A deliciously deadpan video that destroys everything I hate/secretly love. Personal pools, clean white linen, keyboards and mic stands. "Babyfangs '77" off of Afraid's equally deadpan and destructive tape Sinister Vibes is distinctive mood piece. A shining clean edifice being eaten alive from the inside by something profoundly disturbing. Like a brand new macbook pro filled up to critical mass with murder porn.  The blood comes. Spoiler alert. But when it does it is impossible to tell where from. Stigmata or spray from blunt impact? This works well with Sinister Vibes, the tape this comes off. That tape is a powerful piece of subversive media. Think Small Black meets Have a Nice Life. The stench of death is somewhere close, but rot can smell sickly sweet. Corpses in the basement an art gallery opening about the transcendence of black metal. We can only decontextualize so much before our violent thoughts catch up with us. 

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

Head Dress - Mesa (Horror Fiction)

This Head Dress tape out on Horror Fiction came like a burst of light through a smudged and dirty window. The previous Head Dress tape we covered - Deicide (A Giant Fern) - was a heavy name for even heavier light/dark noise filtered through deconstructed beats and scraping drones. Mesa, however, is a crushing meditation played out on lone and dreary riffs that accumulate more dread and audio detritus as they are repeated over and over. Heavy and spacious, recalling the "magic, murder and drug abuse" of the Southwestern landscape that this tape reinvents. Aside from ponderous and chugging, things get downright thunderous as Ted Butler unleashes an electrical storm of spleen-rattling, blown-out distortion towards the end of Side B. I can listen to this for days and never get sick of hearing that riff played out in ever expectant doom. Fans of bands like Barn Owl, Earth or Thrones should be salivating over this.

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Sal Lake/Keiki - Split (Live God)

Very rarely do I ever take notes when I listen to albums for review. I did for this split between Sal Lake and Keiki, two very fine noiseniks cranking out positivist psychedelic noise for the iniated. Reading back through those notes a week or so after writing them was something like remembering a dream that made such perfect sense while in it that you mistake it for a remembered past. For example, once I had a dream where I constructed a completely plausible plot scenario in the second season of The Wire. To this day when I watch it I can never be sure if what I dreamed about actually occurred or not. Relistening to this tape my observations of "breaking into tribal drumming...Popol Vuh" on Sal Lake's "Lungsack", the  "peaking, decaying harshness" on "Betterhomesandgardens" or the   "winds of harsh noise" that wash over the gentle synth/guitar drones on Keiki's "To Listen, To Love" make even more sense after a week of digesting the psych-noise contained within. This tape is immersive on so many levels. Keiki's harsh tones wash over you without the abrasive jolt of so much of this ilk. It is like being pulled away in a riptide, you are caught in a gentle current until you realize the shore is much too far for you to swim back to. Sal Lake's  muscular rhythm section gives rudder and direction to his tapestry of outerspace sounds. A highly enjoyable split by two of Ohio's up and coming drone/noise dudes.

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Jung an Tagen - Aeussere (Orange Milk)

Another impossibly good release from Orange Milk. Jung an Tagen is Stefan Kushima, an Austrian native whose icy synths belie a surprisingly warm human heart to what could otherwise be a gallery-bound sound-art installation. Aeussere is held in acute tension between passages that could snap into a thousand fractals from the brittle, diamond cut beats and synth lines and the smeared orbs of color that reach back to a time before solid lines and differentiated color schemas. To a post-gill, pre-cognition experience of being completely immersed in sound of indiscriminate origin - like being in the womb at a Four Tet show - our mother's belly against the amplifier. There is probably a straight line between womb-like coffin of sounds to linear, austere beat structures of this record, but it is much more fun to take this in outside of time, to let both happen simultaneously or at least in disjointed order. Time slips or God-like omniscience. The last minute and a half of "Nie and Nammer"...Fuuuuuuuuuuuuucccckkkkkk. I can't even.

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Lesionread - Greatest Hits Vol. 1 (Live God)

I wish I had the confidence of Lesionread. Seriously. This is one of the most self-confident, fully-realized, lived-in worlds created by someone probably a lot younger than me with boundless energy and a touch of mania. Greatest Hits is auteur on god-mode. How many minutes are on a tape? Fuck it, run that thing til it runs off the spools. Vol. II is probably rotting away on his computer just waiting to see the light of day and Vol. 15 is already in the works.  The only comparison I can give to the sheer audacity of this record is Jerry Paper's Big Pop for Chameleon World, Sir Benedick the Moor's El Negro or...Justin Timberlake. A tape that trawls all genres and knows no boundaries. Demented 11th dimension pop bleeds into banging warehouse-party beats next to augmented rap that unspools into aural-art noise attacks. This should be getting all the hype right now. There are some certified hits on this record. When will "Art All Day" be our generation's anthem of post-collegiate angst? Not that this is all extroversion. Between the meat-slab thud of beats, saxophone interludes both recorded and synthesized, are some hyper-confessional lines whispered into a microphone late at night. Yoni Wolf said it best when he said, "sometimes you gotta yell something you'd never tell nobody". By making certified club bangers out of our most guarded secrets is as cathartic as it gets. A 21st century version of bloodletting. Someone please get on Lesionread's level.

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

Some beautiful HD footage of winter's deep maw accompanying a mysterious, elliptical tale set in said deep maw. An equally HD soprano moves from shading and coloring the surging ambient-jazz track to unleashing a tirade of superhuman whoops and calls as the track begins to accumulate weight and dread like tiny snowflakes that eventually trigger an avalanche. Amazing work out of Ireland on the always fantastic Denovali label. 

Purchase via Denovali.

Friday, March 20th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

Cambo - Patronage and Pork (Crash Symbols)

Next level beat tape from a relatively enigmatic producer. Patronage and Pork plays on the gritty past of a drum machine's former life hiding in Main Street pawn shops and studios under the patronage of drug money. The new Medici's of Flatbush have commissioned the representations of their religious myths scrawled out in a sequenced boom-bap drug through the dizzying highs and lows of chemically induced escape through laser-like synths that drip dopamine like rain through open rafters. This tape is on point. Samples of self-help gurus, rapped interludes, squealing, squashed synthesizers, peaks and valleys of loud-soft dynamics, martial lock-step of a beat pitch-shifted beyond the point where it could look in the mirror and recognize itself. All very familiar and strange.

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Aphasiacs - Debtor's Paradise (Crash Symbols)

And thou shalt forever bang thy head until thy neck shall break. When God handed down this rule he did so, not by commandments carved into stone, but through a forever-ascending populist dancefloor banger that is unrelenting in its litigiousness. If you are caught lacking, or your mind wanders for a minute, a machine gun BPM or swirling arpeggio will grab you by the scruff and throw you back into the deep end of obedience by compulsion. For our God is a jealous and God and will have no other space of your cranium that is not filled with beats sprinting a marathon or hacienda-style throwbacks to four-on-the-floor hardness with skittering breaks over tape-decayed Glass-style surging and swirling. God also doesn't care about double negatives or run-on sentences. This testament to dance music will be erected and desecrated on every county courthouse lawn in secret bohemian gardens. Consider this canon.

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Nico Niquo - Epitaph (Orange Milk)

Epitaph is a strange name for this tape. Ostensibly, Orange Milk Records has putting the nail in the coffin of genre distinctions for some time, using the internet's trawling net to scrape together entire ecosystems of micro-genres to explore, extract and piece together in a lived-in, no-rules frontier. Perhaps no tape has done this with more grace and exactness of vision of Nico Niquo's Epitaph. It is full of beat-heavy compositions that pair trill high-hat breaks of trap with the triller high-hat breaks of yesteryear's downtempo/chillout, often following each other in the same pattern. Synths sound as if they were pulled from some Windham Hill retrospective and then processed through some ancient text-to-voice software. Free jazz samples, hotel lobby piano lines, pitch-shifted vocals that go hard AF. These wash themselves with a soapy film across tracks that leave plenty of breathing room before being jarred out of this meditative state by beat-heavy movements. This never quite interrupts the tranquil vibe of this tape. These two worlds live in the same neighborhood, a click away I suppose, and indicative of our schizophrenic musical tastes when the vaults of ownership and genre distinctions are thrown open. Somewhere, in that liminal space between our proclivities and general moods, lies this tape by Nico Niquo, an ear shaped as a modem, its output only a fraction of the insane amount of data being taken in. One of my favorite pieces of music in 2015.

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Strange Orbs - Strange Orbs (Live God)

Strange Orbs is one of the favorite things in my tape deck these days. A percussion-driven tape that teeters between psychedelic guitar and synth lines, arcing drones and scraping, harsh noise. In service to Strange Orbs' galloping beats, sometimes simply the weight of itself surging and tumbling over itself, these disparate elements become two heads of the same coin, both creating an atmosphere of unease and tension but never giving over to misanthropy or nihilism. There is tension, and probably some disgust, but this exists at the edge where tones begin to shed their sweeter tonal quality and nudge into the realm of bad trips given a soundtrack, instead of at the blackened core where world views are formed. When the needle goes into the red it does so in short, rhythmic blasts that are eventually folded into the texture of the track in the vein of Wolf Eyes' Burned Mind with considerably less firepower. They become a cathartic release that snap and contract with every involuntary head nod. Ambience rooted in improvisation is at the heart of this record, but when its parts coalesce there is little out there that sounds better than this.

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)
Alpha Strategy

Ahh, how long ago, you, 2011; that fateful day when Rory Hinchey’s Alpha Strategy project first tripped its way into my mailbox. It was a split release, out on his Ownness imprint backing up the Czech Republic’s Projekt Stinka on a terrific record (that features a beautiful cover drawn up by Graham Lambkin). From listening, right away it was clear that this fellow from Toronto was up to something on a completely different level, one of those “doesn’t play with a full deck,” types. The music just didn’t want to fit anywhere in my mind, jarring and abrasive, completely off-the-axis in terms of melody and structure. The project, at that time really just the product of one man's efforts, leaned on its sample-based approach, borrowing drum grooves from 60s soundtracks and girl group records, warping them into demonic loops to sit beneath a belligerent, barking vocal shouted out over the top. An instant pull-push effect  was the result, undeniably magnetic for listener, who hovered between the music’s ferocious extremity and groovy-chill temperament - drawn into a whirlpool of hip rhythm, only to be forcefully shaken at the shoulders by the music’s manic bent-circuitry, sharp guitar atonalism and that unforgettable, drunken-phrased howl of a voice Hinchey slaps on for good measure. 

Three years later, and the two tracks from that short, 45RPM 12-inch, “Append and Divide,” as well as a new version of “Tar,” would wind up appearing on this, Alpha Strategy’s debut full-length record, which also arrives to us via Ownness and can’t seem to find its way off of my turntable this afternoon. And as it turns out, those two titles were only mere hints to the broader scope of Hinchey’s twisted vision, which zones in considerably under a band-configuration, filling out nine additional tracks for a round 11 total. Now a fully fledged quartet featuring guitar, electronics, bass, and live drums, this very weird project feels so much more constructed and whole, providing the samples that underlie Hinchey's foundational style with a more defined generic concept of what this essentially is at its core. 

So what I once thought was originally supposed to be some warped, artsy re-interpretation of doo-wop or some other bygone popular style, is really just a cleverly reconfigured vehicle for pure post-punk, the kind that drips into your blood like an IV. Dark, slinking bass lines sway around militant drums, spiky guitar stabs and strobing electronics, all of it coming together in a set of sinister material that recalls the likes of Public Image Limited or This Heat more than anything else, or even The Birthday Party, which is actually covered on the album in a rousing rendition of “Rowland Around in that Stuff." And it is within this context that Hinchey’s patience-testing vocal starts to make some sense. In fact, careful listens reveal just how much more in control of his melody, tonality, and phrasing he is than at first meets the ear, hitting quite a lovely melody in “Pang,” as well as on album standout “Thread,” while allowing his more open-form wail to skillfully follow the contours of the album's turbulant lyric sheet (which, by the way, coming with the record printed on an 11x11 square insert, proves to be this release's secret weapon).

So what's all this mean for you, dear reader/listener? Are you up for it you think? I'll be honest, from the ballistic opening seconds of "Heart of a Girl" to the blunted end of "Out of My Hand," I think a good 85% of this recording is going to make your nose wrinkle when you first hear it. There's just no getting around Alpha Strategy's planned weirdness, an almost violent negation of consonance... hardly anything that's designed to be ear-pleasing ("Thread" is about as close as it gets). But to my ears, to my mind, and to my experience as an active listener of new music, there hasn't been a band that I've felt was more important to the outlook of our good buddy rock 'n' roll since maybe ZS' New Slaves. Completely unique in today's musical moment with the attitude and skill to back up its bizarre bounty, Alpha Strategy is a challenge to be faced — and you might just need own strategy when found head-to-head with it on the hallowed battlegrounds of your headphones.

Crawf

Alpha Strategy

Ownness

Monday, March 16th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

The best cut from one of 2014's most criminally overlooked albums finally gets a video treatment...and holy shit what a video this is. If you haven't had your fill of mating snails this year, consider that rectified. Beyond that, so much of this video feels like it is happening off screen. As the digital lattice of images in the center begins to shift shapes and is invaded from the periphery by arcing spherical lines, I got a split second of existential panic. Like, "I was focusing on this small thing, but all this other stuff was happening outside that I wasn't even aware of! OMG...life!" Too heavy for a Friday morning. But also snails, slime and that vocoder effect on Marc Richter's vocals and the rolling, galloping piano/zither lines to get you outside of yourself for five minutes.

Ryan H.

Friday, March 13th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)
Still

After a busy 2010 and 2011 that saw the release of four albums, M. Ostermeier has stayed occupied while curating the Tench label and fulfilling his duties as co-owner of Words on Music. Simultaneously, Ostermeier released an album in 2014 with his band Should, featuring Tanya Maus and brother Eric Ostermeier. Lucky for us, Ostermeier has returned from a four-year solo hiatus with Still, a brilliantly composed album that solidifies our love for Ostermeier’s true sound.

The thematic departure from 2011’s The Rules of Another Small World is apparent, even from a glance at the two albums’ track listings: the human-centric subjects and pronoun-driven titles of Rules’ “Sunlight on My Desk” and “I Took Out Your Picture,” have been replaced by cold, natural concepts, such as: “Stasis”, “Congruence”, and “Inertia”.

Keeping this in mind, we can surmise that while listening to Ostermeier’s prior discography gives his audience the impression that when he employs fuller melodic movement in tandem with richer harmonies, he is depicting human activity; or rather, at least capturing the presence of someone – somewhere. With Still, there is an escalated emptiness, with fewer elements reassuring you that you are not alone in the cold, vast universe.

In its sound, Still leaves more open space than any of Ostermeier’s releases since 2010’s Lakefront, making an effort to further restrain his characteristic reticence. The album's second track “Division”, an exchange between a quiet set of longing chords struck on the piano and a soft, pervasive rustling, exemplifies Ostermeier’s weaning from melodic motion. At other times, the only lyrical movement that can be perceived is in the already-faded memory of last quiet chord struck on the lingering piano.

To chart out the emotional narrative, you have to think back to the last note heard. In this way, Ostermeier creates a vacuum that readily fills itself once it is offered repetition of the familiar, although during many periods no such offer is made, and you are left alone in near-silence.

It’s promising that M. Ostermeier is back with solo work; it would be fantastic if the next two years were as fruitful as 2010 and 2011, especially given the ominous grandeur heard in Still.

Alexander Williamson

Still is available for Pre-Order at Tench Records

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)
Fortune

Damon & Naomi’s eighth record since the 1991 dissolution of Galaxie 500 doubles as the soundtrack to Naomi Yang's first short film, Fortune, released last year (and available for viewing online). Fortune is a short work, its 11 tracks clocking in at 28 minutes (and the first nine don’t even break 20). But there is immense beauty in its sparse arrangements. Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley have always been an obvious parallel for the duo, and the comparison is particularly apt here. The pair’s gentle harmonies intertwine over acoustic guitars and glistening electric piano, and brethren melodies mirror the visual motifs pervading the film.

Fortune is strongest experienced as a whole, and near-transcendent when paired with the film. The course of the album follows that of the main character, a middle-aged man (played by Norman von Holtezendorff) fighting desperately to cope with the loss of his father. The more claustrophobic songs find him stuck in his urban home, meditating in candle-lit rooms as images of tarot cards, serpents, and pomegranates flash by. But for the most part, this isn’t mere incidental movie music; there is marvelous song craft here. Damon’s voice strains to meet the haunting melodies of “Amnesia” and “Shadows”: “Can nothing free me from that face?/I want to be over/To touch and be gone.” The aching “A Shining Dream,” also released as a standalone video, is particularly moving: “When I stop to hear the sound/I wonder who else found this way/Beyond the sound, a story in me/Of a heart that came apart.”

The second half of the record, starting with “Towards Tomorrow,” sees our main character moving forward. Spilled grains are spooned back into a shattered hourglass as Naomi sings of “casting darkness aside” during “Sky Memories.” The bright strum of closing track “Time Won’t Own Me” sees the nameless man finally gives us a wistful smile as strips of paper rain over his head, the illuminated cityscape behind him. The vocals drop back into the mix and let the chiming tremolo of the keyboards do the talking. It’s the strongest song on the album, a beautiful, cinematic, freeing release, literally tailor-made to run over a film’s closing credits. Fortune doesn’t step beyond the bounds of what we’ve heard from the duo in the past, but it’s a gorgeous, succinct statement that elevates the visuals it was written to accompany.

Nat Tracey-Miller

Purchase Fortune

Fortune from Naomi Yang on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

The two videos we are premiering below, if viewed in their entirety, will take you through the 30 + minutes of Braeyden Jae's new(er) tape Culture Complicit out on Hel Audio. I would recommend etching out 30 minutes of your busy day to view these things back-to-back on the largest device you have available...full screen, full volume. The populating of negative spaces - black-to-white-white-to-black - unfolds into a rorschach test that reflects back submerged troubles or desires or  takes the form of universal symbols that reflect submerged troubles or desires - whatever side of the Freudian/Jungian split you fall on. Regardless, both Braeyden Jae's compositions and the raw, black and white imagery (still pixel-chunky as if viewed through some kind of early digital kaleidoscope) reflect a psyche at its most vulnerable and the channeling of swelling, building drones that absorb and then expel unconfronted psychic violence through ebb and flow of a delay pedal. It is immediate, bracing and triumphant. Otherwise, I saw ventricles opening and closing and topographical maps of European coastlines. What did you see?

Purchase from Bandcamp

Culture

Complicit

Monday, March 9th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)
If You Take your Magic Slow

Here’s a new(ish — yeah, sorry, still catching up) full-length release from PA’s The Garment District, a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed pop group that plays the tunes of one Jennifer Baron, a former Ladybug Transistor, lovely songwriter and plunker of electric piano. It's a smooth backdrop for Lucy Blehar's plaintive singing and the band's subtle bop-and-bounce routine comes together for If You Take Your Magic Slow in a beautifully lush spangle of song this time, the music really opened up to the deeper production value of a 12-inch vinyl record with instrumental sprawls that twist their way through her meandering, almost absentminded writing style. The band gives off a sunny demeanor, lots of bright guitar tones and buttery synths that manage a light bounce despite their calorie-heavy textures. The immediate impact of the ensemble is always one of a certain sweetness, a sonorous thing of ease to fall into - relaxed grooves, melodies that stretch out like a cat getting struck by a stray sun ray through the living room window.

But the band plays with your expectations and sneaks in some odd turn-arounds here and there as well. The record's constructed with a puzzling architecture that keeps you guessing, even multiple listens in, bouncing between more structured, verse-chorus style pieces and those slippery instrumental wanderings, full of all kinds of little mini-sections of swapping organs and saucy guitar solos. I’d almost call it a dangerous move, in fact — that these sorts of pieces sprinkled throughout the album almost risk the beneficial catch of an effective hook-and-reel songwriting system, which many of this album’s tunes just nail. Take for example album opener, “Secondhand Sunburn,” and the subtle doo-wop sway of its verse and the glorious rays of its harmony-heavy chorus. It's a powerful and bold pop statement, on par with my favorite Saturday Looks Good To Me stuff — so good, in fact, that the band just had to bring that chorus roaring back for a reprisal after an initial fadeout (a slick bit of style-flair, by the way, major bonus points). That’s all followed quickly by the swing-laden instrumental number, “Jonquil,” which gives the taught line the band just cast out a healthy dose of psychedelic slack right off the bat. It works, but it’s definitely a curiosity-stricken shift in tempo, tone, and mood. Good pop music is either mind-numbingly simple, or painstakingly difficult, but it can be rare to find a band that seems to be able to do both at once, which is the vibe I’m getting here — The Garment District sits not somewhere in the middle, but at both extremes simultaneously, enjoying the ease of a straight-forward groove (often the band champions that steady quarter-note pulses with a light triplet-swing tucked under for good measure) while also letting their songs off the leash, searching and sniffing around for nothing in particular, hitting points of pleasantness and letting them ride it out just for the pure pleasure of it. 

I have to be completely honest here — I sat on this one for a ridiculous amount of time, and this review's been through several draft-iterations... and I still don’t think I’ve got it quite right. Beyond any kind of real critical assessment of the music we have to work with, I just want to say that I had to learn to really love The Garment District’s new album. It didn’t grab me right away, didn’t stick out. Its many wonders and endless curiosities are all right there in front of you, but they’re so many, and so small, like a several-tens-of-thousands-piece jigsaw puzzle. But the more I listen and piece these song sections together, the intricately planned and placed combinations of synthesizers, the syncopated auxiliary percussion, the clearer the whole picture is all together. And that picture, with its soft greens, pastel purples, bright blues… it is indeed a beaut, just another notch on Night People’s ridiculously consistent run. The kind of thing that makes you wish more pop music could make you think like this one does: music that makes you yourself a creative participant in it, simply by listening.

Crawf

The Garment District

Night People

Sunday, March 8th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)