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

Pigeon Breeders – Luminous Debris

Pigeon Breeders are a three-piece band from Edmonton, Alberta who you may remember from a review I did of their first release, Nocturnal Reveries, an album that brought together minimalist electroacoustic noise and thick walls of psychedelic drone. The latest release entitled ‘Luminous Debris’, a two part epic that continues to see the band move along familiar territory while progressing and pushing the boundaries of their sound.

Noise and experimental music in general have always been about improvising, at least in some aspects and Pigeon Breeders style of noise embodies the spirit of improvised sound. The group’s style of noise is psychedelic, trance inducing even but do take note, this isn’t psychedelic in the traditional sense so put away your shitty weed, your fractal youtube videos, and forget about The Flaming Lips. Pigeon Breeders brand of psychedelic is more meditative and a lot more noisy than what the word psychedelic entails.

Pigeon Breeders approach to drone and noise is more of an organic effort than most favoring the use of the electroacoustic noise of non-instruments and the exploitation of common instruments such as the reappropriation of the guitar, turning it into something more or less a device of noise making as oppose to a tool used to create music . If you are into drone and noise and this just sounds too out there for your tastes dont worry the band still implements some musicality into their performance which I would be so bold as to say the trio possesses traits similar to that of post-rock music, not so much the sound that is but the structure. The band’s post-rock tendencies aren’t so upfront, they never have been but still, their sound is created on behalf of each members contribution even if slight, they feed off of each other in this push pull kind of relationship where many of their tracks begin as these free-form jam session-like compositions in which each member of the band tends to bring a piece to the table and slowly build up into a crescendo or some sort of community of sound. At this point it isn’t about the technical prowess of an individual musician, I was never picking out passages from any one specific instrument that I enjoyed while listening to this. It is about the indication of something much larger that each musician’s sole contribution helps to create.

If you heard and enjoyed what ‘Nocturnal Reveries’ had to offer then Luminous Debris is sure to please. Each member’s offering, even if it is a minimal contribution serves as a crucial piece in creating these noisy soundscapes and proves that the musicians that make up Pigeon Breeders are surely masters of the improvised craft.

Overall Rating: 7.8

Favorite Tracks:

Recommended: Emeralds and Yellow Swans

Released: 22 August 2012

Links:

Listen to the new album via Bandcamp

Ramshackle Day Parade

-Tyler Thompson

Congregations – Circular Ruins

‘Circular Ruins’ is the post-humous release by Congregations, a project that featured a rotating line-up, the only constant member being edmonton ambient musician David Ferris who is also a member of drone / jazz trio TAIWAN whose first album, ‘Belladonna’  was reviewed early in the summer.

Lush, spacial, and delicate are a few of the descriptors that could be used to describe the ambient beauty that is Congregations first and last album. ‘Circular Ruins’ is massive without being crushing or oppressive. Tracks such as ‘Found In The Ravine (Zain)’, You Are Trembling’ and ‘Hayley’ are brimming with a sea of sounds; sounds reminiscent of voices, of wind flowing through tunnels, of the slow static hiss of a tide briefly washing ashore and retracting back into the horizon but still although relatable it remains so disconnected from any of these things, left only for the imagination to interpret, to wonder what thing makes such bodies of noise. Dense low-end drones ride throughout many of the tracks while cascading spacial swells soar above them, the likes of which seamlessly weave in and out of one another, at times merging and separating, becoming one and becoming nothing. At times I think I am hearing strings, church bells, a symphony of instruments, or a choir of women singing but in reality all of this is being created by one David Ferris and still, I find it so easy to get lost in the aural beauty of this short lived project.

The dynamics on this release are certainly impressive and it’s hard to believe that this project is the work of one musician, even so I feel like the addition of more contributors could have added greatly to expand the variety of what this album is, which sometimes feels as though the tracks are bleeding into one another. Regardless, there isn’t a lot for me to say in terms of the negative aspects of this album.

From the beginning of the album with the delicate piano and melancholic rise and fall of ‘You Are Trembling’ to the album’s final lush conclusion on “When We Call” all of the sounds in between resonate a wavering beauty that is not of anything wholly pertaining to this world or any known thing. What is found are glacially paced, glistening free form bodies of sound. Circular Ruins is overtly natural in sound; the field recordings that are placed throughout the album bring a nice touch of life to the spacey fog of ambience that envelops you.

Overall Rating: 8.2

Favorite Tracks: ‘You Are Trembling’, ‘Found In The Ravine (Zain)’, ‘Hayley’

Recommended: Listening to a muffled choir of angels singing underwater within the vacuum of space.

Released: 20 August 2012

Links: Visit Congregations on Bandcamp

-Tyler Thompson

Jahktute – A Record of Things Gone

Jahktute is a recording artist whose sound ranges from the extreme shrill noise heard on previous albums such as ‘Epwell‘ to quieter collage-like recordings that are sparse in sound.

I’ve always had a soft spot for noise; the intensity and abrasives of it can, at times, bring us back to a reality of life that we often seek to get away from or it can make us feel alienated bringing us into a new world of creative and vast soundscapes. Perhaps the most captivating part of noise is not the audible aspect but what it means to us conceptually; the idea of making these common parts of our life seem alien, to evoke emotion or tell a story through the juxtaposition of raw sound as it may be heard in everyday life, unfiltered or restrained by the use of traditional instrumentation but instead inspiring experimentation and often times an unconventional means of execution to produce a piece of music that is as original as it is unreproducible. When we hear noise in it’s commonplace, where it belongs, it does not bother us but when stripped of all of our other senses but sound, when noise becomes the focus of a situation, in this case looked at as a piece of music it suddenly becomes capable of evoking many different emotions and whether the feelings we pull from it were intentional or not the fact remains in both cases, noise is inescapable and Jahktute makes use of this reality via use of sometimes harsh electronic feedback and collages of sound combined with recordings of people talking, cars passing, birds chirping, and a variety of noises that lie hidden outside of our subconscious with this 11 track collection of varied minimalist noise.

The first two tracks are much quieter, relying on a minimalist approach with small movements of sound; what at times appears to be recordings of old machinery attempting to finish what may be it’s last dying task, sheets of metal clashing together, bottles clanking together, people chatting with each other, low-end rumblings that ominously flow beneath the foreground amongst a slew of other unsettling noises. The sounds are often sparse yet spontaneous; at times noises will meander about before erupting into a cataclysm of abrasiveness. ‘Road Lines’ features more of these sonically intense factors as shrill high pitched metallic noises and what sounds like pieces of metal and glass being scrapped against each other make their way across highly compressed low end rumblings which continue into ‘Symphony pt. 2’. Although the focus of the sound is mostly combinations of grating noise and field recordings other forms of noise are introduced into the mix, an example being ‘I Found it Underground’ which although brief, makes use of rich and dark piano chords that are allowed to linger moments after they are played where the track ‘Of meanings’ provides the listener with a deep melancholic drone which makes for a very different feeling of unease that the noise on the rest of the album just can’t accomplish as well. These two tracks made me want to hear more of what Jahktute can create using a more atmospheric approach to noise and although I enjoyed their inclusion they just felt out of place regardless of the additional variety they add. As the album continues the inclusion of field recording becomes continuously more involved playing a major role in telling something of an audible story encouraging a disconnect between the origin of the sound and what is being heard. The listener is left to interpret these naked sounds without the visual imagery of what is creating them, the same kind that allow us to feel comfortable with them naturally.

Jahktute’s ability to pull a blindfold over the eyes of the listener is uncanny, his music forces the listener to remain attentive leaving one visual impaired yet sonically more alert to the events that are transpiring within his recordings but at the same time even with all of the variety that is offered here I did feel that there were moments on this release that just could not hold my interest. Seeing as the approach on ‘A Record of Things Gone’ is more moderated than that of previous releases in that there tends to be more control in terms of the placement of noises on this recording I found that it either wasn’t minimal enough for me to feel completely involved, to feel completely engrossed in what has been constructed and when more sounds were introduced it was not spontaneous or chaotic enough.

I feel like where ‘A Record of Things Gone’ lacks is not so much the execution of the material, the individual tracks but that the release acts more as a compilation of interesting sounds, either found or created to make something of an emotive collage rather than something more concise. While some tracks do work well with others some, although enjoyable just feel out of place. While I was not necessarily compelled by what I heard I do feel like what is here can provoke one to ask questions, think, or feel emotion and in that it succeeds because even if it were negative is that not what this kind of noise seeks to achieve, that being a response as simple as questioning the music itself?

Overall rating: 6.0

Favorite Tack: ‘I Found it Underground’, ‘Of Meanings’

Recommended: Choose to hear it.

Released: 20 February 2012

Links: Stream ‘A Record of Things Gone’

Redntoothnclaw

SLSFTI – Dzeja for Leela

SLSFTI is the one man experimental recording project of Spencer Lebute. ‘Dzeja for Leela’ is a collection of short songs comprised of spoken word poetry and sound collages. According to the bandcamp page the music on this release reflects a conversation with one of Spencer’s friend’s Leela.

The combination of noise music and poetry sounds like a neat idea, something that really made me look forward to listening to this album but as it turns out this is unfortunatly not the case. The production quality is possibly ‘Dzeja for Leela’s’ biggest ditractor. The sounds are so saturated and at times Spencer’s voice sounds like it is either covered in some distortion effect or that it is constantly peaking. Although we are talking about noise here, an experimental style of music that relies heavily on atonality and cacophany these aspects of the music are not influencing it positivly but are instead retracting from the poetry. The track ‘Representation of a Past Imperative’ is the best example of this with these eclectic piano noodlings that are looped throughout the track which becomes a distraction and a headache while Spencer incessantly spouts out a slew of nearly incoherent words masked in grainy digital distortion.

Many of the songs on this EP feel like they were rushed and slapped together. The sounds and noises are far too distracting and they end up fragmenting and forcing the listener away from the focus of the music which should be the poetry. Many times, musicians can get away with burying the vocals underneath sounds, whether that be distortion or walls of reverb, especially so in the case of shoegaze acts but at that point the vocals are already unintelligible enough in the case that they are used as another instruments or a textural element within the music and with that they serve their purpose. Because the focus of this music is on its poetry, words, and what they mean it confuses me as to why these words would be surrounded with such distracting compositions when the intention of poetry is reflected in the listener’s interpretation of these words.

Overall rating: 3.0

Favorite Track:

Recommended:

Released: 27 February 2012

Links: SLSFTI on Bandcamp

Redntoothnclaw

Josh Preston – Exchanges 1-4

Josh Preston - Exchanges 1-4

Josh Preston is a dark ambient / noise musician from Sydney, Australia whose music is self described as ‘The sound of trade, exchange, interrelation and operability’. ‘Exchanges 1 – 4′ is a collection of various haunting stark recordings arranged in a four song EP.

‘Exchanges 1-4’ is exactly what the title suggests, it is a haunting study of the sound of currency being withdrawn and deposited, things being shifted, moved from one place to another, displaced, replaced, exchanged in a number of ways, both related and unrelated. The entirety of this EP’s sound is the result of a collection of sounds arranged, collaged together to create an entirely new composition all while maintaining attached to the original source material. Eerie oscillating tones create an otherworldly soundscape while static forebodingly lingers beneath in a world that is at first glance alien to ours but given multiple listens is very much like our own. Much of the source material seems to be comprised of what sounds like doors and metal cabinets being opened and closed, the rattling of a fingers meeting the keys on a keyboard, people commuting; all reverberated, stepped and repeated, crackling, and decaying into a cluster-fuck of unsettlingly hollow sounds. It is the embodiment of a generation controlled by economical statistics, consumerism, and the exchange of items.

I found myself enjoying the overall concept of this release, that being the overarching theme of the exchanges that much of the sound on this release is derived from. The whole idea of a musician using sounds and arranging samples and recordings over the preferred method of vocals to create a statement is a good idea, it has worked before but like Kolumbus’ debut ‘Fleeting Hope For False Optimists‘, a musician who employed a similar technique, I found myself wanting something a bit more solid. At times the music felt sparse, I couldn’t help but feel that much of it was overshadowed by a good idea that was poorly executed.

In short, the music on this EP is constantly changing all while managing to remain the same and like my description, the listener may at first fail to gain some grasp on what they are hearing but after repeated listens everything comes together including my inane description, to create something that is more of a statement or a reaction toward the busy economic world we live in today. There is undoubtably a good concept hidden beneath the mess of incoherent sounds and noises that make up this release and while ‘Exchanges 1 – 4’ gets some points for its originality, its vague concept, and its daring musical traits it fails in the aspect of providing enough substance or musical progression to keep most entertained, myself included.

Check out his Bandcamp

Overall Rating: 5.1

Favorite Track: ‘Exchange 4’

Recommended: Fennesz worshippers may find a warm spot here.