I’m admittedly a little late to the Magik Markers game (which is shameful since they’re a localish band), I’ve only been jamming them for a few years, but got hooked real quick, and am always jonesin for more (the Arbitrary Signs page helps with that), so when I heard Elisa Ambrogio, singer/guitarist for MM, was dropping her solo debut, I got pretty fuckin psyched and was hoping for more MM-tinged garagey goodness that was maybe a bit more stripped down, and that’s exactly what I got on The Immoralist, and while there’s a couple songs that sound like the could’ve come from an actual MM record, for the most part it’s like a bedroom pop daydream of MM, with Ambrogio taking charge of everything, cleaning up the fuzzed out rock a bit and showing off her soft side, layered vocals harmonizing with herself, going for the deep 60s psych pop where you can be a total fuckin weirdo and it doesn’t seem out of place in the slightest, throwing down melancholic piano ballads alongside catchy Top 40 celebrations, this is both a joyful summer slam and awkward bittersweet downer, where Ambrogio travels merrily down memory lane, and closes the record with the lyric “Nothing new would live if nothing died,” which in one short phrase encompasses the whole feeling of The Immoralist, gettin high on those shitty feelings and not letting life’s despair bog you down, and that’s basically what I strive for, so Ambrogio fucking nails it with this one and it’s just as good as, if not better than, the best MM records, just in a different way, something I’m pretty sure everyone should be and wants to be spinning basically non-stop.
Archive for the ‘Album Reviews’ Category
I fucking love this record. Everything about it. Rivulets, aka Nathan Amundson (backed here by a very capable bunch), has been steadily releasing incredible records that somehow still fly under the radar, even if they’re on high profile labels like Important (We’re Fucked from 2011 was just outstanding). I think this might be the one to break Rivulets out of the glass ceiling, though, even though it’s on a German label (but available stateside on the cheap), because it would be a goddamn travesty if anything this good came & went largely unnoticed.
This isn’t normally my thing, the singer-songwriter Americana country-ish thing a la Will Oldham, Bill Callahan, or Jason Molina (who gets his own tribute here with “Ride On, Molina”), but this is slower, sadder, weirder, and injects some psych & folk into the mix, but even then, on paper, I’d be like ok cool but I’m not going out of my way to hear it or anything. For some reason, though, I see strong similarities to drone king Kyle Bobby Dunn, two pained romantics making slow-sad-core, one going the drone route, the other down Americana lane, so regardless of your taste in music, this is 100% worth seeking out.
I Remember Everything starts out with “Reinforced / Delicate” whose lyrics are “And it’s reinforced, and it’s delicate. I’m not delicate. Are you ready now?” (which are the only lyrics in the whole song), so it sounds like you stumbled into the middle of a jam session, I mean who starts a record with “…and?” And the the songs are structurally straightforward, no tricks or whistles, they’re minimal, repetitive, & hypnotic, sometimes the song is essentially a repeated chorus (see “Reinforced / Delicate”), sometimes (not always) short and like a brilliant one-off idea with only a vague beginning and end, the full band equivalent of notes on a napkin, and all of this works so goddamn well. Where Rivulets truly shines, though, is mood & sound. This is some sad fuckin stuff, not like Giles Corey levels of depression, but definitely bummed out (lyrics like “My favorite drug is sleep”) and a little bit pissed (“Isn’t it time you found your own place to ruin?”), it’s dark but not too dark, and the sound is really what gets me, it sounds like Amundson is at the bottom of a canyon with his rich voice and rusty guitar echoing down the cliff sides, sounding simultaneously huge and intimate, and it deeply resonates with me, not so much metaphorically (although that too), but physically, like the chords, tones, and drones are tuned to the frequency of my body, everything in this just feels and sounds so right to me, I just can’t get enough of it, the resonance is too strong, and it all adds up to a perfect fucking record.
The most recent release on Black Plagve (a sub-label of Malignant) looks like it might be Isolator’s true debut, but both of the two dudes involved (Justin Stubbs and The Nothing) have years of experience making extreme sounds, and holy fuck does it show, this is a magnificent terror of hellish drone fueled by pure hatred & misanthropy (in case you couldn’t tell by the title), walls of dense static undulating with decay, unpenetrable slabs of death industrial chaos with the bombastic percussion traded for endless scraping feedback and haunted harmonics, vocals that range from unholy priests, to tortured howls, to grotesque chants, these are the sounds you’d hear months after a Hellmouth broke open and the horror died down to a constant dull roar, a 22nd century warzone close enough to perpetually fear for your life but far enough away so the shrieks of the dying are merely muffled background noise, but spend enough time with this and you’ll unearth some bittersweet angelic tones, a soft sad beauty lurking beneath the caustic devastation, this is absolutely fucking massive and nightmarish but undeniably a drone record, bleak as fuck and way more harsh than most of the other drone I review, but drone nonetheless, and it’s fucking fantastic.
This dude put out one of my favorite drone records from last year, the In Slow Motion tape on Umor Rex, it was his debut and it was phenomenal, and Balance Beam is now his third release (I missed his second, oops) and it’s every bit as excellent as you’d hope for after hearing that debut, this is more of his mega monolith drone, hugely dense & blissfully minimal, this is the drone that others should aspire to, beyond what we have come to know as Drone, TEOTWC is working a transcendent magick that brings subtle tonal shifts and overwhelming walls of buzz & hum to new heights, slowly & discretely adding hidden layers of beauty, it feels like it builds up so much that it has to collapse in on itself creating a black hole of minimalism except it somehow stays afloat, offering moments of clarity & euphoria amid the crushing weight of maximum volume, but there is a darkness in these sounds, a deep bleakness that resonates in my core, struggling to see the other side and never quite making it, so yeah, this is blissful in it’s hypnosis but supremely melancholic, and absolutely fucking perfect, this is my favorite kind of drone and it’s done incredibly well. Now it’s time for TEOTWC to get some vinyl in the works.
I remember first getting into weird music and having Howard Stelzer be one of my launchpads. All I knew was that he made the most awesome sounds essentially from messing around with tapes, and of his innumerable collaborations, the ones with Giuseppe Ielasi on Night Life and Jazzkammer on Tomorrow No One Will Be Safe were on constant repeat for a while. Then I went to a show he put on with Astronaut (early OPN group), Geoff Mullen, Fire In The Head, Skeletons Out (which unbeknownst to me at the time was a collab between Stelzer and Jay Sullivan), and Red Horse, and while talking to Howard at the merch table afterward, I realized that 1: the dude I was talking to was in fact the one & same Howard Stelzer who collaborated with anyone worth a damn, 2: this guy ran a super boss label Intransitive, and 3: he was from Boston! I was a kinda floored. He had his brand new solo CD Bond Inlets for sale, so I snatched that up and have been enamored ever since. According to Stelzer, Brayton Point is his first solo full length since 2008′s Bond Inlets (although Discogs begs to differ), but yeah, I’m pretty fucking psyched about this one, and yeah, it’s as good as I hoped it would be.
Brayton Point is comprised of sounds taken from the Brayton Point Generating Station in Somerset, Massachusetts, and it’s one big horror show of industrial chaos swirled together in a hulking drone storm, a dense and twisted hellmouth with fleeing screaming demons, the sort of music your parents thought you’d hear if you played a melted Black Sabbath record backwards, except way fucking cooler, with more high end skree, whirlwind static, and core shattering garble, but with plenty of moments of reprieve, a subtle mechanical hum with ancient technology creaking in the distance, the texture of tape making its way to the playing field, this is absolutely & ridiculously awesome, the whole 50 minute piece a welcome beast of Stelzer’s patented tape fuckery, so glad this dude is back in the game, and he’s back with a motherfuckin winner, really can’t wait to see what else he’s got on deck.
Disclaimer: I was a bit heavy handed with the quotes in here because there’s just too much to not share. No apologies, just a heads up.
Jon Mueller has been working on his Death Blues project for a few years, addressing “the inevitability of death as impetus to become more present in each moment,” which is to say (and I’m paraphrasing a quote I can’t find the source of) Death Blues is as much about death as firemen are about fire. He’s put out a handful of releases as part of this project, including Mueller’s Death Blues debut on Taiga and the Here manifesto, all of which were variations of a visceral motorik transcendence founded on hammered guitar, propulsive percussion, and spiritual incantations, but this is different, a whole new beast.
Ensemble is the feather in the Death Blues hat, the fully formed masterpiece that seems as if Mueller had been planning this all along, because not only is there the record, a bright orchestral blossom aided by composer William Ryan Fritch and a bunch of other multi-talented musicians, but also a 16 page book of essays from seven of Mueller’s friends writing on loss, regret, and vulnerability, Mueller is hoping this “offers both a chance for people to escape within the work, and to then come out of it with a new perspective on their own situation. And ultimately, to consider what positive actions can be taken based on that new understanding.”
The music here is absolutely fucking incredible, it’s the score to the realization of the self, or more specifically, the self as finite, and every moment here is a triumph, an explosive but tender display of the world’s beauty, seeing past the pain & destruction into the positive, a hopeful potential way of life, these are rich, lush movements with cheering strings, majestic chords, yearning melodies, and bombastic climaxes, completely distinguished from the previous incarnations of Death Blues, the hammered guitars almost gone entirely, the wordless chants relinquished to the background of a few pieces, and now a much more dynamic song structure, this is downright pop in comparison, but this is the future Mueller intends, overwhelming & uplifting, take the bliss head on and proceed knowing fully your ultimate destiny.
As fantastic as the record is, I think I may even be more enamored with the essays, all of which speak to me on a fundamental level. There’s so much raw wisdom offered up, so many emotions & ideas that will take a long time to truly sink in.
Brent Gohde’s piece on suicide is the opener and he sets the mood for the remainder of the book when he proclaims “And there will come a day that I’ll sleep forever. But until then, I made a promise to wake up, if at all possible.”
David Ravel’s story of his father and wife dying, and watching them die, literally brought me to tears. His honesty is one that I feel will probably resonate with many: “We, all of us, die. This is not only true but also strikingly obvious. And yet, in spite of my experiences with death, I don’t think I’m smart enough or strong enough to practice the mindfulness that Jon encourages and us.”
Tom Lecky’s short abstract piece is a lipogram, which means he never uses the letter “i” and his explanation of why he chose this method is something I will always relate to: “The significance of that is quite obvious, and coincides with what I try to do with any creative act: kill the sense of self, destroy the idea of expression, make the act of making and the resulting thing the subject. I never want to be the subject. I, insofar as I am an individual, is not at all interesting to me artistically. The desire to obscure and see a self disappear is the goal.”
Stacy Blint writes a powerful multi-page stream of consciousness poem where she talks about being raped, having shitty parents, and the inherent difficulties of life.
Chris Koelle proved to me how similar people can be while having such starkly different belief systems. This is a man who seems deeply religious and believes lust to be an evil, a “slow motion suicide,” neither of which I identify with, but who also tries to find the fleeting moments of wonder in the world, which is something I also strive for, and I know this is a whole lotta stuff I’m about to quote but it’s just too fucking good. “I feel now as if the only heart I’ve ever had is a broken one, and healing don’t come easy. But somehow, there have been moments, and all the brokenness, of signs pointing toward Hope, of felt healing: through a friend’s gracious word, in a knowing smile, within a solid embrace and a mere, miraculous pat on the back. In split seconds of feeling the weight of the glory and beauty of this world press in, just for a moment, outweighing the crushing threat of despair from inside and out there.” And finally “This quiet shudder of being grateful is a gift I think I’ve experienced more and more frequently as I’ve gotten older. Which, when I stop and think about it, is really encouraging, considering the fact that the pains and problems of life become more acute the older we get. Perhaps that’s the very reason why this feeling of gratefulness wells up more and more as time goes on. Fire both consumes and refines.”
Faith Coloccia has an amazing piece on her “experience with exorcism, and sacrifice, having seen behind the veil of heaven in a nascent state” and how profoundly it has changed her outlook: “The blood is red, I cross the threshold into resurrection and the open eyes of life.”
Sally Haldorson concludes the book with a story of winning a poetry contest at a young age, the long lasting memory of her mother’s hand written book of poems, and what it’s like cleaning out your dead parents’ home.
The physical object that is Ensemble is a gorgeous piece of artwork, it’s a large hard covered book (different than an LP with bound pages inside) that’s adorned with artwork of masks made in the 1970s, and it has a slot in the back of the front cover for the vinyl. Absolutely amazing.
Death Blues’ Ensemble is something a written review can barely hope to explain. This is one of those rare times when the trope of “you need to experience it yourself to really understand” is 100% accurate. This is the whole package of concept & art perfectly realized, raising the bar for music, writing, and experimental projects of any kind. Ensemble might literally change your life, and will at the very least offer a totally unique experience, one that you’ll treasure for quite a while.
Foie Gras is one strong, tender force hailing from San Francisco who makes music in the subtlest ways. She’s as yet released a physical record under this name, instead gifting us with free downloads on her Bandcamp (although I think there’s something tangible in the works), and you would do well to hit up each and every one of her albums (currently two available in addition to Held) as she is prone to taking them down whenever she fancies, and this is one is especially special, with a couple covers (Sparklehorse’s “Heart Of Darkness” and Heroin Party’s “Summoning Ritual”), and a slow-mo drifting drone, a welcome smothering of soft thick fog that moves effortlessly through you, blank of all emotion on the surface but digging deeper shows this is lined with an almost imperceptible but undeniable void, a bittersweet minimalism under a thin veil of devastation, frequently singing of death & suffering but always from the most delicate perspective, including the intimate Chelsea Wolfe-esque acoustic closer “Cliffs” where she croons “This is why we can’t have nice things, this is why I’ve destroyed my being, and this how you prolong the suffering,” this is the brightest dark music I’ve ever heard, and it’s just fucking outstanding, a painfully doomed record that floats above and rests in the ether bliss, truly excellent shit that makes me wonder how she’s not at the top of the drone chain, so maybe you can do you part and give this a listen, it’ll stay with you forever.
My first introduction to Reuben Sawyer’s music as Blood Bright Star was on the excellent split 7″ with High Aura’d on Anti-Matter, after that I couldn’t wait for a new full length and this thing fucking delivers, a mystifying blend of motorik psych and mellow doom, this is refreshingly original shit that’s absolutely fucking brilliant, with deep grooves conjuring dusty demons, wobbly buzzing guitars and even wobblier vocals, this is the sound of a desolate seance, a shaman who’s out of his mind in the middle of nowhere, jamming hard on the occult vibes and going to shadowy places I’ve never heard of, never escalating into anything transcendent or overwhelming but rather a slow burning fog that feels like it’s warping your brain with every passing moment, this is magick of the highest order, and The Silver Head being his second full length, Blood Bright Star is only getting started, I can’t fucking wait to see this project develop.
I’ve been holding on to this one for a while, spinning it on the regular at AGB HQ, digging deep into the subtle drone, this is to be Alex Cobb’s final release under the Taiga Remains moniker, although this isn’t new work, it’s a collection of two out-of-print tapes, the A side is Beneath The Weeping Beeches on Ekhein and the B side is Thereafter on Arbor, both originally released in 2008, but the great thing about this is that Taiga Remains has never had a vinyl release all to himself, it’s always been splits, so now you’ve got his wondrous smooth tones on what is essentially a full length, and the world is a better place, these are some dark & beautiful sounds, hunting through empty industrial plains in search of the glimmer of an epiphany, desperately hoping there’s something beyond the substance in front of you, absorbed in the delicate grit and shifting muffled majesty that soothes in a way harrowing music rarely does, this is mindful, meditative, and gloriously expansive, a vast open landscape speckled with the remnants of a once great civilization, the dust still settling and lit up by the sun shining through the breaking sky, this is a truly fantastic record, and what a great gift to have this remastered and repackaged on sweet sweet wax, all thanks to the impeccable HSA.
Milwaukee DIY champ Peter J. Woods, self described maker of “Theatrical Harsh Noise,” part of Phoned Nil Trio, xALLxFORxTHISx, and FTAM head, drops his vinyl debut (7″s be damned) and the world is now a better place, this is high caliber shit, throwing down the dynamics gauntlet on here, going for long stretches of absolute silence (or so far out of my fucked up hearing range that it might as well be) to harsh walls of caustic blown out static and high end insect skree, this has so much range that if you’re not careful you’ll fry your speakers & eardrums from cranking it up during the quite parts because it’s fuckin tricky like that, rusty industrial clank & rattle alongside nonsensical vocal samples processed to sound like a glitching melted Speak & Spell, obliterated screaming and ghostly dungeon whispers over an acid bath wash, tinnitus buzzing drone vaguely reminiscent of Charlemagne Palestine or Birchville Cat Motel, but always, relentlessly, an unpredictable treachery, this isn’t noise for noise sake, nor for shock value, nor for machismo, it’s elaborate, beguiling, & filthy as fuck, and it’s fucking excellent.
Sublamp, aka Ryan Connor, is primarily interested in “pre-language experience” and Lianas takes us on a trip to the cloud forests of Monteverde, evoking a strong jungle vibe without the jungle rhythm, this is a gorgeously lush drone that’s just pure fucking bliss, 4 tracks, 3 of them nice & long, slow burning thick minimalism, like huffing ether to the point just before passing out and seeing stars dancing everywhere, parts of it reminding me of the precise intimate guitar work of Josh Mason, other parts going full blown texture overload, tender, warm, & timeless, I feel like I’ve been listening to this forever, the hum & crackle acting as the foundation of my life, a majestic fog rolling through your memory, giving everything a euphoric glow, this is truly spectacular drone, easily one of my favorites from this year, and the CD looks beautiful with deluxe handmade packaging and strictly limited to 80 copies.
Crazy duo of Witchbeam & Mr. Matthews are back at it with a stellar freakshow on Experimedia that features guests like Rachel & Grant Evans (Motion Sickness of Time Travel & Nova Scotian Arms) and Lala Ryan (Excepter), so already this record is at peak awesomeness. Dark rhythmic weirdness banged out in an enchanted lodge that sounds just like what you’d hope a record called Black Meditations would sound like, unnerving noise waving in & out of focus, bleary drone making you woozy and filling every inch of the room, suffocating and hypnotic, conjuring an inter-dimensional knowledge of the Beyond, these guys capture the ritualistic séance of the 21st century with a creeped out occult vibe that permeates every moment, from the stuttering static and panning future electronics to the bizarre samples and mystical imagery, this record is way off the deep end, and I gotta say I’m both surprised and impressed Experimedia released this. Not their usual type of jam, but clearly Black Meditations transcends that bullshit, this will be right at home in any weirdo’s collection.
Holy fuck this collab is immeeeense, Silkworm vet Joel Phelps and G. Stuart Dahlquist formerly from Sunn O))) and now Asva got together and made something way more than that math has any right to add up to, Phelps’ vocals that sound so much better with Asva style gloom than any of Asva’s previous collabs and any of Phelps’ previous stuff, including Silkworm, so yeah I’m saying this is maybe the best work either guys have been involved in (well not including Sunn O))) because come on), this is a droning brooding hulk of avant doomed orchestral majesty, the darkness offering an easy passage to the other side, soft, smooth, and easy to swallow, but still heavy and fuckin weird, the organs sounding like a dungeon’s lobby music, guitars, drums, pianos, and everything else within reach aching & bellowing from the deep, crazy samples of thunder cracks and cheering children, resonant, moaning vocals floating out from misty crypts and hallowed cathedrals, at once beautiful, powerful, & super emotional, then it ventures into catchy indie pop territory with steel drums and shit that manages to come off as anything but cheesy, an inexplicably enjoyable record that is seriously fucking bizarre in the best possible way, eerie and dark as fuck but something you could probably toss on while the normal friends visit and you wouldn’t get too many weird looks, I honestly have no idea how this record got made or what went through their minds when making it, this is the most original music I’ve heard in a long fucking time, and I’ll be pretty much devastated if these dudes don’t put out any more records together.
This is Mamaleek’s fourth record. The first self released self titled album was absolutely insane experimental shoegazey black metal, then Fever Dream added some jazzy shit to the mix, then Kurdaitcha went Middle Eastern, but they always managed to fuck you up in different ways while still sounding like the same band. This new LP mixes everything they’ve done in the past and spits out a brilliantly unique and otherworldly black metal that should suite all fans of the fucked & twisted, sitting well with now label-mates Wreck & Reference and Botanist, sharing Botanist’s borderline poppy melodies that’ll get stuck in your head while the roaring gritty ferocity of W&R beats your bones to a pulp, along with mesmerizing mournful foreign sampled singing, blown out beat machines, obliterated vocals, and beastly buzzing guitars that favor distortion over tremolo, this is raw as hell and fuckin EPIC, lo-fi not in the shitty production way but like this was buried & baked in a desert for a hundred years and only just now unearthed, these guys are fuckin demons, thrashing in a new style of black metal that nobody else is doing or even can do, the best kind of blackness that you instantly fall in love with and makes you rethink all the other run of the mill shit you’ve been digging lately, this is what everyone else should hold as their standard, the fucking pinnacle of wretched heaviness.
Since Craig’s A Forgetting Place snuck into last year’s Top Drone list at number 4, he’s already released an incredible digital release (Theia And The Archive) and now he’s prepping his debut vinyl for Recital and holy mother of god this record is going to tear everyone’s soul to shreds and sit itself upon the Throne of Drone, reigning all from here on out. Craig is trained as an opera singer, and he takes his incredible voice and fucks it up with some Basinski style tape madness, going over the top with an emotional rollercoaster, this dude sings so fucking sweetly if he collaborated with Julianna Barwick world peace would be inevitable, he sends it straight to the stratosphere, soaring euphoria, and then cracks it into a million pieces with decaying texture and warbled beauty, this is the sonic equivalent of a Turner painting, horror and melancholy in stormy waters amidst the sun shining bright with hope & purity on the fringe, crumbling crackling harmony turned inside out, bursting with life and on the edge of death, I feel absolutely fucking devastated listening to this, it’s the most heart-wrenching, overwhelming, fucked up, perfect, warm, somber, delicate, monster of a drone record, I know I tend to dramatize things when I get excited about a record but for real this is the best fucking thing you’ll hear all year, maybe for the next 5 years, I don’t know, it’s just a goddamn masterpiece. And you may remember me saying in my review of A Forgetting Place that there was one song, “On The Reach Of Explanations,” that could have comprised the whole record and I still would’ve been just as psyched because that song is just un-fucking-believable, well that song made it onto A Turn Of Breath which means I can spin that track until the grooves wear out and I’ve passed out from heavenly bliss overload. So yeah, this new one has a couple of “old” songs but Craig has never had a physical release so I’m totally game. Only 500 copies getting pressed up (including 125 deluxe editions) so seriously do not waste another minute in pre-ordering this. 100% necessary for everyone.