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

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

Old Wounds – From Where We Came Is Where We’ll Rest

Old Wounds - From Where We Came Is Where We'll Rest

‘From Where We Came Is Where We’ll Rest’ is the new LP from New Jersey post-hardcore band Old Wounds. After a number of EPs their latest takes from that of their earlier material and amplifies it to an alarmingly intense extreme.

On ‘From Where We Came Is Where We’ll Rest’ the band thrusts themselves into a nightmarish and brutal intrusion on hardcore music. Other than being absolutely punishing in nearly every aspect the band also presents an impressive repertoire of instrumental technicality that rivals that of other notable bands of their ilk, namely modern legends like Converge and Dillenger Escape Plan as well as newer acts like Gaza, Caust, and Code Orange Kids.

While influences are pretty obvious and Old Wounds may add  little in the way of progressing past the boundaries or furthering the development of the genre’s sound they still manage to put on one hell of an entertaining listen with this new album.

Throughout these 12 tracks the band keeps at a maddeningly fast pace, never sacrificing any of their energy and when the band does slow down it still manages to sound just as dense. On the fourth track Old Wounds sound at their most prime, cramming a ton of variation into a single track which, without warning, transitions from thrashy Converge-esque riffs and melodic guitar harmonies and into grinding discordant mayhem before breaking out into a spacey segue à la Dillinger Escape Plan. It is this that makes makes Old Wounds stand out from similar acts; the band’s ability to come through with a a solid combination of metal and hardcore that not only sounds modern but, whether intentional or not, reaches out to past generations of both respective genres which makes for a refreshing listen that I think fans of a more traditional sounds may even be able to enjoy.

The lyrics are nothing new in terms of what has already been offered by their contemporaries. Lyrical themes tend to be on the topic of disappointment, failure, and overcoming obstacles among other genre specific clichés.  This likely won’t be too much of a bother for anyone who is just casually listening considering most of the vocals are obscured with screams, shouts, or generally lost in waves of ear bleeding instrumentation but for a genre where concepts and and themes play a large roll in the music itself those who pay more attention may raise an eyebrow when on the track ‘Bitter Days’ the vocalists shouts “how can you justify when the life you live is the biggest lie” and “this is the end of everything you love”.

While the band does lack in certain areas, Old Wounds makes up in the amount of diversity they achieve. From nauseatingly fast head rushes of grinding guitars and blasting drums to a snails pace in the filthy doom-inducing track that is ‘Void’ and the absolutely filthy bass heavy track that is ‘Unspoken’ the band shows plenty of variety.

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Overall Rating: 6.7

Favorite Tracks: ‘Shallow Water’, ‘Born To Mourn’, ‘New Fortunes’

Recommended: Caust, Gaza, and Code Orange Kids, (maybe some Slayer too).

Released: 26 February 2013

Links:

Stream ‘Where We Came Is Where We’ll Rest’ via soundcloud here.

You can purchase the album here.

-Tyler Thompson

Swan of Tuonela – Swan of Tuonela

Swan of Tuonela - Swan of Tuonela

On the Richmond, VA band’s debut self titled, Swan of Tuonela showcases a liking for contrasting dynamics and tension within their songs. Although the group isn’t shy about their post-rock leanings, a sound that has become something of a staple within the likes of the various strains of hardcore music of today Swans of Tuonela are no strangers to aggressive music. Members of the band include previous and current members of other notable acts within the area such as Caust, Halcyon, and Dial Up; bands that press for more confrontational extremes such as powerviolence and grindcore, all of which serve as obvious influences on this debut which translate quite clearly within their sound.

The band plays with building song structures that progress into explosive, bombastic bursts of noisy, sloppy screamo. What separates Swans of Tuonela from the  masses of other post-rock influence screamo bands from around the area and otherwise is their extremely intense and chaotic songwriting abilities. While this post-rock inspired formula works for Swans of Tuonela the influx of band’s using a similar formula should be a sign to change direction which seems to have been taken into consideration seeing as there are moments where the band does change pace. For example, the four minute opening track, ‘Inanimate / Tolerance’ provides a dwelling sense of tension that grows into a heavier piece where it ends and is quickly picked up by the explosive ‘Quiver’, an impersonal and nightmarish track that manages to cram a good amount of progression and diversity into the brevity of its minute and a half duration.

While there are moments of these cascading walls of reverberated guitar the band juxtaposes it with crushing low-end chords and intensely moving sections of powerviolence inspired chaos that makes for some really nice contrast and moments of spine tingling bliss. Over the course of the fifteen minutes that is this self titled, Swans of Tuonela present a great combination of moody atmospheric passages that act as brief sections of breathing room while at once maintaining the listeners attention thrusting one quickly back into the throes of tortured screams, dissonant noise ridden guitar, thick sludgy bass, and jarringly fast drumming.

For me, while I do, at times find myself completely enthralled in what the Swan’s of Tuonela offers I also find myself wishing there was something more. I can’t help but think that what I’m listening to is the sound of a band with an exceptional amount of energy, passion, and potential, a band that could do something entirely different but has, like so many other bands fighting to break through from the now static narrative that much of hardcore music has formulaically imprisoned itself within, settled for a sound that was, at one point in time different but has ultimately grown into the stale norm.

Overall Rating: 5.8

Favorite Tracks: Quiver, Chrysalis

Recommended: Caust, Halcyon, Kilgore Trout, Dial Up, and The Pessimist Hangs the Optimist

Released: 30 January 2013

Links: Stream or purchase the cassete here.

-Tyler Thompson

Kilgore Trout – The Golden Altar / The Black Hourglass

The Golden Altar / The Black Hourglass

On Kilgore Trout’s first release they debuted with the ferocious combination of screamo and raw metallic noise that was their split / collaborative EP with False Flag. At the time it seemed like a strange but intriguing coming together of sounds but in retrospect I can’t help but think that this relationship between noise and punk has been one in the works since the early days of punk music. If anything, noise music of today is, in my mind  not only the precursor to punk but also the genre’s successor in that it has lived up to and moved past everything the genre has attempted to do. After all, pioneers of the genre, bands like Orchid, Pg. 99, and Jeromes Dream weren’t strangers to implementing progressive ideas into their music, specifically that of noise music and the avant-garde. With that said, it was no surprise to me when Loma Prieta released their pummeling Deathwish release, ‘I.V.’, last year which was also an album that pushed the genre to its loudest extremes while remaining true to traditional screamo and post-hardcore. While these newer hardcore acts are collectively seeking a louder and more intense degree of sound Kilgore Trout is a band that does it in their own way.

On the band’s second release, ‘The Golden Altar / The Black Hourglass’, Kilgore Trout returns with a maddeningly noisy off-shot of screamo. While the band continues to explore their noisier tendencies they have also expanded their style to include short passages of dark and brooding, droning guitar ambience, namely on the track ‘(II) Dead of Night’, the second part of an epic three part song that closes the album, which sounds much like something you would hear on a City of Caterpillar release.

The band proves that things can escalate quickly, going from subdued, moody ambience to a torrent of aggressiveness, a blaze of drums, grinding guitars, and vocals so raw that it could fit perfectly in the catalogue of some black metal cassette distro. These last three tracks are a nice tryptic to end the album to, a series of songs that essentially sums up Kilgore Trout’s sound. The first part, ‘(I) Regression’ is a building track that breaks out into a storm of hellishness, while the second part, as previously mention acts as a haunting interlude, accentuating the group’s attention to atmosphere that finally concludes with the third act in the series, ‘(III) In/Finite’, a track of pure hate-filled powerviolence and a stellar way to end an album.

Although I enjoyed the band’s split with False Flag, I found the production to be lacking. At times, the instrumentation sounded muddy, swallowed in all of the noise. With this new album, this isn’t so much of a problem, not necessarily because the recording sounds better per se but more so because the band has refined their sound. Although refined, that isn’t to say that the band has done away with these sections of noise ridden abrasion in their entirety but that they have accommodated their playing style to incorporate these noisier sections more appropriately into their music.

In conclusion, ‘The Golden Altar / The Black Hourglass’ is an album that shows the diversity that Kilgore Trout possesses as a band, a band that is moving toward a more refined destination, one that doesn’t surrender their ear for creating absolutely punishing music but also doesn’t take many risks or move into uncomfortable territory either.

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Overall Rating: 6.2

Favorite Tracks: ‘Roads’ and ‘(III) In/Finite’

Recommended: The Pessimist Hangs the Optimist, Swan of Tuonela, and Caust

Released: 01 January 2013

Links: Like the band on Facebook

-Tyler Thompson

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

Glasslung – Abreaction (Track Review)

Glasslung - Abreaction

For most of us living in the midwestern United States, it’s still winter, a time of year fitting for mood music, whatever that may be in terms of your respective tastes. For me, ambient, drone and music of that kind are most suitable for the time of year, a season that much like the aforementioned style of music is, in a sense, restrictive. It is a time in which we find ourselves indoors the most, where grey skies linger daily, and a time when we purposefully subject ourselves to seclusion. Music of this kind has always provided me with this gripping and arresting atmosphere, an enveloping quality that has the ability to be restrictive while at once liberating.

Much like the seasons, Glasslung continues to change along with them. In the fall of last year the one man Columbus, OH project released ‘New Martyrs’, an album that marked a distinct transition. Where 2011’s Callous was an album comprised of drifting melodic ambience, ‘New Martyrs’ was an album that aimed for something darker while still retaining the subtle ambient progressions found on earlier works. Glasslung continued this stylistic transition, this time in a more immediate fashion with the confrontational noise-ridden collaboration with noise musician, Jahktute. ‘Abreaction’ is the latest track from the project, a track that shows Glasslung’s intent to continue his exploration of the noisier side of ambient music.

Much like the work heard on his split with Jahktute, ‘Abreaction’ is a textural soundscape of audio decay that from the beginning grips the listener with speaker tearing distortion. Rippling and growing louder in volume the track builds to a crushing intensity, leading us through a continuously dark listen that eventually progresses into a hollow distant roar. Where the first half is a intense foray into a fuzz-drenched excursion the second half of the track is more reserved, surrounding one with a thick haze of reverberated ambience, disembodied howls, and a longing painful tenderness. ‘Abreaction’ is a very engaging drone track, one that goes from swallowing listeners in and torrential storm of unsettling noises to slowly digesting them in a sea of glacially moving sounds.

Look for ‘Abreaction’ on the upcoming album entitled, ‘Lack’.

-Tyler Thompson