Peace Orchestra: “The Man Part One” (Peace Orchestra, 1999)
Peter Kruder’s solo project still sounds great to my ears so many years after its heyday.
Peace Orchestra: “The Man Part One” (Peace Orchestra, 1999)
Peter Kruder’s solo project still sounds great to my ears so many years after its heyday.
Matthew Mercer: “And the Sky Opened Up” (Pianissimo Possibile, 2011)
I thought it might be time for a repost of this nice video clip that Portland director Byrd McDonald created for a track from my 2011 solo album, Pianissimo Possibile (or ppp). I’m currently working on a score for a feature-length documentary Byrd is directing, and I can’t wait to share it with you when it’s completed.
If you like what you hear, head over to Bandcamp where you can get the whole album for just 7 bones.
Alter Ego: “Gate 23 (Lost on Arrival…) (Isolée Remix)” (Transphormed, Klang)
Isolée’s schaffel mix of Alter Ego’s “Gate 23” takes their beatless interlude and turns it into an even more Alter Ego sounding track than the original. Its triplets are relentless in the best possible way.
Portable: “Keep On” (Superlongevityfive, Perlon 2010)
What a treat it was to rediscover this great hidden gem on Perlon’s 2010 label showcase. It’s a completely different animal from the more leftfield glitchy sounds of his earlier releases, but no less solid.
Demdike Stare: Test Pressings 001-004 (Modern Love)
Demdike Stare, one of the UK’s more inspired and wayward electronic acts, have been quietly busy releasing this series of Test Pressings on Boomkat’s Modern Love imprint over the last several months. True to form, these are tracks that exist in the outskirts of convention and genre, pulling in elements from a variety of styles and sounds into something fairly harrowing and unpredictable. “Collision” is a nightmarish mangling of hardstep breaks, like late 90s Panacea with the spins. “Misappropriation” sounds more in line with the duo’s exploration of tribal and hand drumming, but with the same caustic layer of feedback and effects applied to “Collision.” The result is something more raw and industrial than some of their previous output, falling in line with the coarsest, most rhythmic works of Muslimgauze in his heyday.
The second installment continues to explore feedback and noise, but in distinctly different ways. “Grows Without Bound” is aptly named, a droning. anthemic dirge of a track that expands continuously, its feeble rhythm section a far second to its heroic drones. “Primitive Equations” snaps back to reality with some raw midrange breaks that would sound at home on Hessle or Hemlock, drawing inspiration from the golden era of drum n’ bass and substituting any smooth pads or chill-out vibes with a weird swirl of reverbation and noise. There’s even a pleasant surprise in the middle where their sounds suddenly don’t seem half as threatening.
They shift focus considerably on the third installment, abandoning flirtations and mutations of jungle and bass music and instead delivering a rather sweet ode to vintage Detroit and Chicago house. It’s surprisingly clean and melodic, even while it continues their trend of subtly manipulating sounds and patterns. “Dysology,” on the other hand, draws more purely from the harder sounds of Jeff Mills and Joey Beltram, but with an added layer of distortion and reverb in the wings. It gets busier and more layered, a handsome industrial writher for a good portion of its 10+ minutes, ending in a blast of saturated noise.
I find myself less captivated by the most recent edition, though. The fourth release kicks off with a faint hum that builds into a shrill cacophony of clanging and distortion. The progression is fierce but the payoff, 3 minutes of clanging that feels like tinnitus, is downright annoying. On the flip, “Null Results” is built around a stuttering drum & bass break and a heavy kick until about halfway through when zappy synths show up, like some mangled mutation of 90s Metalheadz, Like the A-side, it’s an extended pummel, but it’s less shrill and more infectious.
The four releases show off the duo’s diverse influences while veering more headlong into riddim and noise rather than the deeper spaces between on their albums. The third one is probably my favorite of the series, and the fourth is perhaps my least favorite. As a collection, they provide another unpredictable and unusual entry in Demdike Stare’s growing catalogue of curiosities and treasures.
Concrete Fence: New Release (1) (Pan)
This collaboration between noise maestro Russell Haswell and techno legend Regis (Karl O’Connor) delivers the goods as anyone familiar with either artist might expect. “Industrial Disease” kicks things off, living up to its name with a sick combo of rhythm and noise. It starts with a drone of midrange noise before a patient, strident beat takes hold. The staggered kick and snare combo is pure Regis, not unlike some of the icier remixes he’s turned out in the last year or two. The slow and continuous manipulation of feedback and noise into unusual shapes and configurations keeps things plenty interesting as the rhythm section otherwise disappears.
"Caulk" is the least punchy of the three, with no real rhythmic low-end to anchor it like the other two, but its combination of drippy effects, skittering and sputtering, with Haswell’s wilder noise patterns and sculptures is effective. Its final stretch of thick, midrange noise reminds me of vintage NON in the best of ways. My favorite track might be the third, though. "The Unabridged Truth" starts in more conventional form, if only by merit of its steady, ordinary kick drum that provides the meter for its swirling doodles of noise. It’s deceiving when its techno framework seems to be building while the noise recedes; halfway through, the beat drops out completely, never to return, and the noise loops and sputters and shifts shapes. It really shouldn’t work, but it does.
What it lacks in friendliness for less adventurous DJs it makes up for in how exciting it is to my ears. I hope the duo continue to explore this intriguing combination of sensibilities.
Nine Inch Nails: “Closer (Further Away)” (Closer to God, Nothing 1994)
I’ve always thought the remixes of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” were by and large far more interesting than the original. This last remix is probably my personal favorite, stepping the furthest away from the original’s pop leanings (thus the name).
Misty Conditions: D’zzzz (Planet µ)
Misty Conditions is a collaboration between Henry Collins (a.k.a. Shitmat, among others) and Richard Wilson (Burnkane), though the result is fairly different from their respective styles. D’zzzz, named no doubt after its alliterative track listing, may mislead listeners at first, with the rousing clanging and upbeat throb of “Dusco,” but the duo are unafraid to change it up regularly across these nine tracks. There’s definitely more than a little trap influence here, especially on the lumbering beat of “Dank” or the mutant soul of “D’mmmm,” but elsewhere the beat falls away completely, and things become less tied to genre or trend. “Drowning” is a hazy fog of drones until a parade of low end pulses begins to steer it, while “Dilute” is a distorted and mangled synth experiment that recalls some of the playful noise of vintage Mego or Autechre at their most obtuse, but with an added layer of grit and shuddering reverb.
One of the distinguishing aspects of their sound is their embrace of crude surface noise, often pushing it to the foreground, while drum loops, samples, and phrases dip in and out of distortion. In this sense it feels loosely in common with Demdike Stare’s recent Test Pressing series, with odd juxtapositions of distortion, tribal rhythm, samples, and dense effects. And just when you think you’ve figured it out, the last track “Damiana” is a ridiculously distorted nightmare of a track, like a Chris Clark acid jam that’s been pushed through about 20 layers of effects and distortion until it no longer really resembles a club track as much as a shrill series of throbs. It’s a curveball among many, but that’s a large part of the appeal of the album for me. It didn’t do much for me at first, but I grew fond of its schizophrenia over time. The cross-pollination of downtempo beats, spastic rhythm, foggy drones, odd samples, and straight-up noise, mixed and matched in unpredictable ways, is an exciting one, making D’zzzz an adventurous listen from start to finish.
Dadub: You Are Eternity (Stroboscopic Artefacts)
I find it intriguing when record labels focus very specifically on a particular sound, and in the case of SA it is minimal techno that veers into dark corners of rhythm and noise, much like the music of the label’s creator, Lucy. A fairly humorless, dark dirge every time, with a variable as to how dancefloor compatible releases are or are not. It’s my opinion that this all traces back to Pan Sonic’s Kulma album from 1997; it strikes me as the genesis for much of this music, though often times there’s an emphasis on dancefloor accessibility that never seemed to interest Pan Sonic all that much (beyond their initial album as a trio). Dadub’s You Are Eternity is a lumbering beast of an album, but it squarely falls in line with what I’ve just described. All of the tropes are here — dense, drippy atmosphere, thick, punchy, staggered kicks and noise, very little in the way of melody, and only occasional uses of human voice samples to brighten the sonic palette. That said, it’s a pretty fantastic ride. Whether the sound is totally abstract and freeform (“Unbroken Continuity”) or bobbing in time (“Circle”), the vibe of the album is consistently dark and dense; it sounds especially good on headphones with the volume cranked, but this would also sound pretty great on a big PA, with a physicality about its tracks that often is likely to force bodies to move. The slow halfbeat of “Transfer,” made in collaboration with King Cannibal, is perhaps the ferocious centerpiece of You Are Eternity, with rhythm that sounds more like a series of fierce collisions than beats. The only misstep for me is “Truth,” which relies heavily on samples of men talking about the stock market, something which somehow seems not only unnecessary but out of character with the rest of the album. In contrast, one of my favorite cuts, “Death,” completely soars without the need for any topical sampling; its cloud of drones and punchy syncopation do the work.
As far as techno albums go, this one falls pretty far off from the dancefloor, more concerned with intricate beatmaking, dense atmosphere, and a consistently dark mood. The reason the album works so well is that Dadub is apparently relatively unconcerned with being DJ-friendly and instead freer to explore other less traveled terrain, no less physical or visceral. It’s more like a trudge through the wild, with crags and crevasses and unpredictable foliage — seething with life but decidedly feral.
Squarepusher: “Circular Flexing” (Music Is Rotted One Note, Warp 1998)
After hearing Tom Jenkinsons’s new robot-played proggy material, it made me want to go back and unearth this late 90s album of his, in which he eschewed all sequencing and programming and instead played everything live himself. This track is one of my favorites.
Squarepusher: “Sad Robot Goes Funny” (Music for Robots, Warp 2014)
The next Squarepusher release is a five-track EP called Music for Robots; this video shows off the gimmick, reaffirming that the music of the near future will indeed be brought to you by Skynet.
In 2013, a team of Japanese roboticists was assembled with the challenge of creating a music-performing system that was beyond the capablities of the most advanced musicians - Z-Machines were the result. The roboticist’s musical producer, Kenjiro Matsuo, and his team, invited a number of Japanese composers as well as Squarepusher to develop music specifically for the project.
The opportunity to explore the compositional possibilities of a guitarist with 78 fingers and a drummer with 22 arms was a temptation impossible to ignore. The resulting ‘Sad Robots Goes Funny’ was a poignant and highly praised piece, composed and produced by Squarepusher and performed by Z-Machines. The video produced by award winning director, Daito Manabe, can be seen below.
The rapport that developed between Squarepusher and the Japanese team led to a lingering feeling that the project still had unexplored potential. Squarepusher approached Matsuo-san with a view to further investigating the possibilities of the collaboration. This led to additional pieces being created, involving an intense four weeks of composing, then two more months of transferring and adapting data, various technical hurdles and the eventual recording of ‘Music For Robots’.
Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement: Black Magic Cannot Cross Water (Hospital Productions/Blackest Ever Black)
This 2012 work by Hospital honcho Dominick Furnow might be my favorite of his that I’ve heard. It’s a stark, ambient album split into 2 concise halves (under 30 minutes total running time), and based on how it sounds I’d refer to the first half as the “dry side” and the other as the “wet side.” The dry side begins with a faint descent into the void, minimal electronics immersed in deep reverb; its 15 minutes are divvied up into thirds, with the first being the most minimal, before some synths a tinge darker than John Carpenter enter the mix. There’s an ebb and flow to the ambience of this music that makes it feel like a dark, buoyant sea, appropriate for a track called “Homes Built Over the Sea.” So there is a dryness implied by its title as well as its sound, eventually shifting focus toward punctuated synth tones and oscillating drones.
The “wet side,” “Refuges From Black Magic,” begins where the first left off only to introduce a steady stream of rainfall which never relents. It shares a similar arc with the other half, shifting between murky, almost opaque atmosphere and touches of sub-bass rumble. It’s a far cry from Furnow’s more confrontational sounds as Prurient or Exploring Jezebel, but extremely effective. It’s both pitch black and somehow non-threatening, the peaceful center of a brutal storm.
Blackest Ever Black reissued the album on vinyl in 2013, but you’ll have a much easier time finding the digital version at the links below.
Cop Shoot Cop: “System Test” (Consumer Revolt, 1990)
Even though I wouldn’t consider myself a fan (by way of not having much of their music), I was always surprised that Cop Shoot Cop didn’t get more recognition for their pretty unique sound; the only likeness that comes to mind is late 80s Swans (Children of God) with a touch of Test Dept. or Einstürzende Neubauten. It certainly doesn’t tuck into the rather bland container of industrial-rock that included typically much more polished, electronic acts.
Ital Tek: Control (Planet µ)
Alan Myson continues his exploration of contrasting fast and slow with this concise collection of eight tracks for Mike Paradinas’s Planet µ label. “Fire Flies” kicks things off flaunting the same repitching of loops that launched his last full-length, 2012’s excellent Nebula Dance. But it’s “Violets” that is the clear standout, with its looping vocal patterns recalling the gloomy pop of Art of Noise’s “Moments In Love.” Its half-beat stride and its skittery details kick up the tension considerably, though. It continues with panache on “Challenger Deep,” a handsome layering of skittering hihats, fast, undulating arpeggios, and a crisp, clean halfbeat. Its clean arp leads sound like the perfect accompaniment to Control's isometric cover art, vibrant with color and busy with details. Elsewhere, the album has a nice flow of ups and downs even as its individual tracks negotiate meter and tempo in its rhythm and bass sections. “Control” and “Ultra” both are punctuated with heavy, distorted bass kicks, lending a rough and tumble physicality that's nicely contrasted with smooth pads and melodic flourishes. Two short beatless interludes round it out, making Control surprisingly short despite its riches — a mini-album clocking under a half hour, but packing a strong punch. The juxtapositions of fast and slow, hard and soft, and rough and smooth work to Myson’s favor here, with Control likely to appeal to dubstep heads as much as IDM fans, succeeding at straddling these various worlds with apparent ease.
Matthew Barlow: Sun Showers (Preservation)
The Australian Preservation label, “dedicated to unearthing and uniting underground artists,” has expanded on Matthew Barlow’s self-released Sun Showers cassette as a full album. Its four tracks have a focus on subtle, reflective beauty, with contrasting light and dark elements scattered across and within its foggy drones and delicate touches. The title track is the obvious highlight, with a real narrative arc about it. It flows like the patient rising and falling of the sun, casting different shadows as it slowly shifts.
"Halflight" is a gorgeous, delicate piano piece that recalls the soft touch of classic Harold Budd, conjuring up images of hazy light cutting through a forest. "Warm Air" and "Breathing Space" both rely heavily on Barlow’s delicate guitar picking, while a quiet chorus of birds chirps thinly overhead. It’s a real work of pastoral beauty, drawing inspiration from what might be considered cliches in lesser hands. Its signature sounds of nature, juxtaposed with Barlow’s sleight of hand and knack for atmosphere, are what make Sun Showers a surprisingly lush and rich experience greater than the sum of its parts.
Buy it: Preservation