In this synchronized swim between electronic and acoustic instrumentation, Andrew Tuttle is able to coax out the most sonorous elements of both - riding that golden mean where the two become indistinguishable. This isn't cloud-based ambient music. Steel strings twang and diminish. Fingers press heavily on synthesizer keys. The fingerprints of mechanics are all over this. Rather, it is a deep tangle of roots. Tendrils weaving through city-funded concrete, finding and exploiting every crack to reach the virgin loam beneath. Deep below the city.
Andrew Tuttle - Brisbane, Australia - has been creating this interpretative electro-acoustic beauty under the name Anonymeye and his God-given one for quite some time. Splitting time between recording solo and with a whole host of collaborators (Matmos, Lawrence English, Mike Cooper, Heinz Riegler) and helping run Australia's true great import of experimental music - Room40/A Guide to Saints, Tuttle's affability and beautifully performed work have made him a true ambassador.
To claim a country as one's own is a luxury, however, that an ever increasing population do not have. All proceeds from "177" go to the Malindza Refugee Camp Library where your enjoyment of great experimental music goes to continuously fund the library that serves over 400 refugees from all over Africa who have fled their native countries of Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, etc...due to war, famine and genocide.
Nearly all materials regarding Auxiliary Priest’s 2013 self-titled debut draw allusions to the vastness of the universe, space travel, and other overworked interstellar touchstones. While Auxiliary Priest’s extended forays into electronic drone can indeed evoke interplanetary imagery, aligning its music with typical forbearers of space-centric sounds leaves the wrong impression. Auxiliary Priest foregoes the shimmering builds and payoffs associated with space rock and contemporary drone in favor of plaintive, unresolved, and consistently foreboding soundscapes. In the Last Days of the Sutro Fog stays the course, creating a soundtrack more fit for grieving the slow death of our world than celebrating the beauty of the universe.
As with Auxiliary Priest’s debut, In the Last Days of the Sutro Fog consists of two sidelong pieces. Side A remains incredibly sparse in content, with one central drone shifting in and out of focus over the course of fifteen minutes. Using subtle repetition and dynamic shifts, Side A approximates the sound of 1960s academic electronic music slowly decomposing. The piece repeatedly expands and decays, reaching no higher sonic ground in its maturation. The listener is left without a simple conclusion or comfortable respite. Side A is a testament to Auxiliary Priest’s dedication to restraint, building impressive atmosphere out of bleak austerity.
Side B acts as an effective counterpoint to Side A’s stark minimalism, passing through loose compositional segues without sacrificing a sense of spontaneity. Traditionally heavy, fuzzed-out moments begin to appear alongside more esoteric textures, only to be met with contrasting stretches of skittering high-pitched electronic frequencies. The resulting push and pull of these opposing elements eschews predictable thematic shifts and resolutions. Moments of intensity occur without climbs and fade without warning. Side B embraces varied sounds while upholding Side A’s lack of denouement.
In the Last Days of the Sutro Fog succeeds in creating an unsettling sonic environment. Tones are pitch-shifted and decayed to a point beyond recognition. Aural textures often contain no clear origin, bearing few connecting threads with familiar electronic sounds. While Side B monetarily revels in dimed-out distortion, the material strays from self-indulgence overall. Auxiliary Priest gains a high degree of emotional resonance without relying on the tension build/release schema of traditional drone convention. With In the Last Days of the Sutro Fog, Auxiliary Priest has created a haunting and exploratory piece of electronic minimalism.
Generally speaking, Black Metal has long been regarded among its fans and adherents as a form that places a good deal of importance on atmosphere and texture. Early acts across Europe helped to cement the genre’s cold, dismal reputation by utilizing sparse compositions and low-fidelity production. Within these early Black Metal scenes, a handful of artists soon began to adopt the use of synthesizers and electronics in crafting a dark ambient sound that existed in parallel with Black Metal. Recent years have seen many Black Metal-indebted artists taking this idea and expanding it, incorporating elements of shoegaze and post-rock to arrive at a more layered, if not more subdued sound than their forbears. Others still have taken some of black metal’s stylistic conventions and boiled them down to their essence in favor of a sound that is even more raw and primitive. In this sense, Mamaleek, a project spearheaded by two anonymous brothers, really do stand out from their peers; nowhere is this more evident than on their most recent release Via Dolorosa.
Like many of their peers, Mamaleek draw inspiration from outside the typical metal milieu. Where they differ, however, is just how far they have delved to create a Black Metal album that is so idiosyncratic in structure and sound that it is decidedly un-metal. Indeed, the only time one hears a distorted guitar on Via Dolorosa is on “Nothing But Loss,” the album’s opening track. Thereafter, the album continues its descent into a bizarre realm where atypical time signatures, the tonality of jazz chords, and both analog & programmed drums are punctuated by raspy, shredded vocals that are more familiar within the black metal genre.
Another element that Mamaleek borrows from Black Metal is the notion of finding inspiration in the immediate environment. If early black metal practitioners drew influences from the Scandinavian landscape and pagan folklore, then Mamaleek have chosen to position themselves further still from black metal convention in writing an album centered around Christ’s final journey to his crucifixion, a theme that is no doubt influenced by the fact that one half of the band currently resides in Beirut.
The Via Dolorosa, or Way of Suffering, is the name given to the path that Christ walked through the streets of Jerusalem to his crucifixion; the album that borrows its name, much like the journey itself, is wrought with discord, anguish, and ultimately mystery and beauty. In wrapping such themes in the far-flung fabrics of Black Metal, noirish avant-jazz, ambient electronics, and Middle Eastern folk rhythms, Mamaleek have crafted a metal album as beguiling and compelling as it is unorthodox.
Walks on the Beach, a collaboration between accomplished master of oscillations and feedback Mike Shiflet, and proficient producer and Black Swans singer-songwriter Jerry David DeCicca, is unique not just in the pairing of two prolifically talented artists from distinctly different camps, but in the sheer, eerie beauty the pair have committed together.
It’s been elsewhere deemed something akin to “Appalachian noise folk,” but that doesn’t quite get it right – or do the tracks justice; not once do the experimentally minded tracks veer into a full-on noise-rock ditch, nor does the instrumentation reflect the Appalachian music tradition, as we’ve come to appreciate it. Rather, controlled and manipulated atonal frequencies are accompanied by bits and pieces of fractured and fragmented guitar melodies, at times coming together to birth a sort of mesmerizing beauty that’s damn near impossible for the listener to break a glance with.
Shiflet’s mastery of sine wave manipulation is apparent as he conducts surges of crackled tones in single bits and multiplicity, dialing in cascading collections of static and altered, continuous mountains of sound that seem pleasant enough, give their present company. Just under the surface, however, remains a slightly uneasy melancholy and contentious tone that gives the guitar work something abrasive to latch onto.
For DeCicca’s part, his auspicious electric guitar arpeggios and casual improvisations at once offer direction, slicing a swath path, but also offering the promise of a continual meandering trip. His vocal work, reportedly culled from a notebook of permanently partial lyrical thoughts, are sputtered, near-whispered and delivered with a spooky milieu as if from behind a deep cloud; largely unintelligible and absolutely perfect for being so. It’s probably reasonable to make comparisons to Jandek here and there, but a greater acquaintance with the music discloses a distinctly different level of complexity at work.
This is one of those releases that can repeat several times over before a blissed-out, entranced listener would catch on; it’s a totally cool near-ambient dreamscape and the world would be better for more work like this seeing the light of day. Here's to hoping this particular team has more to offer in the future.
- William Furbee
You may have noticed my less-than-prolific output here on the Tome. That, partly/mostly is due to the fact that Crawf and I have been in the throes of putting together 2015's Goldrush Music Festival taking place in Denver, CO Sept. 18th-19th at The Savoy at Curtis Park.
The initial line up is wild. Below you will find a link to the website where you can buy early-bird tickets. THIS IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. They will sell out. In this line up you will find several genre pioneers, at least one legendary band woken out of hiatus, three continents represented (Africa, Australia and Europe), street performers embraced by the avant-garde, up-and-comers that we couldn't be more thrilled to be giving stage-time.
The best part is...There is MORE TO COME!!
Tara Jane O'Neil
Make-Overs (South Africa)
Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk
The Space Lady
Married in Berdichev
Ryan H. and Haley Fohr go deep into exploration as a function of personality, origin stories (duh) and oddball 90's radio hits. Discussed: The Shaggs, Crash Test Dummies, Enigma, etc....
Crown Larks - Blood Dancer (Spacelung / Landbreathing, Already Dead, 2015)
Crown Larks are a Chicago sextet that create some of the densest, tightest psych, free-jazz jams, that, when broke open, unspool into some the most glorious strains of forever-ascending squalor I've heard all year. Blood Dancer, at 7 tracks feels massive. It is a record that I've only been able to take in single settings a handful at times. Taken in small chunks it easy to appreciate the lumbering, meaty rhythm sections that weave in and out of deft Kraut-inspired bass lines that gradually take an exit off the autobahn into the grimiest of Chicago neighborhoods where all hell breaks loose under the weight of three brass instruments soloing above that locked-in bass line and some of the best out drumming that is able to trade flashiness for brass-tacks before selling it all in an eight-armed pummeling as the track looses its moorings and leaves the city, the planet and all known multiverses behind. It is really inspiring to see a band deliver on the promise of some of the finest prog-influenced, noise-bred bands like $keletons, Clipd Beaks and ZS that gained traction in the late aughts and are now being delivered in massive ways by newcomers like Jobs and Crown Larks. Plus, I heard they might play at something, somewhere, that totally rules. But you didn't hear that from me....
P.S. When I googled, then google imaged "what is a six-piece band called?" I came across this photo, which totally unrelated to the review, is absolutely incredible. Please view.
Andrew Tuttle - Slowcation (A Guide to Saints, 2015)
As part of Andrew Tuttle's slowcation through the States from his native Brisbane, Australia, he made a stop in Denver during 2014's Goldrush Music Festival. I was thrilled to make the acquaintence of someone whose work I've admired while he recorded under the moniker Anonymeye as well as his work with A Guide to Saints and Room 40. Tuttle was gregarious and seemed equally thrilled to be at Goldrush, sitting through every set, making acquaintances with individuals he has had equal admiration through musically and kindling IRL relationships that exist because of the internet.Tuttle's output on his latest solo output was written and recorded mostly during this trip and is written for Tuttle's native banjo and manipulation of electronics. Tuttle's banjo technique has been written on extensively. Wringing minimalist lines played at hyperspeed make the steel strings of leather gut sound percussive, much like the ramping up of trance-inducing tribal ceremonial drums. The electronic compositions on Slowcation, a different animal in themselves, focus in on soaring, droning overtones while pitched micro-melodies run riot just at the threshold of our brain's ability to pay attention to several sounds at once. The album's most illuminating track "Post-Meridiem Construction", a collaboration between Tuttle and Matmos's M.C. Schmidt, finds both artists in conversation between Schmidt's beautifully augmented synth lines and Tuttle's elegiac banjo. The result is a fascinating electro-acoustic narrative of two men fully in control of their craft. That follows the course for much of this album, deeply-felt, emotionally resonant synth and banjo passages held at perfect tension with Tuttle's highly experimental, intellectually curious synth explorations that produce something that fires on all synapses on the musical pleasure scale for much of our readers.
Hidden Persuaders - Elegies and Curses (A Giant Fern, 2015)
It is fitting that the Hidden Persuaders' name also shares the title of a book detailing how corporate psychologists play on our fears and desires to sell us stuff we don't really want/need. At the tail-end of late-era capitalism our fears and desires aren't ours anymore, rather, part of a collected subconscious no longer manipulated by symbology and totems that chart our developmental progress but manufactured by the book/movie representations to sell products that help us achieve/eliminate said desire/fear. I've felt a lot of things while listening to music. There have been very few that approach genuine fear. Elegies and Curses gets close. Glacially slow Black Metal played over and between excellent sound art/collage that has punctuated Hidden Persuaders' earlier releases. The space between plodding bass riffs and the next distortion-filled riff are filled to their breaking point with menacing drones, black syrup synths, stabs of contact mic static and the undeniable sound of a fist through glass...perfectly synchronized to fall on the downbeat. Elegies and Curses is a masterfully heavy, downright disorienting release that skirts the outer edges of metal and plays it back through a filter that is somehow even more scary and fucked up than the trumped up tropes that it has come to embody. Highly recommended.
Our Love Will Destroy the World - Carnivourous Rainbows (Ba Da Bing Records, 2015)
"NZ noise royalty" was the descriptor from Ba Da Bing for Campbell Kneale's latest release under the moniker Our Love Will Destroy the World. Honestly, nothing could be closer to the truth. To break that down, New Zealand has a storied history of releasing skewed versions of pop and noise to the world at large, a cursory glance at Flying Nun's back catalog or, you know, the Dead C reveal a crowded list of notable weirdos. Royalty, although having nothing to do with meritocracy (which the sole factor behind Kneale's repute), gestures towards being an ambassador to other countries, representing the best of your home. Kneale certainly has done that. On Carnivorous Rainbows, Kneale's glorious knob-twisting, guitar-mangling, tone-wrangling is on full, glorious display here. Not leaving a single space available for quiet reflection, songs on Carnivorous Rainbows are filled to the brim with the tail-end or mid-thought gestation of million great ideas. Building, tribal percussion on "FUZZ LEGION MAJESTY" is joined by upper-register tonal fluctuations that squawk like tropical birds spooked by an ancient tribal ritual. Bleeding-out guitar attacks smear across the sky like bloodthirsty, chemtrail rainbows given, not as a promise, but as a warning that we are held at the capricious whim of an old god who would rather wipe us all out than course correct. Percussion shows up a lot of this record, sometimes as the backbone on tracks - see "FUZZ LEGION MAJESTY" - or explored in auxiliary roles, flitting in and out of the polyrhythmic (but not tempo-less) "MINIATURE BAMBI SUPERLAND". On the epic closer "HADES IRON HORIZON", fully-developed guitar drones and - what sounds like a bagpipe played on a KORG MS020 - lap gently like a congealing, molten sea while lone piano notes succumb and eventually suffer and die with the rest of us, completely submerged and burning in a sea of endless bliss...Our Love will Destroy the World.
Ken Camden - Dream Memory (Kranky, 2015)
In an album that blurs the line between guitar, synthesizer and voice, Dream Memory pulls together sounds that have their origin wholly outside of this world, or, at least, explores their organic origin beyond all recognition. To start with voice, Dream Memory has quite a bit of it. However, once you get past the album opener "Adenosine" you begin to lose track of it. That is because that track -whose wholly unique vocal sampling Camden pulls from Angel Olsen and Emily Elhaj - stitches together samples of the human voice transcribed to tonal variation and then plucked out, on what I imagine, is a synthesizer keyboard or a fretboard on a guitar interfacing with a synthsizer...this whole thing gets very confusing. But to track the subjective, lived experience of this record is pretty straight forward. The analog warmness of this track is stretched throughout the entire album, illuminating an album that, on its onset, shines with a cold metallic hue. This couldn't be any further from the truth. There is nothing robotic about this album although in its tonal range we find hints and remnants of sci-fi experiments in sound from old 50's classics played in black and white late into the evening. It pulls and coaxes voices from a variety of sources (human and otherwise) that hit a tonal sweet-spot that is above species consideration, or instrumental origin. It exists, somewhere in the haze between intellectual scrutiny and the subjective feeling of light and warmth that it brings.
Brass instruments sometimes incorporate segments of tubing to essentially alter the instrument’s pitch, sounds and key, which is technically referred to as a “crook”; in this case, however, Matthew Kruuk of Colombia, Missouri’s, Nevada Greene has skillfully fused the field recordings of collaborator J. Louis with accompanying synth at the hands of B. Chlapek, alongside Crook’s (spelling, as he’s credited here) own guitar playing, the latter of which is best showcased in the closing title track of this release.
The mood is one of crawling, synthesizer-pumped ambient soundscapes which give rise to wood-and-string folk instruments, peeking through purple galaxy bursts to peer at woodscapes built from a single organic grain, reaching and stretching beyond traditionally understood limitations to reach into space with the birds to converse with among the winds, only to scoop itself into babbling brooks only moments later.
“Freckled Hands,” the shortest song of the three-tune set at 5:40, slowly opens with the sound of a calm stream pleasantly and artificially engulfed in a repeating synth dream pattern of three tones, occasionally scarred with minor touches of faint distortion. Three minutes or so in, a melodic arpeggio rings like a pleasant cuckoo clock awakening oneself to the respectfully chortling stream as it re-imagines itself within the composition. The piece gradually closes alongside a series of whispered words, possibly a thicket-dwelling elf asking, "why did you turn over my log?"
The seven-minute “Yilla” wakes up to greet the morning with peaceful birds and slowly accumulates to a minor key-ridden - yet blissful - droning synth ambiance, never overtaking the woodland-esque field recordings which continue to appear as the sounds of children at play intermingle with birds, thus becoming one of the more naturally rooted works in this presentation.
Side B of the cassette is solely comprised of the nearly thirteen-minute title track “Kahani,” one which sees atmospheric compilations, bass string drones and echoing higher timbre melodies bring our woodland trek to its natural conclusion. The track opens with beautifully executed fingerstyle guitar cushioned by atmospheric shadows, with wonderfully executed hammer-on technique and repetitive lower notes lining up, while the upper strings reach higher and higher to climb back with the birds, man...all the way from that clear water creek. In this piece, Crook’s calming guitar work effectively utilizes essential and gorgeous repetition to build and work upon a pleasing progression accented by the occasional slight bend of the string.
With only three tracks to do so, M. Crook has herein presented a world both natural and synthetic, woodland and electric, traditional with a turned ear for the non-traditional. It’s a calming force that grows like a grand fungus upon the fallen tree, with the melodies of unaware, yet documented, creatures dancing from the cassette ribbon.
Two years ago I reviewed Simon James Phillips excellent solo-piano record Chair on Room40. In it, while describing Phillip's gorgeously hyper-kinetic piano playing, full of melodies seemingly happening all at once, droning reverberations from crashing and collapsing soundwaves, I assumed that this sound was somehow produced using a manual delay pedal (or any pedal at all). Phillips kindly responded to me that, in fact, there was no outside manipulation of his instrument at all. That all the drones and huge, cavernous tones were in fact a natural interplay between the instrument, acoustics and strategic placement of microphones in the Grunewald Chapel in Berlin. All of the incidental sounds, the reverberations and twin/triple tones was part of the natural way sound reverberates and bounces off of stone settings. That blew me away.
Phillips returns, this time as part of a marathon-length double CD that takes the fruit of a five-hour long all-improv performance recorded in 2011 and compresses it into a 2 hour opus for piano, percussion, electronics (featuring BJ Nilsen!), guitar, double bass and trumpet. The result is a slow-building, ever ascending journey held down by Phillips' mandible dexterity and endurance. Phillips' piano playing sounds hard to maintain for 20 minutes, let-alone 5 hours. Phillips' plays busy, major chord cluster notes that fill up all available airspace with clashing and replicating tones that completely submerge the listener in an avalanche of sound. With a full band, Phillips guides each performer into delivering, or at least buying into this aesthetic. What starts with solo piano on Disc One and solo piano over and under the sustained tones of Nilsen's electronics on Disc Two, ends by breaking into a crescendo on each disc on max-power.
After graciously and gracefully constructing darting piano lines that continuously tumble after each other like waterfalls, Nilsen's electronics and William Dafeldecker's droning double bass, elegiac trumpet lines from Liz Albee, swoops of guitar drone and the frantic, pulverizing drums from Tony Buck come in with full-force when the track reaches its logical breaking point. After holding tension for close to 40 minutes on Disc 2, the restrained, everything-on cacophony is a welcome daybreak rainstorm that scratches every itch and fulfills every promise of this incredible ensemble. In between peaks and valleys we get to savor on the brilliant acoustic-electronic interplay that blurs the line between electronic manipulation and the piano's sonic capabilities.
This record is brilliant in every way. I, by my naturally Type-A, competitive personality am drawn to feats of endurance/strength. When I run for long distances I sometimes get a major dopamine dump to my central nervous system called a runner's high. That level of transcendence is I am sure what five hours of sitting through/actively listening to this performance would have produced. But for now, we have an artifact. A "Best Of" compilation that seamlessly tracks the trajectory of one of, in my opinion, best composers around today. Do yourself a favor and be cornered by this, alone, for two hours. You can do it.
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