Friday, 10 June 2022

Control & Gruntsplatter 'A Fatal Circle' 7" (Raubbau)


There's long been a closeness between Control and Gruntsplatter - in outlook, aesthetic choices, mastering and production commonality, and a shared familiarity with tragedy and trauma. ‘A Fatal Circle’ features a track from each which at least superficially plays to the duo’s parallels, but in doing so ultimately spotlights some of their differences in detail, both specific to this 7” but also more reflective of general stylistic differences in approach, and which permeate the two pieces which make up this split 7”.

Grunsplatter’s “Hunting Extinction” is drenched in melancholy, each developing tone as dark and despairing as the next. The piece opens with synth layers which raise somewhat quickly in register and menace, a dark low-end tone and slowed heartbeat underpinning the upper register movement, eventually multiplying into a larger swarm of synth voices which emerge from expanding cracks within the original inputs only to distort, warp and burn when exposed to air. Even with a heavy immersion of distended mid-range tentacles emerging from the unsightly central mass, ugly low-end upset and hints of uncomfortable high-end screams are flung from the middle of the piece like satellites destined for solar system reaches only to eventually become unreachable as they drift further from the centrepiece of seething blackness.

Control uses similar compositional elements but adopts a more forceful and direct approach. “In The Blood” finds a similar bradycardic pulse, before adding indecipherable vocal utterings which are cloaked heavily in effects whenever they emerge from the miasma of the piece. While there’s a symbiosis to the dark heart of both pieces on this 7”, Control commands a greater segregation of components and a more threatening aura, in particular found in the storm clouds of low-end tinged vocals of the opening which explode into a more familiar explosive hostility later in the piece. Linked to those sprays of vocal upheaval are uprisings of bleak electronics which explode from the seething electronics are the core of the piece, escalating the depth of the piece as each syllable is screamed. 

While there is a central shadow to both pieces, Gruntsplatter explores the unknown and uncertain whereas Control finds hints of structure, melody and a more defined purpose to the portions which make up its side. Both sides circulate dark semi-tonal elements, however Control seems to pre-empt and allocate the sounds in a more regimented approach – while also remaining mired in a compared to Gruntsplatter’s reactionary interferences. The differences in approach don’t affect the outcome, however: both have summonsed a deep and gloomy mass of death industrial electronics in a manner consistent with the innate sensibilities each has, their core differences in approach encouraging quite personal six minute expressions.

The 7” is limited to 100 copies, abandoning some of the intricacies of Raubbau’s recent releases for a black sleeve adorned with geometric distress in thickly textural paint: fitting perfectly with the more extreme and bleak end of Ant Zen/Raubbau’s interests and picking up the label’s preference for bold and layered aesthetics which are consistently striking and well-realised: the recent run of harsher sonics is a welcome dark cloud across the label’s mix of underground genres, with the label’s strong design and quality control both reasons to trust this release even if – and what the fuck? – you’re not already familiar. 

Sunday, 1 May 2022

Blood Incantation 'Timewave Zero' 12" + CD

 

When seeing Blood Incantation support Arcturus in 2017, little did I know the Americans would be the ones to thereafter be responsible for best probing the galaxial reaches – notwithstanding the Norwegians' long and respectful career of astral aspiration  as Blood Incantation’s amazing 2019 full-length ‘Hidden History Of The Human Race’ in particular drove the quartet beyond immediate orbit to comb the stars for suitable confrontation. While the group’s renowned death metal explorations have looked for alien life to end our own, ‘Timewave Zero’ sheds the metal instrumentation for an array of synthesizers and integrated analogue electronics, used to wind out long-form meditative compositions which betrays the realisation that the weight of the universe can crush humankind without extra-terrestrial intervention.

Opener “Io” builds steadily on its opening synth drone, further tonal layers added repeatedly as its base elongated tone is used to trigger thriving layered drone, smaller synth flickers and light  , before blossoming into a melodic arpeggiation which flickers the underlying drone to life, finding a contour which supports the upper register as it reaches full Tangerine Dream worship mode. Even when the piece returns to an unchanging droned note it can’t escape the tender chordal shapes which have now emerged, with subtle waveform shifts and derivative melodic shapes opening space for lingering acoustic guitar to weave its own chordal shapes into the trembling synth layers.

Second side “Ea” launches straight into those familiar arpeggiated melodies, additional single note lines supporting that shape with the piece maintaining a greater momentum than “Io”’s peaks and troughs. Even when the synths decline in “Ea” there’s a more active acoustic guitar added to pick out the piece’s ongoing chordal refrain as the melody line remains with the synth (and what I think is a subtle gong is added in the distance), before returning that task to the electronics with some classic dense synthesis and slowed discourse, before descending into a final tonal melt. While neither track is better or worse for it, “Ea” has a more homogenous approach than “Io”, perhaps hitting a more intuitive or familiar shape than “Io” which binds “Ea”’s parts tighter than the wave forms of the first side.

Get any of the vinyl pressings and you’ll get a CD of the same material. However the CD/blu-ray set includes an additional track, “Chronophagia” – also locatable with some resourceful YouTube-ing. The additional track flows with a distinctly darker Lustmord-ian hue or pallour lifted from Klaus Schulze’s bleakest solo work, shadowy electronics underpinning a more inhibited effort than the album proper. The strong arpeggios of “Io” and “Ea” emerge only hesitatingly and nervously, muted by “Cronophagia”’s swelling central desolate tones, thick fumes of displeasure, and comparably uncomfortable harmonic profile. The billowy profile of the piece seems to be hiding something, and it eventually that proves correct: as the smog clears a languid melody emerges with strong overtones of Vangelis’ ‘Blade Runner’ soundtrack, supported by a clean upper register piano refrain and remnants of the group’s still smouldering electronics. If “Io” and “Ea” give the impression that space travel was some stream-of-light euphoria, “Cronophagia” is a reality that the travel is one of isolation, darkness, and emptiness: for all their far-flung searches, Blood Incantation are still confined to the same flesh vessels as the rest of us.

‘Timewave Zero’ wears its influences boldly and plays to them closely, even down to the meditative outdoor scene in the gatefold which could easily have been plastered inside ‘Ricochet’ or ‘Encore’. The reaction from those looking only for more of what ‘Hidden History Of The Human Race’ offered, is predictable albeit understandable, but the chance to do something different – and do it convincingly – is for me even more exciting.  With its intentionally regressed soundset ‘Timewave Zero’ is a break from expectations but also cleverly within idiom, opening Blood Incantation up to further exploration and ambition whether they break from their tradition again or not.

Tuesday, 19 April 2022

Kazumoto Endo & Boar 12” (Peyote Tapes)

 

When I first heard Kazumoto Endo’s work – I’m pretty sure it was “Most Of My Problems Are Solved By An Afternoon Snooze”, his split 7” with Incapacitants – I was immediately affected by the gravamen of silence, the way a return to volume can make a sound more powerful than were it sitting in a cluster of similarity.

“Homebrew” reflects an updated wisdom from Kazumoto Endo, initial tracts of silence quickly perforated rather than left hanging, part of a multi-faceted experience in which forceful blasts of chopped-up high end discharge are incessantly and unpredictably fired into the air. Initially that strafing encounters relative calm, but as the piece entrenches those uncomfortable silences disappear, removed by what at first is a layer of secondary skirmish with effected scrap metal but what builds, through an acquisition of rapid loops and further magnetised attractions, into a surrounding arsenal firing of backup weaponry; and while resolute in mirroring the frequency profile of the dominant shares of brutalised focus, playing “Homebrew” out also sparks hits of liquefied low-end shudder which add an unexpected haunt to the central shrill tones. The silences which first drew me in are still there at the end – but found within layers which are overlapping others, and which are themselves feeding into Kazumoto’s increasingly hectic and crowded palette.

In comparison Boar’s sounds are far more flayed and finessed, whittled down to highly charged fragments of noise which have been intensely scrutinised, diced, and splayed across the stereo spectrum. Highly processed contact microphoned refuse seems a vase source of choice, but snippets of synth, manipulated feedback, and pure noise saturation all feature, lapsing into occasional loops but more often tumbling in free-fall, discarding cut-up components as it descends unpredictably and unhesitatingly. Single toned scrap metal crunch can give way to sonorous oil barrel thud, and seemingly inconsequential refrains find themselves double-tracked and spotlighted, all part of Boar’s microscopic focus and keenness for upset which propels “Metal Bound Flesh” in its reckless orbit.

It's not just the effort which has gone into shaping the sounds and micro-sounds, but the frantic pace of their unravelling and the segues into uncertain calmative moments which fill sudden moments of space. Boar has poured everything into “Metal Bound Flesh” and it shows: the piece is among the most finicky modern cut-up noise you will hear, riddled with detail and burning with momentum.

While sharing technique, both artists use it for different means: Kazumoto Endo’s side builds in size and intensity as it piles components; Boar sheds its parts as fast as it accumulates them, throwing components into the void as it hurtles forwards blindly but firmly in control. Both more than achieve their purpose, making this LP a standout not only for their respective technical abilities but for how those skills are used to achieve a much cleverer and listenable aim.

Thursday, 17 March 2022

Nurse With Wound ‘The Hovels Of The Rich Or The Rigid Digit’ 3”CD (Lenka Lente)

 

‘The Hovels Of The Rich Or The Rigid Digit’ marks the tenth collaboration between Nurse With Wound and French publisher Lenka Lente, their history found across a succession of 3”CDs paired with short books authored by historic European writers including Frank Kafka, Antonin Artaud, Adolf Wölfli, and for this volume French writer, journalist and pessimist Alphonse Rabbe. The discs have afforded Steven Stapleton’s modern guise opportunities to work on a short-form piece (usually around 10 minutes playing time) within an ostensibly abstracted format, and the previous discs have sat in a comfortable, and I wonder if somewhat overlooked, fringe to Nurse With Wound’s ever-expanding discography.

For this release the book is again in French and with no translation, so any ties between music and text are for me at least imagined. Just perhaps Rabbe’s withdrawal from society is mirrored in the choice of intangible murmurs which are fed into Nurse With Wound’s piece, but I doubt it: that kind of attribution would give every experimental artist an immediately vague lofty literary link, and I put Nurse With Wound a step beyond that. The connection between Rabbe’s drug addiction and Nurse With Wound’s recent ‘Opium Cabaret’ CD and LP is probably coincidental, but ‘The Hovels Of The Rich Or The Rigid Digit’ does fall broadly into the ambient bracket of Steven Stapleton and Co’s work – although without the drama which makes ‘Opium Cabaret’ one of the standouts of modern Nurse With Wound.

Rather, this 3”CD is a more serene and stagnant work, emphasising a higher frequency register to remain in the air at all times with a simplicity and glissando of movement more in line with a truncated ‘Soliloquy For Lilith’. The opening delicate shimmer quickly opens up a broader and loosely cycled clutch of tones, concocted tones seeming to merge with slowed and shaped acoustic material in the way of bowed cymbals or resonant piano strings, the interplay of effected and organic constantly difficult to separate and made even more difficult when a subtle layer of further manipulation emerges from the digital concrète rattling which lurks in the shadows of the piece. Those soft tonal interplays continue as the piece dilates slowly and incrementally, the upper register tones kept prominent to obscure a diaphragmatic lower register drone which adds a barely perceptible weight to the piece. Even the piece’s climax doesn’t break the slow drift of the piece, an arc of more urgent staccato clattering and even a rare glimmer of feedback with the electronic tones failing to ignite the gaseous elements of the piece.

Unlike ‘Opium Cabaret’ the detail to ‘The Hovels Of The Rich Or The Rigid Digit’ is much harder to extract, and it’s easier to appreciate the piece in its drift rather than in the finer elements which are there to support the larger structure. It wouldn’t necessarily make for a strong full-length work, but Nurse With Wound’s latest Lenka Lente creation works well as a short escape into the atmosphere with which to return and pick up something else. There’s no doubt Steven Stapleton is skilled in immersive ambience, and ‘The Hovels Of The Rich Or The Rigid Digit’ is proof even if some of Stapleton’s stronger skills are responsible for subtler elements which sit around a perhaps simpler central drone creation.

Wednesday, 9 March 2022

Sewer Election ‘Horse Utopie’ CD (iDeal)



Sewer Election has aced a number of different sub-genres while blazing through the noise underground for over two decades, and Dan’s current productivity and proficiency has produced a staggering breadth and quality of releases in the last couple of years which – coupled with a penchant for micro-edition obscurity amongst larger release set pieces – is even more difficult than ever to fully appreciate.

‘Horse Utopie’ is not the moody disintegration of ‘Skärvor Av’ (LP on Second Sleep) or the dense noise punishment of ‘Glorious’ (cassette on Receiving Vault), and it’s nowhere near the soft synth pleasantries of ‘Psychic Panorama’ (CD on Discreet Music) or Dan’s intriguing collaborative endeavours; instead the CD revels in instantaneous harsh noise, a looser noise exclamation seemingly crafted from live-to-disc sessions and finalised with minimal further intervention which in the project’s early days would have perhaps been used as cut-up fodder but is presented here intact.

Opener “Filter Wound” delivers on its title, skin gashes opening up as contact microphone stammer bolsters a scrappy distortion line which steroids up into thicker and more virulent surges of free-flowing noise sensibility and a largely confined mid-range emphasis, until some breakout high-end synth ignitions and a subtly booming low-end spring from the piece in its final minute or so. The track is linear and constantly developmental, its shifts in tone and emphasis coming from the unseen changes in pedals permutations, but all well buried behind the waves of responsive distortion in which the remainder of the piece is immersed.

Interlude “Dripping Star” strips back most of its rumbling distortion to reveal internal workings of squelching synth, almost slowing to a standstill before hits of blown-out junk metal ravage the piece: the same elements which one suspects drive ‘Horse Utopie’ throughout, but removed from the effects chains which clothe the remainder of the disc. The raw junk metal is pleasing in a CD otherwise light on any identifiably physical sound sources, but particularly so for its torrential quality, swamping the second half of “Dripping Star” in hostility.

Final track “Carve Mono” is the peak noise exaltation, digging deeper and pushing longer (well over half the disc’s playing time) to fill out the frequency profile by running what seems to be two independent or semi-independent effects chains while also spending most of its playing time in a far more invigorated state than “Filter Wound”, this final piece surging as its lines engorge.  Passing clumps of burned-out filter sweep, strangled feedback, thumping contact microphone disruption and blasting synth warfare all become dangerous submersibles in an unstable and unpredictable divergence of competing torrents of coursing distortion, which is susceptible to constant frequency adjustments and captivates a surprisingly strong undercurrent of grittier mid/low range grind.

‘Horse Utopie’ seems to do away with the deeper statements and explorations of other recent Sewer Election releases, instead existing with a certain “because I can” pugnaciousness stemming from its innate creation. It exists for its own sake, and in celebration of what immediacy can bring to harsh noise; learning from the compositional aspirations of other release but ultimately born from fire, finesse and freedom. Without the deeper motivations of other Sewer Election releases I had initially thought ‘Horse Utopie’ may suffer, but the opposite may actually prevail: the disc is motivated by an appreciation for pure and immediate noise making, without needing any further purpose.

Friday, 25 February 2022

Aube 'Hydrophobia 1993' one-sided 12" (Cheeses International)

‘Hydrophobia’ was the first Aube release, a single-sided cassette on the indelible Vanilla Records, staging what would become Akifumi Nakajima’s well-known long buildup, sounds derived from water looped, layered and distorted into a drowning torrent. The release is raw and quite raucous, opting to focus on a fearsome force of fluid which is itself soaked in distortion, the movements of the liquid resonating as crisp fissures in the rushing noise which overwhelms the piece.

‘Hydrophobias 1993’ is a previously unreleased redo of that early missive, a recreation of the original side through a different lens and time, similar to the early remix of ‘Submerged Tension’ which saw release on G.R.O.S.S. after a debut on Steeple & Globe. Here the piece is sieved from a somewhat murkier body of water: the fulsome distortion of the Vanilla tape is muted somewhat, the highs not as biting and the low frequencies emerging as muddy thrusts rather than the encompassing flow of the original. The comparison is perhaps a bit unflattering to the later recording, even if that same revelry in coursing noise is equally present on the remix even if reshaped in its course, and the immersive rush of the original is lost somewhat, replaced with a murkier experience littered with semi-submerged uncertainties.

In comparison to the original the lead-in is however more developed, a soft introduction of bathyscape heartbeat syncing into a clanging repetition and muffled low-end rumbling, an initial flurry of noise then winding down into a cantankerous buzzing loop quarantined to the left of the stereo spectrum, allowing more deep sea atmospherics before the centrepiece of gristly noise emerges fully.

It’s understandable this piece wasn’t released in 1993; it’s somewhat regressive when compared to the more refined work Aube had already uncovered in the two years since the  first ‘Hydrophobia’; this 1993 revisitation also travels a less obvious trajectory than the initial tape, missing some of the original’s peak saturation. But as a relic to dig out in 2021, ‘Hydrophobia 1993’ is quite the find, and a welcome bolstering of Aube’s body of work. If you don’t have ‘Hydrophobia’ it’s the better place to start – and I think still available from Vanilla after all this time – but this redo occupies its own space and is a very digestible listen: I spun it at least ten times the first weekend it hit the turntable.

Thursday, 27 January 2022

Trajedesaliva ‘Ultratumba’ CD (áMARXE/Ferror Records/Gradual Hate Records)


Trajedesaliva is the Spanish duo of Mon Ninguén and Una Vena, ‘Ultratumba’ being their fourth release in a discography spanning over twenty years. Previous releases have featured an expanded lineup and strong flourishes of jazz, demure electronica and low-key gothicism amid its spread of occasionally avant post-rock ambience.

‘Ultratumba’ channels those sensibilities into a refined instrumentation of synthesizers, electronics, voice and drum machine, losing most of the peripheral genre influences but retaining a flair for the unexpected; it’s taken me far too long to write this review because ‘Ultratumba’ has proven quite elusive, its different shades seeming to take on different prominence almost every listen.

Parte 1 opens with soft synth pads which quickly circle around a John Carpenter-esque melody and synchronized bassline/drum machine, a slow and chilled atmosphere wafting from the opening pair of tracks which are heavy in recent synth revivalism. The opening pair of tracks set a refined and carefully gloomy scene, a tone which ‘Ultratumba’ ultimately prides itself in destroying. The focused instrumentation is a constant, even if this CD varies its intentions at crucial points: my varied reactions reveal three quite distinct moments within ‘Ultratumba’, which assume different emphasis on any given listen.

That graveyard twilight stroll quickly turns to moonless night fright, and with a few spoken words “Familia Ferro” shifts into dark noise and billowing shadow movement overseen by a menacing higher tone, with strikes of grainy industrial faux-percussion dissolving into dead TV static which hints at drowning musical tones as part of the piece’s peak of midnight terror. “Arenas Calientes” keeps that fear-motivated clench while returning to a more familiar dark ambient layering to its synth tones, Una’s whispered vocals rattling through the piece.

The mood of ‘Ultratumba’ shifts again for Parte 2, dominated by looser synth melodic noodling, lengthier spoken word passages, sections of upbeat rhythms, and an overall far more positive sensibility than Parte 1 was willing to admit. I admittedly detach from ‘Ultratumba’ somewhat here, both because Parte 2 sounds more repetitious in its ideas and execution – “Mammillaria Sempervivi” and “Queremos Verte” in particular work a very similar set of ideas – and because of the lighter tone to this second half of the CD, the John Carpenter references shifting to mid-period Tangerine Dream: it’s far easier to slip out of focus as Parte 2’s warmer tones set a more relaxed and unthreatening environment.

The day/night shift of ‘Ultratumba’ may be a little too distinct to draw fans to both halves and keep them there, but in selecting a refined bank of instrumentation Trajedesaliva tap into a more honest and available expression than their earlier releases ever achieved. Whether Trajedesaliva should sacrifice both sides of ‘Ultratumba’ to choose dark over light or vice versa, I don’t know; the tonal shift gives depth to ‘Ultratumba’ but also effects a delineation Mon and Una may struggle to reconcile moving forward. I don’t necessarily want the diaspora which ‘Ultratumba’ effects, but I’m inherently drawn to works which straddle contradictory emotions and realisations – and for that ‘Ultratumba’ deserves the repeat listens it’s obtained in my house, even if in part motivated by a want to revisit particular moments which gained emphasis on a particular playthrough.

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Blackphone 666 ‘PTN.YLW HARM’ C-60 (Murder Channel)


The local whispers about Blackphone666 were keenly amplified when 2017’s ‘Accumulation’ CD (Dotsmark) brought the project’s furious electronics assault to the wider world, heralding a project born in the ‘00s and more than capable of shouldering the weighty expectations of Japanese’s unrivalled noise and experimental history. Seeming to rise from the fringes of underground dance culture and comfortable with its millennial sensibilities, ‘Accumulation’ balanced flow and fracture, structure and deconstruction, with ease.

‘PTN.YLW HARM’ is something of a stop-gap release, perhaps more a collection of ideas than a fully-fledged full-length, and the release proper – the first side of this cassette edition – is steeped in highly paced gabber beats: flurries of hyper-charged rhythms which dominate the pieces and leave minimal space for the project’s fearsome storms of noise electronics. Those happy to merge their harsh noise with the fringes of extreme dance music may be pleased, but for those – like me – who extract nothing from that scene, this cassette’s almost garish embrace of kinesis weighs in favour of an artform of no attraction.

While cruel squeals of gory harsh noise are emitted on occasion, that lifeblood is obscured by the incessant beats which festoon the first side of the cassette. “Aspect Of Disorder” hits pause on the drum machine long enough for some sickly cries of volt surging electronics, and “Blood Stocks” dials the rhythmic elements down a notch or two as a threshing line of noise flails away in stereo left. It’s too little to properly latch on to for those wanting a further dose of what made ‘Accretion’ so good, and in my view let down by the rigidity of the beats which offer few detours or variations: once the beats hit they remain, trampling out almost all other activity.

The exception to this glut of pushy one-two is final track “In Your Area”, which slows the rampant beats down to a less fevered tempo, before infusing that gait with ashen synth swatches and hoarsely yelled vocals for a far darker and more confronting finale compared to the fast-forward dancefloor overload of the remaining tracks. After 24-odd minutes of frantic flashing of brightness, the constriction in atmosphere and immediate dimming brought about by “In Your Area” shows some lost potential to Blackphone666’s strobing pulsations.

Bonus track “Believe” isn’t for download but is exclusive to the cassette, and takes up the entire second side. The rhythm is distilled down to a snappish pulse which lurks at the edge of the mix, layers of crunchy distortion taking up the space it was denied over the pieces on the first side. The long-form piece hits an easier and more staid tone, rasping sheets of noise scuffing strongly while higher frequency bubbles float through the airborne grit and, as the piece develops, more intense lashings ignite the dormant fuel within the piece and lurch it out of its largely unthreatening course.

Every project is entitled to explore its origins and crevices. ‘PTN.YLW HARM’ tributes a world I’ve never wanted to visit, and was never going to bring me along for that ride. The moments of upstart noise obnoxiousness hint that a return to darker and more nebulous concoctions is intended, so while this cassette is destined for the shelf in favour of its predecessors, I don’t criticise the attempt – even if the outcome leaves me behind – or abandon my hopes for Blackphone666’s future plans.

Friday, 1 October 2021

Azoikum & Scatmother ‘Holden Caulfield’ C-70 (Nil By Mouth)

 

Stefan Widmann’s Azoikum has emerged from the ice, pushing out a number of releases in the last couple of years which show no sign of degradation from the time spent away. The project is coupled on this cassette with Scatmother, an outlet for Hagen Verkhaner which straddles primal noise and sordid power electronics for an intentionally unsavoury sensibility which has played out across a range of releases since the mid-‘10s. The two are united here on ‘Holden Caulfield’, the central character of JD Salinger’s ‘Catcher In The Rye’ and used here presumably as a banner for the character’s mental illness and instability which is faintly threaded to Scatmother’s chosen samples.

After a demure introduction Azoikum launches into a fury of tangled and fried noise electronics, multiple lines boiling furiously in a clutter more reminiscent of mid-90s American or Japanese noise than anything else I’ve found in Azoikum’s discography. Drifting away from the project’s more familiar power electronics dourness has not hurt this material at all: it’s powerful, absorbing, and bleeding confidence, equipment punished but clearly enjoying the force deployed upon it.

There are very few sonic components from Azoikum’s material which I can identify or grasp, with only small fragments finding recirculation through a wider reinventive momentum – but that’s the point; this is noise with the futurist drive of Merzbow’s ‘Relapse-era’ but in a somewhat more confined frequency range (there’s little low-end to kick in, and the high end sheen has been kept dialed back), a way to get from beginning to end quicker and with more bruises than the time/space continuum wants to allow. The project’s well-worn power electronics lexicon shouldn’t put off those wanting a fix of high velocity harsh noise: this material is highly satisfying, and stands up well to repeat listens.

Scatmother finds inspiration in a sparser but still disheveled swamp of noise, with leaky feedback, scrap metal and buzzing synth resonating through a darker and more muted display than Azoikum’s bolder hues, and lashed on most tracks by hoarsely yelled vocals which seem to rage in response to the flames coaxed from the familiar setup. At its best the material surges and swarms with invigoration, effective in its brutishness and forging its way through crude weight and nastiness. “Breeders” and “Kshattriya” are both beneficiaries of this approach, ugly distortion-smothered junk and crude synth adjustments  giving a sense of unhinged immediacy which the vocals perpetuates.

It's not an approach which always works, particularly at over half an hour in length. “Proud Flesh”’s ominous opening of delayed junk metal scrapes and unflinching synth sets a more stable and effective tone but that falls apart when the gruff vocals and squirming electronics interject, however the drop in intensity is palpable; “Asperger’s Syndrome” follows and is similarly unconfrontational, the immediacy and abandonment of the better tracks waning through this mid section, unable to keep the energy or depth of sound which gives the better tracks their edge. I prefer the project when it maintains a mood at the expense of ferocity, rather than the other way around; the contributions to this cassette are enjoyable enough when at their peak, but the unevenness and drops in intensity push ‘Holden Caulfield’ back in Scatmother’s discography for me.

Nil By Mouth’s expansive packaging should be well-known by now, and ‘Holden Caulfield’ is the label in its sweet spot: an oversized envelope housing multiple inserts alongside the cassette. Visually the materials are well-made, although the link between what I assume are the Azoikum inserts, and the audio material as titled, isn’t particularly clear: none of the titles match, and the themes seem a little misaligned. Regardless the presentation is a treat, a few rungs above the crowd of Norelco cased cassettes.

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Red Wine And Sugar 'Donkeys Are Led By Donkeys' 10" (Index Clean)

Red Wine And Sugar is the duo of Melbournians Mark Groves and Samaan Fieck, a melding of (as the promo blurb accurately states) “drily delivered text and concrète sound”, found across a small collection of mostly locally released discography entries which have matched Mark’s texts with experimental conjurations seemingly derived from slowed and abused tapes and related media. ‘Donkeys Are Led By Donkeys’ is the duo touching base during 2020’s covid-19 city lockdown, connection as a duo attained through societal and musical disconnect and the sound components then delivered to Altar Of Flies soundsmith Mattias Gustafsson for a reworking on the record’s B side.


The untampered recording of “Donkeys Are Led By Donkeys” starts sparsely, words hanging from silent hooks before being bolstered with a grab-bag of left-field sound. A free jazz sensibility courses through the piece’s sonic choices as discordant jabs, raw guitar clumps, an almost sleazy percussive pulse and a wheezing hum are all shaped through the piece’s opening few minutes, before hitting a cloud of darker murmur which is allowed to close the piece out. While the duo have never been confined in their sound inputs, “Donkeys Are Led By Donkeys” seems more openly musical in its backing, thieving what could easily be The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation off-cuts to stitch together an experimental home bar version of early morning jazz ambience for Mark’s words to hang off in lament.

The unflinching and unhurried vocal delivery – a constant to Red Wine And Sugar’s discography – echoes the isolationism of the cover, fragments of bubbled-up dysphoria and covid lockdown reportage growing increasingly abstractified with a Burroughs-ian cut-up sensibility to its prose, a sensibility finding reflection in the lyrics’ visual treatment on the front cover. Mark is a careful and evocative lyricist and “Donkeys Are Led By Donkeys” is another layered text which has both superficial resonance and deeper intrigue.

Mattias Gustafsson’s remix/reimagining of the track on the B side mistreats grainy cassette drone with mangled tape hiccups, hiding a distant depth of sound and collection of junk ephemera in its haze which has more than a hint of Nurse With Wound’s murky drone depths. That opening resonance is swept aside by the spoken word returning, a concise staccato to the underpinning sounds maintaining a busy trajectory but still imprinting space around the concrete sounds. The urgency which builds through the original track is gone although its sonic remnants remain differently accented and ordered, with muffled junk caterwaul, Leone-adjacent guitar punctuations, close-microphoned crumpling and disquiet cable hum all finding an irregular cycle at Mattias’ hands.  The spoken word too is subject to degradation, irregular effects and mangled repetitions adding uncharacteristic tone to the project’s usual indifference.

The generation of space within the remix, its opening celebration of error and shadow, and its choices of fragments to limpingly repeat, make the treatment a welcome and distinctly different addition to the original piece, various qualities emphasised and abandoned in addition to the introduced sensibility of the opening. Red Wine And Sugar has always been an intriguing and unique project and ‘Donkeys Led By A Donkey’ furthers that of its own accord, but accented by Mattias Gustafsson’s characteristic imprint.