Harasite

Lately, I've been listening to a lot of Todd Rundgren. Not really because I like Todd Rundgren (although some of his Utopia stuff is cool...maybe?) but more because I like the idea of Todd Rundgren. A kid from the Philly suburbs discovering drugs for the first time and with a shit-ton of gear cranking out song, after song, after song. Writing and recording sprawling 2xLPs and writing and recording songs in the time it takes me to get out of bed and pour a bowl of cereal. The One and Only Matt Miller probably has little in common with the Runt aesthetically, but the comparison I like to draw from is the singer-songwriter as cloistered, self-contained composer. In the gatefold of Rundgren's album when shit first started getting real, is Rundgren standing in his living room, facing all of his recording equipment, guitar slung low across his waist with his arms extended triumphantly. In what is either hubris of preemptive fame, or a sly wink and a nod to other home-recording enthusiasts it speaks to the fact that the output containing your greatest ideas, best lines, most carefully crafted compositions are transcribed into mediums that are probably only representative of about 15 % of what went into them. The true fans, the ones getting the real show, are usually your 8-track recorder, massive tube amps and miles of stereo wire who hear everything in its intended, pristine brilliance.

Approaching Miller's studiously lo-fi, kitchen-sink composition decisions it makes me wonder if we are truly getting out what went in. Casio keyboards are supposed to sound underwater when recorded directly onto decaying strips of magnetic tape. But I get the feeling when I listen to the carefully-constructed, building compositions replete with full drum-kits, armies of synths and bass licks on Harasite that Miller has more in common with Rundgren than I first thought. These are aspirational songs that often work against the aesthetic of lo-fi homerecordings as much as with it.

There are moments on this tape, however, that are as stop-you-dead-in-your tracks brilliant and affecting if they recorded in some ludicrously expensive studio than in a cold and drafty row house in a decaying Midwestern city. Harasite is bursting at the seams with them. Miller's songwriting can turn a phrase like no one's business. Witness "Scientists and Zionists" agreeing on constructing a "Manna from Heaven Machine", Miller's younger-self protagonist "liter-roll-roll-roll-ly" falling down the mountain that the "rednecks have their hill climb", watching TV snow all night until re-runs come on in the morning. These are easy returns on a record that often requires repeated listening for the full weight of a metaphor to truly dawn on you and crush you in its relevance to your life, right then, that second.

Tracks on Harasite range from Rundgren-esque mini-symphonies of full rock band set up and swirling synth lines that induce a woozy, golden-tinged sense of giddiness. But much of this album is tinged with that unnamed sense of sadness/adrenal rush that comes with remembering forgotten emotions. Tracks like the massive crescendo-ing "The Virgin Suicides"  makes me want to form a band immediately to recapture that ennui, rage and wonder that Miller can wring out of his distinctive voice that registers somewhere between downcast croak and soaring croon. Dude has pipes. Especially on "Boys, with the Blues, on red alert" where he sounds like Boz Scaggs. Which is amazing.

These are huge songs. Huge ideas full of small winks, nods and clever lines that slip past even the most astute listener on the first couple listens make this one of the most rewarding and fulfilling finds of 2014. Spend some time alone with this tape. No extended hubris on this.  You hear the most shiver-inducing lines, the building, echoing voice of Miller pouring his soul into this tape machine. There is no saluting the means of production or studio wizardry. It is all there, more or less, in plain sight. Bare bones and prickled hair.

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 | Add New Comment (0)

New material and a killer new video from SLC-based VCR project, VCR5. Dying eclipse solar flare burning Thrashin' onto the back of your eyelids assuring that this 1986 consumerism as counter-culture masterpiece will be the last thing you see when you die. Post-IDM banger of several VCRS spilling their analog guts in unspooling piano lines and crisp, glitching beats. Fresh AF.

this Videodrone brought to you by Ryan H.

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Add New Comment (0)
S.T.L.A

Imagine stumbling into Gordon Ashworth/Concern/Oscillating Innards material this late in the game. I am late both in 2014 and in life. The first time hearing Gordon's longing, fully-fleshed out drone-based music was last month when I saw Gordon and Work/Death play an incredibly moving set at Rake's End in Cincinnati, OH. What started as just another weekday noise show turned out to be an introduction to oeuvre of work that displays musicality rarely present in drone-based or drone-adjacent music.

S.T.L.A came out back in April after Ashworth's most notable project, Concern, shut its doors after a string of highly regarded records. Ashworth's latest project shares certain commonalities with the music put out under Concern's moniker but with Ashworth's inherent musical talent is pushed to the forefront. At times, these instrumental passages are bare-boned and naked, often, however, they are abstracted and manipulated, notes stretched into shivering, excited particles responding to electrical impulses or laid flat as an EKG meter carrying the ghost of tonality hovering somewhere above. This is especially true on a song like "Suite for Broken Sex" which starts with a lush piano piece before gradually being deconstructed piece-by-piece into the most elemental mechanical operations. Metal string vibration muffled by thick oak. Amps as receivers - interloping on someone's private cell phone call. 

"To Be the Man I want To Be" is a rich, long-playing melodic banjo piece flurrying desperately picked lines over a cicada hum of mechanical sounds, manipulated field recordings, ghostly double images of itself. Ashworth's work as an overnight taxi driver puts him in contact with some of the shadier elements of our society. Ashworth has done field recordings in hospital parking garages in the dead of night. Here he often draws in snippets of conversations with Portland's denizens of the night. The resulting ambient passages feel a bit spooked and always on edge. That works for Ashworth's compositions. He will often pair plaintive piano, banjo or guitar lines (in the album closer "Desperate and Indebted") with sounds that are always looking over their shoulders knowing they aren't alone. Darkness creeping under slits in the doorway.

The title of this album is an acronym for "See Through Life Alone". In the loss of a loved one or the loss of faith, readjustment is often a circular process. Momentary forgetting and crushing reminders. Ashworth's latest album can often move me into both modes. This isn't escapist music. But rather a mechanism to help you stay rooted into whatever mental space you've clawed for yourself amidst constant longing.

Purchase S.T.L.A on clear vinyl from Ordinal Records

Thursday, November 20th, 2014 | Add New Comment (0)
Comet's Coma

As days have gotten colder I've wanted to crawl in and live in Aaron Martin's latest record. It is inviting enough to do so. Acoustic instruments strewn across a fireplace heated cabin. I imagine a lot of throw blankets in this sound-cabin. Sometimes, like waiting for the bus, It is all I can do to wring every last bit of warmth from it to combat the encroaching numbness of a polar vortex.

Aaron Martin first burrowed his way into our hearts via Forest Gospel's early championing of his solo work and subsequent collaborations with noise/drone giants Machinefabriek, Dag Rosenqvist/Jasper, TX (as Mouth of the Sun) and Dawn Smithson (Sunn O)))). Martin's latest work is a thing of explicit, bordering on exploitative, beauty. This is a record with no sharp edges, no impossibly long or dismal ambient segues before hitting you square in the chest with beauty not often found in this world. At its root, this is a record that explores the tonal possibilities of Martin's cello and a mini-chamber orchestra of various bowed and plucked acoustic instruments (not excluding the bowing of instruments designed to be plucked). In it, even the most ruddy of instruments, like a banjo, have every last bit of beauty and sweetness wrung from them and folded into passages that seem to hold in midair and stop time.

Consider "Comet's Coma", bowed cellos passages and lines from various other stringed instruments dive and circle overhead like seabirds, gradually picking up intensity before fading into an instrumental passage that sounds like it is seeping up through the grates onto a city street. Light banjo plucking flits and flicks underneath. Until, this cello line comes surging up from beneath totally piercing the veil and induing the entire thing with a sense of...power. Like you could tear a phone book in half. All of this without a single power chord or amplified instrument

Comet's Coma doesn't pull any punches. This is a record that wears its heart on its record sleeve. Forlorn slide guitar sounds paired with swelling cello lines and stirring violin passages create soundscapes that roil with unplaced nostalgia. Apartment buildings vacated and filled with ghosts with squatters rights and decades worth of lost chances.

But this record is more glowing hearth than structure fire. A thing of near impossible beauty and warmth. And those tears brimming and then rolling down freezing bus windows is just an allergic reaction to emotion. Quite possibly the greatest work Martin has put out yet.

Ryan H.

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 | Add New Comment (0)
Which is Worse

Problems that Fix Themselves is Already Dead Tapes 150th release. That is significant. In just under four years, Already Dead has put out 150 pieces of physical media. That is close to 40 releases a year. Lately, I have felt a bit disorganized. Having so many irons in the fire make it difficult to focus on one thing for any significant amount of time. Already Dead's insistance to go all-in on their own terms inspires me to be a better steward of my time and commit myself more completely to where I feel my reach will be the most felt. In the world of artists co-creating on AD there is a dedication that is just a rung under Juggalo family unity. Whenever I come across some AD-affiliated artist, he/she usually ends the conversation with, "I'll see you at the family reunion! (an annual festival put on by AD)", I involuntarily brace myself for the "whoop! whoop!" that never comes.

Here we are. AD150. A 12" vinyl pressing of Already Dead founder Joshua Tabbia's industrial-noise project that is more beautiful and soothing than the fore-mentioned genre tag would represent. Now officially expanded to a duo with longtime musical partner Alex Borozan, Problems that Fix Themselves have leapt ahead light years in compositional competency since their 2010 release Seconds. On that record Tabbia crafted a listenable balance between harsh noise and tones that had more emotional heft than I had heard in most noise records. Which is Worse lets these moments play out without scuttling them without contact mic harshness or audio sampling. Rather, these are compositions worked out well in advance and perfected with ample attention paid to timing and structure as well as the typical noiseniks continual fussing with tonal quality.

The result are songs that surge with programmed post-industrial beats that drill and seethe or glide and sink into placid, blissful tones of organ/synth lines that melt into an unhurried liminal space between structured beat-driven songs and unformed, unchained tones fluctuating and oscillating wildly. "Black Elvis" is the corollary to this, a building, daisy-chained composition that adds elements from the ground up, starting with a single drum pattern and unfolding into a fully-fleshed song-song with poignant crescendos and moments of additive brilliance. "Slowburn" is the only song that doesn't corrall harsh tones and beats into a tightly structured arrangement. Instead, it is an abrasive, everything-on excercise in skin-flaying tones and improvisation. At the end of the album it is a cleansing, powerful addendum.

It is no surprise that my favorite track on the album is "Sunday Song" which features Victoria Blade's beautiful voice wrapped under blankets of tape hiss. That song follows a simple, hymn-like melody of life-affirmations. "We are in this for the long haul/we are willing to give it all". Those words struck me like a wrecking ball.  When you can frame living a life of integrity - which comes to its base level of releasing tapes and art - into grand terms of a war against a stultifying and suffocating existence, it makes what may seem like chicken-shit to disappointed parents or cultural commentators, something worth fighting for, worth protecting with your life because you and a dedicated group of weirdos made it yourselves. And life is precious. And the way you live your life is the most important thing. All of that from a noise record.

Ryan H.

Thursday, November 13th, 2014 | Add New Comment (0)
Sungod

Of all the releases undoubtedly coming out on 11/11, the newest Sungod LP on Holodeck records carries in its tiny, notched grooves all of the mystery and supernatural significance contained in that portentous number. Sungod reaches deep into the American musical past to create an album surging with the elemental structure of a blues riff, expansive psychedelic textures, and appropriation and adaptation of Kraut rock's lockstep bass lines and exploration of meditative modalities into their clamoring, crushing pastiche. Like I said, an American album.

Sungod covers a lot of ground in these 39 minutes. "Come Gently, the Wind" starts with a beautifully placid acoustic guitar ballad evocative of a Texas afternoon as the the oppressive heat is finally dissipating and porch-time with the guitar is playing out the sun. "Come Gently" slowly fades into the thick synth textures of "Heavy Water". Texas's sticky heat is replaced with a long synth drone tuned to the sound of a car crushing fresh snow under its tires. Flute and noodling guitar passages float serenely over a hive of oscillating sounds and sustained tones, until an arpeggiated synth line cracks the sky and things get really, really heavy around 10 minutes in. Popol Vuh comparisons turn into Hookworms as the syncopated drums pound rhythms into some antiquated futurist concepts of a negative utopia predicated on German efficiency and America's unprincipled brinkmanship.

"Burn Ward Blues" is the dirt under the fingernails of this pristine album. Dirty, blues acoustic guitars sliding into crystalline synth work. Melt into the B-Side of this record. Huge, bombastic polyrhythms, gang-shouted spirituals, epic guitar freak outs, piano falling down the stairs, tense strings under the canopy of winds-from-the-gates-of-hell guitar droning. Phew, in under 8-minutes "Shiftless in Nkawkaw" covers a lot of ground. The triumphant album closer, "L'ame de Toute Etoile" puts the final Holodeck stamp on this thing. Kraut brilliance full of chase-sequence, laser-like intensity of the arpeggiated synth and lock-step bass into booming crescendo of a thousand careening voicings exorcised through the talisman of focused electronic frequency.

11/11. Sacred numerology for the masses. In many ways, Sungod takes the ineffable and distills it into bite-sized morsels for mortal consumption. Bliss.

Thursday, November 13th, 2014 | Add New Comment (0)

This is the newest joint by Berlin-based-by-way-of-Portugal Pedro Maia, one of our favorite filmmakers working in the world of shortform music video. Maia has racked up an impressive series of films shot on Super 8 and processed with an eye on bright, bold colors and surrealistic imagery for artists ranging from Lee Ranaldo to Fennesz to Panda Bear, to Sandro Perri to Demlike Stare (I could literally go on). This latest film cobbles together film shot in various times (1978, 1984, errr...Prehistory?) and in various locations including China, Peru and in an unspecified location in the Baltics. Sink deep into the erotic mystery that is this film. Herzog's fever dreams on some mefloquine in the tropics type shit. Plus, this new track by Gala Drop is infectious slow burn of a jam.

The fact that some of this is "found footage" is slightly terrifying. 

Monday, November 10th, 2014 | Add New Comment (0)
Precariat

C.J. Boyd is about that life. In fact, his lifestyle could be the most logical end to the aspirations of the artist-as-troubador. No temp-job. No postal code. All logged miles, vegetable-oil fumes coming out of a busted retrofitted engine, stacks/racks/bands of contacts, floors to sleep on and best burritos from Des Moines to Gainesville. Boyd has been on tour since 2008 and hasn't stopped. In many ways his latest full-length, the first under his given name since 2012, gives voice to that tension between exacting schedule and absolute freedom, shoestring budgets and big ideas, road fatigue and seeing the sun burn the mist off of fields in Alabama. In Precariat, Boyd's upright bass, bass guitar, loops and voice are held in useful tension with each other. Beneath beautifully layered bass guitar passages are golden sustained tones that hold the entire composition together with richness and necessary weight. Equally matched with those beautiful, bucolic tones is the gnawing maw of amplified upright bass baring its white, shiny teeth and sharp, death-like breath.

The album is bookended with two short solo bass pieces that explore that razor's edge between wolf growl and the deep-end rumble of a jet engine take off. Precariat then brackets two of the most beautiful instrumental passages I have ever heard (more on those later) with two vocal pieces that draw on equal parts African-American spiritual and Arthur Russell avant-garde appropriations of classical and pop music. Boyd's looped voice reaches for the rafters and ends up settling comfortably in some mezzanine level of heaven. You can hear Boyd putting everything he has into these songs. Diaphragm wringing out every last drop of breath. Lungs crammed into ribcage. Upright bass and bass guitar growling and pacing each other in some kind of ancient mating ritual. 

This brings us to the sweet, blissful soul of the record. A two-song pairing of instrumental beauty of upright bass and bass guitar falling into each other's arms in post-coital exhaustion and ennui. Each having just died a bit but finding new resolve in the morning light seeping in through thin drapes. "Peradora" and "The Fifth Story" are songs that may not have the immediate emotional wallop of Boyd's vocal pieces, rather these are ones to sink into slowly, letting each new line take root, make it's impression and then bow out. 

Boyd's projects with Desert Center, Kurva Choir (which put out an EP on Heligator Records), Rhonya have explored this longing, dissonance and straight-up beauty in various forms, Precariat presents them as interlocking parts of a whole that tell a story of hope and beauty against all odds. 

P.S. C.J. Boyd is in need of a new veggie-oil powered van to keep his infini-tour going indefinitely. Contributing definately increases the odds that you can see Boyd playing these songs live in a living room, cafe, park, bar, venue near you! So let's throw this dude some dough to keep it going!!!

Friday, November 7th, 2014 | Add New Comment (0)
Marble Sky

Can we talk a minute about the utility of music. Especially, for the interest of this review, the utility of achingly beautiful, quiet ambient music. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time relaxing or sitting still for a long period of time. I think this speaks to about 99% of a generation who grew up "relaxing" in front of a TV full of rapid-fire images and explosions. There is very little time when I feel I am allowed to do nothing. In the search to explore what music does to me, I've been reflecting on how music to serves or aides functions of everyday life with positive results.

I remember the first time ambient music really did something to me. Trying to self-manage symptoms of restlessness and a short attention span, I began searching for music that could be played as I read for college. I can't remember the exact keystrokes or Google algorithm/rabbit-hole that brought me to Steve Roach. But I remember the immediate effect it had. With earphones like an air-traffic controller the words on the page appeared in stark relief like a dolly zoom in a movie. All of the extraneous sounds of living in an inner-city apartment were suddenly muted allowing me to keep my attention for longer and longer periods of time with Roach's long-form drones corralling my energies to the task at hand.

From then on, ambient-drone music has been as much about utility as sheer enjoyment/engagement. With Jeff Witscher's (Rene Hell, Secret Abuse, Impregnable) most explicitly placid and beautiful drones under the moniker Marble Sky being collected and reissued via Students of Decay, reflection on the beauty and utility of ambient seems apropos for the net positive impact Marble Sky has had in the short time it has been in my life.

In terms of aesthetics, nothing quite matches the polished sustained tones and aching drones that are felt by impression only, like fingers running over a silk garment or the way a bed never quite forgets a significant other, even long after they've left (for good). Sometimes, Marble Sky is straight polished-stone interior. Lines and contours with no sharp edges. Marble pillows from Frank Gehry's dream house. Almost always, however, an awareness of transience mark this record, although it feels like it could last forever. Light static hiss always in the background, reminding us decaying tonal qualities, warping beauty over time, nothing gold lasts. That baseball card collection you kept in mint condition is worthless in 2014. The strings in "Lea; Crossed Eyes" keep this in constant tension. Something aerial and ephemeral being grounded by the earthy, ruddy tones of the violin.

Marble Sky has gotten me through two literature reviews, a couple of papers as well as illuminating everything and induing it with meaning on walks home under trees recently caught fire by Autumn's dropping temperatures. That in a crude abstract, has been its utility in my life. I'm usually nicer to other people, dogs, trees and cats after accomplishing something under the influence of this record. The meta-impact is beyond the scope of this review.

I've written a lot of words about ambient music, but I still feel under its debt. I've been withdrawing pretty heavily from Marble Sky's structured ambience but have yet get to come up empty. Marble Sky is a universal trust fund of sustaining influence bankrolling your most extracting endeavors.

Ryan H.

Buy from Students of Decay

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 | Add New Comment (0)

I know this record came out early 2014 but Doce has been burning holes on my turntable lately. Novy Svet is a duo from Vienna, Austria who spent the past 12 years recording in various cities and in various languages throughout Europe. Doce, the album that this videdrone is taken, is a retrospective of from their musical exploits 1998-2012. The first song off this record is treated to the wonderful and visceral treatment from our old friends Moduli TV. When I first heard this song I had to walk back to my turntable a few times. Was it the right speed? Was it playing backwards? "Punished with Longing" is a looping, lurching, heavily rhythmic slab of brilliant European-neo-folk-meets-loop-based-weirdness. Those horns, the martial drumming, that voice that sounds like it is recorded backwards but then learned to be sung forwards. Phew. And this video...We are huge fans of Moduli TV's looped film distortion and color palate that matches the green seasickness that this song induces. Perfect in every way. Seriously, pick up this record over at Kill Shaman. It's a weird and wooly world inside.

Purchase it here

Nový Svět - Punished With Longing from Moduli TV * on Vimeo.

Videodrone brought to you by Ryan H.

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 | Add New Comment (0)