tool-like purpose well enough. But the real magic is in the Spaventi d’Azzurro remix, wherein he reworks the chorus into a soaring, inspiring anthem while the verses have a much richer low-end and patterns that recall equal parts Legowelt and Peter Dundov. It turns the gloomy original into something much brighter and more lush, a real standout. Synth-pop and goth DJs would probably enjoy this as much as italo-disco and “witch house” (groan) fans, as it straddles those worlds with relative ease.

Buy it: Delsin Store | Boomkat | iTunes | Amazon

Army of God: Salvation (AOG/Delsin)

I don’t know much about Army of God, but this first 12” single is well worth a listen. The original track is fairly dour, smacking of the same melancholic goth club dancefloor stylings of Trust, looking back to the past but with an edge that feels current. The vocal is alternately sulky and yearning, giving its mid-tempo italo-disco sound a little bit of extra emotive swoon. The dub mix strips out most of the vocals, faithful to the dub mixes of the 80s, sprinkling vocal bits throughout while the backing track is slightly reworked. Oddly, the dub mix is mastered much louder than the original (I suspect the original has a little more dynamic range, though), but it serves its rather tool-like purpose well enough. But the real magic is in the Spaventi d’Azzurro remix, wherein he reworks the chorus into a soaring, inspiring anthem while the verses have a much richer low-end and patterns that recall equal parts Legowelt and Peter Dundov. It turns the gloomy original into something much brighter and more lush, a real standout. Synth-pop and goth DJs would probably enjoy this as much as italo-disco and “witch house” (groan) fans, as it straddles those worlds with relative ease.

Buy it: Delsin Store | Boomkat | iTunes | Amazon

Transfiguration

Matthew Mercer: “Transfiguration” (2014)

Another new piece as I continue to explore the concepts of tension, a lack of resolution, and minimalism. Digging deeper within as I explore how I actually feel and how that is reflected in the sound itself, exploring the nuances of balance, pitch, microtonality, and depth as discrete sounds layer and weave in and out of each other.