2015.03.25 A Winged Victory For The Sullen & Loscil: Live at The Warhol Theater

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Image from the Carnegie Museums website.

Yesterday evening I saw A Winged Victory For The Sullen Perform at The Warhol. It began with one man project Loscil who played a bass heavy soothing set of ambient and minimalist electronic music. His music consisted of pulsating low end bass and minimalistic electronic noise that were accompanied by a nice series of videos and graphics that appeared to interact in response to the electronics. His set was pretty to the point, beginning promptly and as many of these ambient / drone shows go he stood center stage behind some equipment with a laptop to his side which made the accompanying visuals all the more necessary for entertainments sake – a really nice surprise seeing as I haven’t yet delved into Loscil’s catalog as much as I would have liked to but it was performance that seemed to fit perfectly as a precursor to A Winged Victory’s performance.

Between sets there was a brief intermission and A Winged Victory took stage. Typically they are a duo but with their latest release, ‘Atmos’, they expanded their sonic pallet considerably with the addition of more electronics and a string trio. The set was considerably more low key than I had expected – the screen behind them was illuminated with a still pixelated image of what appeared to be static or maybe a blown out image of some hay. I kept expecting at any moment for the image to quickly change to a stark black and white video of some scenic landscape or perhaps even more appropriate, a video of choreographer, Wayne McGregor’s dance piece in which A Winged Victory’s second LP shares its name with but still the static image remained casting the performers as stark silhouettes. To make up for it the performance was one that sounded even better than their recorded material. There were moments – although brief where rippling sub bass came beneath the swirling strings, that kind of Ben Frost-esque bass that you can feel resonating with the swells of the strings and throughout your entire body  – it was a performance somewhere between the relaxing lulls of Stars of the Lid, a duo in which Adam Wiltzie was also a part of and dynamic songwriting of Kranky Records labelmates, Godspeed You! Black Emperor; a great mix of both the cascading simplicity of their first record and the more structured form that can be heard on ‘Atmos’. The group played for nearly an hour before performing a little encore.

After the show the duo hung out and chatted with fans at their merch table. I took a look around while picking up a copy of ‘Atmos’ for myself and noticed the variety of people hanging around – some were older types, people you might see at a gallery showing, some were crowd of flannel wearing kids with the thick rimmed glasses, some had their jackets covered in the patches of various punk and hardcore bands. I think the amount of diversity says something to the type of people their music is speaking to; modern classical is no longer for the posh gallery crawl goer but talks more to the kids who are willing to sew a cutup t-shirt graphic onto the back of an old denim jacket or even just the type of people who wouldn’t listen to classical on its own. For my girlfriend and my roommate this was their first experience seeing anything like this live – which is always a rewarding thing – to turn someone on to a style of music they naturally wouldn’t listen to.

You can stream the entirety of their set below.

Hair Police – Mercurial Rights

Hair Police - Mercurial Rites

In 2001, noise trio, Hair Police, made quite a racket within the experimental music scene and continued to do so for a number of years before going on an unannounced hiatus in which members pursued endeavors in their respective separate projects. It wasn’t until earlier this year that the group returned to the noise scene with their most complete effort in years and arguably their most intimidating release out of their entire catalogue. Featuring members of noise legends Wolf Eyes and Burning Star Core, Hair Police brings together aspects from these backgrounds, the frothing primal aggression of the former and mesh it with the sonically attentive subtleties of the latter. With ‘Mercurial Rites’ the group looks to strip the semi-polished sheen of noise music’s marriage with digitally processed sounds and the recent influence of dub music, instead, taking the genre back to the electronic medieval that seems to have been absent in recent years.

While in recent times the musicians most notable for their contributions to the early modern developments of the now thriving noise scene, the likes of Dominick Fernow of Prurient and  Vatican Shadow, Pete Swanson (ex-Yellow Swans), and Black Dice have been moving more toward exclusively structural variants of electronic music, implementing their once completely atonal noise compositions into the structural format of modern electronic music, namely the likes of dub and minimal techno, Hair Police have something entirely different in mind, devoid of any of the aforementioned electronic themes, thus harkening back to the primitive roots of electronic music. Hair Police revisits the confrontational aspects of noise that the genre was known for during its early developments recalling the hellish vocals evocative of the ear-aching noise pioneered by controversial power-electronics group, Whitehouse in the 80s and early 90s.

Hair Police’s sound actually reminds me a lot of the more abrasive works from Wolf Eyes, albeit, this form of corrosiveness is not of an immediate kind but  rather, long form, slow-burning, and reminiscent of the Wolf Eyes collaborative series of works with psychedelic noise collective, Black Dice. ‘Mercurial Rites’ is a record that knows when to be punishingly noisy and when to bring in a moodier atmosphere. It is this live aspect that adds layers of depth and uniqueness to an otherwise colorless, bleak vision. The vocals add yet another nightmarish quality to these dissonant tormented soundscapes. With this release the band has proven itself worthy of crafting a nicely balanced record, intermittently transitioning from the tortured analogue hell of ‘We Prepare’ to the  nightmarish dungeon-esque ambience of ‘Scythed Wide’. While Hair Police’s style has always included a strong atmospheric presence the band still manages to touch on a dark aspect of music that feels natural rather than intentional, even in the midst of a less noisy approach. In a genre of extremes  the group has created a sound that isn’t completely over-cooked, finding a middle ground between the unlistenable and the accessible, making this release a good jumping on point for those who are unfamiliar with the band to listen.

Although I’ve had a fondness for noise, drone, experimental, avant-garde; vanguard music as a whole, for some reason I never got around to listening to Hair Police up until this point but even with that said I can say without question that ‘Mercurial Rites’ is easily the bands most complete effort since 2008’s ‘Certainty of Swarms’ and one of the better harsh noise records I’ve heard this year thus far. It is a record that shows that the band hasn’t at all let up on the caustic sound in which they made a name for themselves with, even in the midst of noise music’s current transition toward something conclusively musical; a sound this record seems to be inherently opposed to. It is here that disturbing soundscapes fill the void between blasts of distortion-ridden noise and if that doesn’t sound unsettling enough the shrill disembodied vocals that haunt this record will likely give you nightmares, although these are nightmares that I wouldn’t mind revisiting often.

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Overall Rating: 8.0

Favorite Tracks: ‘We Prepare’

Recommended: Wolf Eyes, Burning Star Core, Black Dice

Released: January 2013

Links:

Stream the LP on Type Records

Buy the record on Boomkat

-Tyler Thompson

Zebra Pulse – Hey, Vay Bae-Bays

Zebra Pulse -  Heh, Vay Bae​-​Bays

Last year, Edmonton, Alberta’s Zebra Pulse released ‘Endings’, a collection of strange, off-kilter tracks which consisted primarily of warped tape manipulations and obscure percussion. It was an album that, although creative and ambitious fell just short of being something great for me. When I reviewed the album I noted that many of the noises and electronic elements just didn’t jive with the drumming as well as I think they could have. Instead, it felt like they were clashing rather than complimenting and took a lot away from what the album could have been.

On ‘Hey, Vay Bae-Bays’, the latest album from the group the band addresses many of the issues that I had with ‘Endings’ and expands on the basic groundwork that can be heard in their back catalogue of recordings. On the bandcamp page, the band advises not to listen “if you are pregnant, have a heart condition, or are operating heavy machinery” and while this cautionary remark may have been tongue-in-cheek the new record reads like a valium prescription. While Zebra Pulse has always been a trippy listen, their latest release is even more sonically fucked up and conscious deprived.

For starters, the recording quality sounds better than that of any of their previous released material. Although, it wasn’t a crippling problem on ‘Endings’ the recording quality on their latest adds a new level of  clarity and depth to the drumming and where the samples and electronic elements once sounded flat it gives the samples more of a layered multi-dimensional sound.

Although these guys have refined their sound that doesn’t mean they’re any less weird or unpredictable than they’ve been. The percussive elements are all still here with all of the off-beat oddities that made ‘Endings’ a good listen but the playing seems to have a bit more direction than I noticed before. Not only has the drumming and noise elements become more tightly executed but the way the band acts as a whole has become more precise. Instead of directionless drum jams and random samples there is a better sense of progression and I think Zebra Pulse sounds more like a band than just a decent session of recorded jams.

The record shows an added attention to the pacing of each of the tracks. The second track, ‘Every Trilogy is a Movie (Parts 1, 2 & 3)’ is a slow moving,  psychedelic haze of pitch-shifted vocals, distorted instrumental loops, and aimless drum sequences while the track ‘Technical Space Composition No. 5’ shows a bit more direction and although chaotic it may be the most structural piece the band has done.

While ‘Hey, Vay Bae-Bays’ isn’t the most structurally sound album you’ll here this year it makes up in originality and unpredictability making this an album that will leave you wanting to come back just to dissect the free form drumming oddities and catch every weird tape manipulation. Even with that said the band doesn’t lose sight of what they’ve been doing, its not like they’ve gone out and created an album that is completely accesible; if there is any indication of what this record is it could be summed up by just the title alone, an eclectic and strange record that is carful not to give up it’s creativity for a more accesible listen. If you’re looking for something completely unpredictable then let it be this.

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Overal Rating: 7.3

Favorite Tracks: ‘Technical Space Composition No. 5’

Recommended: Take a look at the Ramshackle Day Parade back catalogue.

Released: 02 May 2013

Links:

Zebra Pulse Bandcamp page

Ramshackle Day Parade

The band’s WordPress

-Tyler Thompson

Derek Piotr – Raj

Derek Piotr - Raj

On ‘Raj’, the third release from Poland’s Derek Piotr, the music featured throughout is a very vocal set of experimental and beat oriented compositions that draws much of it’s content from the voice which is processed and arrange, sometimes acting as a part of the beat itself.

This is my first introduction to Piotr’s music but before I began this review I went back to his previous two releases, ‘Agora’ and ‘Airing’, both of which show Piotr’s subtle but nevertheless, progressive movement through his vocal practices and the digitalized aura that at all times surrounds his work, that being his heavily processed but otherwise organic approach to the broad genre that is electronic music. Throughout Piotr’s previous releases it is apparent that his music has always been hard to pin down and on ‘Raj’ it is even more difficult. In a moment of harsh glitching and hot digital distortion (Spine, Grave)  I want to call it noise, during the bits of eclectic beat-oriented madness (‘Amendola’) I am reminded of dub and minimalist techno, throughout the menacing atmosphere that fills the album I want to call it dark ambient, and even then there are so many other genre’s one could tack on to ‘Raj’ yet there is no single point in time on this album in which any of the aforementioned genre tags could fully describe it. With all of that said, Piotr’s third entry is an undoubtably complex effort, brimming with abstract beats, unexpected shifts in direction, and unusual song structures that can be as uninviting as they can be accessible.

Musicians, particularly electronic musicians of Piotr’s kind have always expressed some interest in the manipulation of the voice and the use of it as an instrument but it hasn’t been until recently, within the past few years that is, that this vocal processing, this sound shaping of the voice has become a seen and used by musicians as a tool for creating beats, melodies, and song structures. Musicians like James Blake, Vladislav Delay, and AGF (whom Derek Piotr has collaborated with) can all be heard using vocals as the primary instrument, alongside synths and the whir and glow of the computer in the post-digital age.

Unlike many electronic musicians, Piotr does not so much work within the perimeters of electronic music as much as he exploits them. The otherwise polished sheen of digital music becomes distorted; ripped free from its most “proper” uses. You can hear the static glitched out synths, pitch shifted tones, and chopped up beats all moving at varying speeds, and Piotr’s own disheartening vocal embellishments that are arranged in a rather eerie way over the industrial, menacing soundscape that fills this album. The minimalist compositions and echo of the cold beats remind me of Andy Stott’s two 2011 EPs prior to his move toward a more polished sound on his 2012 full length.  It’s a very visual type of music and I think this aspect has been made even more apparent by the two music videos that accompany the tracks, ‘Sand Defacing All Surfaces” and ‘Grave’.

Piotr’s constant vocal manipulations paired with the desolate digital atmosphere shows a lot of ambition and potential but I do feel like there are many times where these elements come off as more of a burden for the listener than a unique aspect of his work. The vocal manipulations become especially grating along with the repetitiousness of the albums tracks. I found myself thinking it would be nice to hear Piotr’s own raw voice, removed of the guise of his editing skills. While individually, most of the tracks aren’t something you would listen to as independent pieces the album does pick up on that aspect in that, holistically it works very well, perhaps because the music is so conscious of what it is, even without an established concept.

The tracks are minimal, bare, stripped down, skeletal, and sometimes repetitive; there is a strain of despair and desolation that runs throughout each track. There are moments on this album where this moodiness works much to Piotr’s advantage in that it leaves me feeling unease, never feeling content or comfortable in knowing where the next track or sudden shift in direction might take me; never a moment where I felt like I knew what was going to happen next, which proves to be one of the best aspects of this piece of music by the end of the album. In the end, as experimental and impenetrable as ‘Raj’ may initially sound, there are many moments interjected throughout where the album can feel very accessible, even for audiences unfamiliar with Piotr’s unorthodox approach to electronic music.

Have a look at the videos that accompany two tracks from the album:

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Overall Rating: 6.8

Favorite Tracks: ‘Flow Through Light’

Recommended: AGF, Vladislav Delay, Andy Stott

Released: 26 February 2013

Links: http://derekpiotr.com/raj/

-Tyler Thompson

Cosmo’s Midnight – Surge

Cosmo’s Midnight is an electronic duo comprised of twin producers from Sydney, Australia. Being their debut original release, Surge was mounted with a bit of hype (at least for me), and I think it lived up to every bit of it. I discovered Cosmo’s Midnight through a video by the glover Ahuh on the EmazingLights channel where he used the single preceding this EP “Phantasm feat. Nicole Millar”. After hearing the song I instantly looked it up only to find it was their only original track released but an EP was coming out soon. The day it came out (yesterday at the time of writing this I believe) I snatched it right up and gave it a bunch of listens.

I would describe the sound as chillwave but with a little bit more emphasis on the beats than is typical and I love it. It’s got everything one might love about a good chillwave release: the floaty vocals with memorable melodies, the sidechained keyboard and basskicks, phasing background synths, and it’s all executed with great cleanliness and professionalism. When the title track begins it starts with a flowing beatless ambient section before the beat kicks right in and the realization washes over you that this is going to be an awesome EP, even assuming you hadn’t heard Phantasm already (which is one of my favorite tracks of the year so far). Something I noticed that I thought was nice was the melody tie in from Surge to Phantasm with the plinky keyboard, which gives some nice flow to the ideas of the EP right off the bat and you can immediately tell this is going to be a concise and well put together release. The production is spot on and the songwriting is catchy and feely, the perfect combination in my opinion. My favorite aspect of the EP is probably just how well all the different sounds are layered and put together to create the final product, which I’ve got to give mad props to Cosmo’s Midnight for simply for that in itself, not even taking into consideration all the other great things about this EP.

I recommend Cosmo’s Midnight to pretty much anyone who likes anything remotely chill, but to be more specific; if you like XXYYXX, Blackbird Blackbird, or MillionYoung you might like this, those 3 artists just being 3 that I thought of off the top of my head.

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Overall Rating: 9.2/10

Favorite Tracks: ‘Phantasm’, and ‘Lover’s Shadow’

Released: 7 June 2013

Links: Cosmo’s Midnight on Soundcloud

-Eric

Pete Swanson – Life Ends At 30 (Track Review)

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In 2008 the two-man noise / drone duo that was Yellow Swans announced that they would no longer be performing together which lead the duo to release their posthumous magnum-opus finale, ‘Going Places’ in 2010. As of recent, Pete Swanson, the man behind the electronic aspects of the project, proved that the title of their final effort together was not simply a title but a promise of things to come.

In 2011 that promise was met with Swanson’s return, this time with a full length solo album under his own name. Where previously, in Yellow Swans, Swanson was in part responsible for creating these lurching bodies of evolving and decaying feedback dominated compositions, these compositions he, along with guitarist Gabriel Mindel Saloman took part in creating as Yellow Swans were not completely free of melody or structure. Some releases in Yellow Swans expansive and varied catalogue even included aspects of electronic dance music within their music, most notably the duo’s 2004 album ‘Bring The Neon War Home‘ in which they exhibited their own art-damaged take on electronic music, merging the psychedelic noise they were known for with techno and dub. On the latest track from Pete Swanson, the man continues to produce the broken and eclectic off-shot of dub and minimalist techno that was ‘Man With Potential’.

When I first heard ‘Man With Potential’ I was surprised to find that Swanson had taken a turn to making techno / dub inspired music but it seems as though this has proven to be a natural transition for many noise artists, the likes of which include the famed, Black Dice, Justin Broadrick (as JK Flesh), and perhaps the most notable being Dominick Fernow who, under his Vatican Shadow moniker moved away from the abrasiveness of his work as Prurient and took a wholly musical approach to techno. On Bermuda Drain, his last major label release as Prurient, Fernow even embraced elements of post-punk, new-wave, and EDM. For fans of Fernow’s earlier, more grating material as Prurient the transition was an unexpected one at the time and was a change of pace that divided some and I must admit, much like the first time I heard ‘Bermuda Drain’ I was a bit put off by Pete Swanson’s more structural efforts in comparison to his work with Yellow Swans but given time, it all sank in and it seemed that this coming together of electronic music and noise couldn’t be more of a perfect marriage.

With this latest track, Swanson returns in a similar manner to his debut, brandishing the nearly thirteen minute long odyssey of a track, ‘Life Ends At 30’, the B-side off of his upcoming EP, ‘Punk Authority’. Brimming with the amount of contrast and texture you would come to expect from Swanson’s involvement in Yellow Swans, ‘Life Ends At 30’ is a blistering, speaker tearing approach to electronic music. Swanson’s approach to techno and dub music is simplistic yet destructive; tearing apart the structure laid out by pioneers of the genres, his latest single strips the maximalist approach of techno down to a bare skeleton and saturates it in a mess of thick overdrive, sculpted into a creation that fits the sounds he helped develop early in his career.

The track hits as hard as it ends with a pulverizing fuzz drenched beat, the deep bass fighting it’s way through masses of static and colorful synth textures only to be swallowed again and again. Swanson finds a balance between his love for noise and structure and molds them into one in a tightrope walking act of a track. Its a trance-inducing formula that at one time can feel raw yet polished, futuristic yet primitive, chaotic yet reserved. Over the span of thirteen minutes, as repetitious as the track is the amount of diversity and layering here practically begs for repeated listens, if only to hear every tortured beat alone.

On this new track Swanson took everything that was great about his debut and amplifies it, merging his love for distortion fueled noise and techno. If the rest of his forthcoming EP is anything like this new track then I can’t wait for whatever this guy decides to put out, noise, dance, or otherwise.

You can preorder a physical copy through Mexican Summer’s website.

Also, check out the visuals that accompany a shorter cut from this track:

-Tyler Thompson

Celer and Hakobune – Vain Shapes and Intricate Parapets

‘Vain Shapes and Intricate Parapets’ is a 2 track ambient drone collaboration between Japanese musicians Celer (Will Long) and Hakobune (Takahiro Yorifuji), released on the Chemical Tapes label with the catalog number HOT-2 (2,5-dimethoxy-4-ethylthio-n-hydroxyphenethylamine) on limited cassette (of which I have a copy of the first press).

When I saw Chemical Tapes post this on Facebook I was surprised to see Celer showing up on that page, but with spending money in my Paypal I decided to buy the cassette (I think I was one of the first people to buy it) and immediately afterwards listened to the album. To say the least: I was impressed. I wasn’t expecting it to be much more than a decent drone album but Celer and Hakobune both proved me wrong on that one because it put me in some meditative state and it was pretty amazing.

The first track is a kind of low-mids drone without low bass and is very smooth with nicely timed changes in sound throughout the entire track. Very mellow, very gentle on the ears. The second is more quavering and slightly more metallic, though still very relaxing, staying focused on low to high mids it reveals some highs when it gets towards the end and actually almost gets a rough wall of noise sound before fading out. Another thing is this release has definite staying power. I have logged around 90 full plays of the album (that’s almost 200 plays total), and I’m still not quite bored of it yet because it seems like such a ‘classic’, for lack of a better word, something that is just good and doesn’t really get old because of it’s uncomplicated method of being good.

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Overall Rating: 9.5

Favorite Track: ‘Merges of Hysterical Exhilaration’

Recommended: Other Chemical Tapes artists.

Released: February 8th, 2013

Links: Celer and Hakobune on Bandcamp