Sunday, October 14, 2018

New Music Sundays: 10/14/18

Gazelle Twin: Pastoral

Gazelle Twin's 2014 Unflesh was in my reckoning the second-best album of the year. It was an absolute masterpiece of female angst, with Elizabeth Bernholz bristling in industrial rage at the trials of womanhood in a society indifferent to women. With Pastoral, Benholz has gone from an interior album to an exterior album, and in that exteriority somehow managed to top the last record in every way. Rather than be concerned with the Self like Unflesh, Pastoral is a societal record; like Gnod's The Mirror it's a lament of what has become of England in the last four years, though also like The Mirror the concepts that Bernholz suggests could be used for any number of nations currently flirting with right-wing authoritarianism. The music is at once more martial and more manic than Unflesh, with mostly short pieces flowing into each other to become a quilt of confusion and resentment about the state of the nation. This makes Pastoral feel more like a single piece, a throbbing experimental rumination on the nature of power that surges in martial time with vicious washes of industrial sounds. Pastoral is a triumph of statement, a work of art that drills its way into your mind and takes control. Anyone who thinks that 'industrial' as a genre died in the early 2000s owes it to themselves to see Gazelle Twin take the basic building blocks and turn it into something necessary and immediate. What a work of genius. 

Daniel Bachman: The Morning Star

I had never heard of Daniel Bachman before he was suggested to me by a friend during a discussion about John Fahey. Figuring I could use a new American Primitive folk record, I picked up The Morning Star, his most recent release. About halfway into the clattering, elliptical, 18-minute opener 'Invocation' I realized that this record was not the Fahey that I, or my friend, had anticipated. While Bachman's prior albums were generally more traditional, if incredibly virtuosic, guitar ruminations, The Morning Star shows the young prodigy already pushing against the seams of the genre to create something ruthlessly experimental. His guitar is found only in the background of 'Invocation' and it's only the achingly gorgeous mid-album suite "Song for the Setting Sun III" and "IV" and most of the closing piece where it takes the center stage in the way that his earlier records did. Elsewhere, Bachman uses drones, field-recording samples, and Neubauten-esque sheet metal gamelan to create harsh, dissonant soundscapes that accompany his playing. His technique is undeniable, and the fact that he's an absolute prodigy is borne out by his earlier work as well, but The Morning Star is an incredible example of someone who has taken their technique as far as it can go branching out into something wholly new. If this is the start of Daniel Bachman as a difficult modern composer, I look forward to his records for years to come.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

New Music Sundays: 8/19/18

Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: An Angel Fell

Wow, this one's a treat. The Pyramids were a free jazz combo in the '70s who put out several records during the decade before disbanding in 1977, but they reformed in 2012 to first put out We Be All Africans and this year, An Angel Fell. For those who aren't big fans of the messy, chaotic structure of free jazz, not to worry: An Angel Fell takes the whole of black history and distills it into an arresting, astounding musical whole. Jazz sits alongside, R&B, funk, and reggae so seamlessly and naturally it will just feel like a new form of music. This is the next chapter of 'jazz fusion' as a genre, never before thought of outside of deep in the minds of cosmic travelers like Sun Ra, Roland Kirk, or my choice for closest comparison, Arthur Doyle. Listen to The Pyramids' astounding, moving, 'Soliloquy for Michael Brown' and you'll hear that same richness of tone from Ackamoor's sax that Doyle got out of it in his ultra-intimate bedroom recordings. An Angel Fell is a triumph, and is not only among the best albums I've heard this year, but for as long as I can remember.

The Body: I Have Fought Against It, But I Can't Any Longer

As far from the unbridled joy of An Angel Fell as you can get. The Body started as an extreme metal duo, but they've been moving steadily into a new, unexplored direction for a few albums now, and I'm not sure if you can even classify them as 'metal' anymore. The closest point of comparison might be the solo works by The Haxan Cloak, where it's all viciously oppressive atmosphere, but even that is selling The Body a little short; I Have Fought Against It... is like pure, unbridled malice put to tape. Ruthlessly experimental, the album's waves of electronic noises pound you into the dirt, and Chip King's absolutely horrifying vocals call to you across some immeasurable gulf. Actually, forget The Haxan Cloak; the best comparison might not even be any other band or performer at all, but the soundtracks to the first few Silent Hill games: clanging, godless, weaponized ambiance. It's difficult music, but one that's guaranteed to give an emotional response to any listener. By the time you finish I Have Fought Against It..., you'll never forget it, and you might be a changed person.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

New Music Sundays: 7/1/18

Ergo Phizmiz PLC: F**K M*N ;)

Ergo Phizmiz, also occasionally known as Dominic Robertson, now known as Ergo Phizmiz PLC, has been touting his new record F**K M*N ;) as his first pop-oriented album since 2014's sad folksy The Peacock. This is a bit of a cheat though: even if you discount the pop records he's released since as Dominic Robertson and IG Witzelsucht, anyone going in to F**K M*N ;) expecting the cracked '60s throwback pop of Things to Make and Do or The Peacock is going to be very surprised. I don't know if appending the 'PLC' to his moniker was an intentional reference to Public Image Ltd., but F**K M*N ;) definitely feels more like the nervy, angular, mechanized post-punk of PiL, Magazine, or the New York no-wave groups than anything Phizmiz has given us before. Guitars slice, drum machines wheeze, and Ergo weaves vaguely uncomfortable tales in a kind of low-key muttering. We live in troubled times, and F**K M*N ;) channels the uncomfortable angst of everyday living into this ugly, muddy mess. The darkness only lets up toward the end of the record, with the frankly lovely 'A Bottle Full of Salt' that recalls The Peacock's Fairport-styled folk, but after that it's back into the abyss until the record ends. Something new and unexpected by Phizmiz, which just proves that the man can really do anything.

Arp: Zebra

Another very unexpected offering this week. Arp's 2013 masterpiece MORE was the best album I heard that year, this achingly beautiful, sad and soft Eno/Cale/Ayers style loveliness. And since then...nothing. A few remixes, a tape of experimental long-form work, but Zebra is the first offering by Alexis Georgopoulos as Arp in a very long time, and it's nothing at all like what he's put forth prior. Eno is still here, but this is Eno the collaborator, from records like My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and especially Possible Musics, his collab with Jon Hassell. Hassell's ethnography of imaginary cultures informs Zebra down to the core, and the record drifts and sweeps over the listener as a bass-and-marimba fueled jazz record. Other than Hassell, Zebra takes its cues from jazz fusion like Chick Corea and Weather Report, with a little electric Miles thrown in, though not as experimental and wild. One criticism that can be leveled at Zebra is that it's a little samey:the album's tone doesn't really change much from the beginning to the end, it retains the same soft, marimba-driven mid-tempo loveliness throughout. But rather than looking at Zebra as a collection of songs, that similarity makes it feel like one uniform piece that slowly ebbs and flows throughout the course of the record. More than anything else, Zebra shows us that we should never assume with Georgopoulos; the man is a musical omnivore and is able to process his aural knowledge into something new effortlessly.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

New Music Sundays: 6/10/18

Wrekmeister Harmonies: The Alone Rush

I had picked up Wrekmeister Harmonies' gorgeous 2014 single-song album Then It All Came Down, but they're another band that kind of fell off my radar between then and now. Maybe it's the presence of Thor Harris as a player on the album, but the first thing that really jumps out at me about The Alone Rush is that it reminds me some of The Burning World-era Swans. That's an album that has always been unfortunately maligned, even by Swans frontman Michael Gira himself, but I've always felt it deserves better, and I hope that The Alone Rush doesn't suffer the same fate because it's a really gorgeous, meditative goth album. The strings drip with melancholy, the percussion is distant and haunting, and the rich baritone vocals invoke not just Gira but also Andrew Eldritch, effortlessly grounding the otherwise-drifting light touch of the music. If you're looking for another record of 'acoustic goth' like The Burning World (and if you're not, seriously give it another spin - it's better than you remember), then The Alone Rush will give you that same sense of beautiful, massive grandiosity.

The Verboden Boys (Belfast Chapter): Band From Reality

As different as it gets from The Alone Rush. First, a little history lesson: from what I can tell, The Verboden Boys is a 'franchise punk band'; that is, there are dozens(?) of bands from around the world playing under that name who all stem from a 'headquarters' in Antwerp. The bands all use the same song titles, but the actual contents of the music can be wildly different. At the time of this writing, Band From Reality is the only release by a chapter of The Verboden Boys, this one given to us by the apparently especially-unhinged Belfast chapter. The record seems to be a couple vocalists, a way-too-overdriven synth, and a drum machine, playing the most ugly explosion of insane synth punk you've ever heard. It's 17 minutes long, but a full 10 of those minutes are the glitchy ambient closing track, so you can listen to the rest of the album quicker than it takes you to heat up and devour a Hot Pocket. There's just an incredible sense of youthful racket, and even features what I assume is one of the members moms making a guest appearance ("dinner's ready!"), reminding of the bands in my own obnoxious teenhood. Band From Reality is only a couple bucks on Bandcamp; do you really want to live in a world without The Verboden Boys? I hope we get some releases from other chapters in the future!

Last-minute update! I was totally incorrect about the Belfast Chapter being the only recorded Verboden Boys out there! Check out The Montreal Chapter for more traditional song structures, though the tons of reverb still give the record that weird sheen. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

New Music Sundays: 5/20/18

Grouper: Grid of Points

Grouper's 2014 masterpiece Ruins made it onto that year's best albums list, but somehow Liz Harris's stunningly sad project fell of my radar until recently, when I came across her new record Grid of Points almost by accident. Grid of Points is played so ethereally that it nearly collapses into nothingness, but the gauzy weight of Harris's haunting voice keeps you rapt as each line melts into the void. While Ruins incorporated nonmusical sounds like scratching on metal, until the very end of the record Grid of Points is entirely the marriage of Harris's piano with her breathy, multi-tracked voice. And with only these two instruments she's able to do so much, in such a short amount of time; the album as a whole only lasts a little over 20 minutes. It's an album of pure, slow emotion, and its brevity actually works well for what it is: by the time the last song finishes, you wonder if you really heard it at all, or if it was the melody of some half-forgotten memory. 

Dylan Carlson: Conquistador

Twenty-five years on from his epochal Earth 2, Dylan Carlson shows his absolute mastery of the guitar as a tool with the ability to transcend time and space. Conquistador, like many of his records since 2005's Hex, feels like the soundtrack to an imagined Cormac McCarthy adaptation: with little more than his guitar, Carlson concocts deep red canyons and dust-blown plains, and by the time you reach the end of the 13-minute long title track, you can feel the cruel sun reducing you to a husk. The album is entirely slow repetition; Carlson fixates on a single measure and rides it until it can't go any further. The minimalism is haunting, and has more in common with a composer like Steve Reich than with any tenuous links to popular music you expect from a Seattle-based guitar project. And like Reich, instead of being indulgent, Conquistador washes over you and never feels dull for a second. Carlson is a shaman with his guitar in a way that I haven't really heard before, outside of maybe Sunn O))), but their albums exist on a different plane than Conquistador does. Like Grid of Points, Conquistador isn't a long album, but its viscous repetition can act as an anchor in the chaos of our age.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

New Music Sundays: 5/6/2018

Gnod: Chapel Perilous

Gnod's last two albums, the arresting The Mirror and Just Say No to the Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine, were pure blasts of outrage, more interested in searing the flesh off your face in their outrage than in waxing philosophical like their earlier works. Chapel Perilous manages to bring the best of both words into its pitch black hallways, and the result is astounding.The album is bookended by two enormous slabs of sheet metal in closer "Uncle Frank Says Turn it Down" and opener, the incredible "Donovan's Daughters" which builds in ugliness over its 15 minutes into a stunning denouement. Seriously, "Daughters" could be my favorite Gnod song, and one of the best songs I've heard in a long time; it transports you into another realm, coiling and mutating and swallowing you whole. The songs that make up the middle of the album, the trilogy of "Europa", "A Voice From Nowhere", and "A Body", are similar to their earlier work: more experimental, mostly instrumental, mysterious and labyrinthine. These two halves, taken together, are about the closest to a 'beginner's guide to Gnod' as you can get, and it's such a strong album that it's more than just a good primer. Like with Sunn O))), Chapel Perilous feels like a terrifying religious ceremony...enter the Chapel in chaos, prostrate yourself before its dark core, and leave a changed person.

The Black Lips & The Khan Family: Play Safe

And now for something totally different, for a really good cause. Play Safe is a pairing of ultra-catchy garage rock revivalist King Khan with his Khan Family, and the sleazy fun of The Black Lips. It's an EP made in collaboration with Viva con Agua de Sankt Pauli, a German nonprofit that is trying to get clean water to needy regions of the world like South America and Africa. It's a great cause, but how's the record? Short and amazingly sweet, from garage scuzz to girl group cuteness over the course of just about 10 minutes. Play Safe's songs will get lodged in your brain long after you put the record down, and you'll just want to give it another spin. Like Tony Molina's records, Play Safe shows that you can cut rock music down to its purest essence and come out with something that much stronger.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

National Poetry Month 2018: Justice Ameer

Photo taken from

Unless the spirit suddenly moves me, this will be the last poem for National Poetry Month this year, I always like hunting for new poetry, or putting up old classics, and I'm really pleased that I was able to make this a weekly occurrence unlike previous years. Today's piece is Justice Ameer's "(After God Herself)" which just absolutely astounded me with the force of the subject and the flow of the words. This is a subject near and dear to my heart and Justice has put it into words in a way I doubt I'd ever be able to. Keep reading and writing, dear reader, and let us all bring more poetry into each other's lives.

(After God Herself)

Adam ate an apple
it got stuck in his throat
and they called him Eve
the progenitor
the creator of all things
the mother of strength
and fortitude
and sadness
Adam ate an apple
choked on it so hard
a rib popped out of his chest
and they called it Eve
the progenitor
the creator of all things
the mother of strength and fortitude
and sadness
it takes the hacking of a body
to make a woman
Adam hacking up a piece of his body
it was just a piece of fruit
they called me fruit once too
they called me fruity
before they called me flaming
before they called me faggot
before they called me woman
i thought i would have
to hack this body into pieces
woman, a name stuck in my throat
right under the apple Adam tried to eat
choked on it for years
waited for my ribs to pop out
my chest to explode
for my Eve to be created
from the fruit i couldn’t swallow
they called me fruit once
until they called me woman
and then they just called me fruitless
as if it took a womb to be
mother of all things
strength and fortitude and sadness
they reckon God looked
at the image of herself
and called it Adam
they still don’t call me woman
they still don’t birth me Eve
even though they cast me out
my throat shrunken close
with the fruit still stuck in it
like Adam
before they called him Eve
and suddenly i am a stranger
to Eden
i am a stranger to this body
as if it hadn’t always been mine
i reckon God looked
at the image of herself
and called it me
but i don’t know if that
was before or after the apple
before or after Adam choked
which came first
the progenitor or the mother
the apple or the rib
the strength or the sadness
this body was God’s original creation
but they called it sin
they called it Adam
I reckon God looked
at the image of  herself
and called Adam Eve
after she choked on his name
some fruit that bloomed
in everyone else’s throat
but she could never quite swallow
the fall of man was an apple
hacked up from a fruitless body
a woman learning what evil was
like a man forcing his name upon you
the fall of man was a rib
being torn from a chest
and men calling that violence holy
naming a woman based only
on the body parts she’s made of
the fall of man
was the beginning of Eve
Eve casting out Adam’s name
Eve discovering who she was
the progenitor
the creator of all things
the mother of strength
and fortitude
and sadness
the fall of man
was Eve becoming a woman
with or without Eden’s approval
and now
every time someone
tries to call her Adam
tries to force the apple
of his name down her throat
she laughs
she swallows
she looks at God herself
and she smiles