AH! KOSMOS- Bastards (Denovali)
For her first proper release on Denovali, Istanbul-based producer/conjurer Basak Gunak creates dark, lyrical compositions that wrap acoustic and electronic instrumentation around Gunak's throaty baritone voice that ranges from a powerful croon to whispered spoken word passages the way the rings on trees tell a story of inward fortification and outward (perhaps painful) expansion. When we cut deep into the heart of these tracks, passing layers of electronic programmed percussion, lines of distorted guitars, dense near-eastern drumming, samples of snippets of everyday life re-contextualized and stacked in jittery, paranoid strands of audio we get into something that sustains these disparate elements and holds them in useful tension. What "it" is held very close to the chest. An overwhelming sense of hope with its corners darkened by paranoia and fear. A sustaining force that begins with Gunak's innate sense of melody - building ascending synth and guitar lines and slowly layering her vocal melodies until they become one in the mix - and then grows outwards, incorporating sounds from outside her window, musical ideas borrowed/lent from collaborators until the center holds but the peripheries are stretched thin and always searching for that next hit of inspiration. Bastards has my vote for one of the most rewarding discoveries of an already packed 2015.
Demian Castellanos - The Kyvu Tapes Vol.1 (1990-1998) (Hands in the Dark)
After listening to these collections of home recordings by Demian Castellanos - founder of The Oscillation - one gets the sense that there are hundreds of tapes that could be released that are just as filled to the brim with incredibly moving, forward-thinking guitar compositions that sound completely at home with 2015's bumper crop of spiritually-minded guitarists using their instrument to reach a higher plane. In fact, these compositions are what I imagine are on a 24-hour loop in the brain of someone like Castellanos - as if someone stuck a stereo cable in and pushed record. What we have is a constant under-drones pulsing and oscillating, panning from ear to ear as Castellanos's heavily processed guitars either stack layers and layers of unsourced sound until all sound ever created exists between the peaks and valleys of a thousand oscillations or pieces the veil in Peter Walker influenced ragas or clarion-clear guitar solos that begin by floating on the same frequency but then begin to steer the composition into unexplored sonic terrain. Perhaps the most celebrated example of this is on "Lizard Raga" (one of the two "official" ragas on the tape) where Castellanos casts his eliding, sinewy guitar lines into a sea of oscillating drones and comes back with sounds and ingenious moves on the guitar that lie just outside of consciousness - like catching an weird deep-water sea creature in a relatively shallow river bed. Castellanos can also build upon structural and less-abstract material with similar effect. "Photon Waterfall" builds upon a minimalist ascending guitar line that accrues meaning each pass through the loop pedal. We somehow get the idea that Flying Saucer Attack was one of the few acts that dwelled on hazy, warm looped guitar passages when we reference acts from the 90's as direct influences on some of the directions that ambient guitar-based music has taken. Kyvu Tapes draws a straight line between Castellanos' drone-based compositions and today's musicians coaxing guitar tones into the realm of the ethereal.
China - Towards the Sun (Self-Released)
Raphi Gottesman's Signed, Noisemaker is one of those tapes that has never really left my player. In it, the multi-instrumentalist shows a sincere and humble knack for crafting melody and mood in compositions that are complete in every way. Gottesman, with China - a proper band-band EP with Michael Tapscott (Odawas) and Jason Quever (Papercuts - who donates some gorgeous strings here) - create perfectly sunbaked, Laurel Canyon country-tinged, free-floating deep-cut LP rock of the late sixties filtered through the modern day exodus out of San Francisco, a move directly tied to the 60's exodus into the city's loving embrace. This is music for hitching up the wagon and ho'ing out west into the land of displacement - the sun always on the back of our pioneers as they flee the bright, cultural wasteland of tech-industry wealth - not the diseased-gum gnaw of Midwest poverty and squaresville Dads. These are songs for the diaspora, and they are beautiful - the same kind of feeling of stumbling across a dusty LP of long-haired dudes and hearing some of the most transcendent melodies and harmonizing this side of Garcia. Fans of recent troubadours The Lowered, Midlake and Howe Gelb should find ample purchase in these five songs.
Metatag - Surrender (Hel Audio)
All we have are our mistakes. Genetic aberrations unlock hidden potential to adapt and evolve. What wipes out large swathes of the population allows a small minority to develop resistance and flourish. But machines aren't supposed to make mistakes, right? That's why we built them. External brains that are capable of specificity unencumbered by consciousness that we could never even aspire to. But somewhere, knocking around in the hardware, are misfirings, loose connections and random events that create mistakes or half-formed, mutant children of a perfect system. Clocking in at 2-minutes shy of an hour, Metatag's second full-length on Hel Audio, does not shy away from displaying these weaknesses and flaws. The decayed tones of a dying synthesizer, the glitch of audio data spat through spools of wiring are written into these songs, creating moments of unintentional beauty and useful aberration. The Norwegian duo's commitment to creating 22 stand-alone, cloistered units of music is impressive. By rarely, if ever, changing tempo or melody once locked into a 2-3 minute groove allow Metatag to explore the rich underbelly of machine-created music, delving into tones that dissolve or sputter into productive decay while allowing the steady minimal synth lines to remain in the driver's seat. Surrender, at times veers into dark drone-based compositions instead of riding the arpeggio sine wave for an hour. The darkly cinematic quality of each track suggests a dystopian future that has been ruled by Vangelis's pulsing synthscapes in his Blade Runner soundtrack. Any attempt to not notice that influence is impossible, but Metatag manage to create something even colder and perhaps even a bit more futuristic. The seedy future-ghetto, Chinatown replaced by clean, symmetrical lines and curved angles: more Kubrik's vision of the distant future in A.I. than dystopian battledome made of recycled sports equipment. Perfect tunes for nighttime bike riding through the city.