Field of Fear: Ashes (self-released, 2021)

November 27, 2021 at 4:35 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Field of Fear: Ashes

Drew Zercoe’s new album sort of functions like the audio equivalent of a natural horror film. The music was composed by processing pixel data from photographs of over 80,000 acres of land burned during the CZU Lightning Complex fires in California in 2020, and concerting the data into frequencies. The first track, “Fallen Branch”, starts out quiet and gradually becomes engulfed in flames halfway through its 10-minute duration. “Broken Trunk” is more of an immediate storm, starting out with black clouds of terror and becoming electrified in an instant, but there’s a pause where it all goes dark and still before bursting back once again. “Año Nuevo” is more of a vast, rotating drone that ends up scorching a huge amount of ground in its 11 minutes. “Bone Trees” is the longest and most astonishing track here, with a trace of a rhythm throbbing away and funereal drones bleeding underneath. It fades down to just rustling wind for the last minute or so, and you’re too shaken with fear to begin to question what’s just happened and how much has been lost.

Dev/Null: Microjunglizm (Evar Records, 2021)

November 20, 2021 at 3:02 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Dev/Null: Microjunglizm

Last year, Dev/Null released Pocket Selector, an album of jungle tracks created using Teenage Engineering’s PO-33 Pocket Operator, a small tool which can surprisingly produce some massive, twisted material. His new Microjunglizm EP is another batch of storming hardcore and jungle, with each track packing a huge wallop in less than 4 minutes. There’s horror vibes (“Broken Bell”), there’s more aggressive drill-like breaks (“Breath”), there’s moments that almost approach more straightened out, looped versions of his breakcore past (“Warning Sign”), there’s mutant hardcore dancehall (“Time 2 Rhyme”), and lots of on-the-fly Hyper On Experience-style mashery. Definitely not as loony and horror movie-esque as the Dev/Null of old, but just as much of a shot of manic energy, and easily some of the most creative modern hardcore.

v/a: Relief: A Benefit for the Jazz Foundation of America’s Musicians’ Emergency Fund (Mack Avenue, 2021)

November 17, 2021 at 11:09 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

v/a: Relief: A Benefit for the Jazz Foundation of America’s Musicians’ Emergency Fund

Benefiting musicians who are still dealing with financial setbacks due to the pandemic, this compilation gathers previously unreleased goodies from an impressive cast of modern jazz heavyweights and all-time legends. Esperanza Spalding is the guest vocalist on the dense soul-jazz cityscape that opens the album, “back to who” by Irma and Leo. Christian McBride’s “Brother Malcolm” is a solemn reflection which gets a bit wound up before resolving at the end. Cecile McLorin Salvant delivers a passionate yet unfussy reading of “Easy Come, Easy Go Blues”, recorded by Bessie Smith nearly a century ago. Jon Batiste similarly interprets “Sweet Lorraine” in the manner of Nat King Cole, accompanying himself on piano and getting a little excited during the solo. Kenny Garrett’s “Joe Hen’s Waltz” is one of the longest tracks here, folding a brief “My Favorite Things” quote into a steady outpouring of soulful musings. Hiromi revisits a track from her 2004 album Brain, and it’s astounding as always, finding place for both tenderness and technical mastery. Actually, it’s definitely not the most daredevil-like piece she’s recorded, it’s more accessible. Joshua Redman’s piece kind of floats and ambles along; Brian Blade’s drumming is the most exciting part. Charles Lloyd & Kindred Spirits perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, and the veteran saxophonist takes the familiar melody and runs it through the wringer several times over, as Marvin Sewell does on guitar. The rest of the band is loose and unbound, making this the most far-out piece on the album as well as the longest. Finally, Herbie Hancock presents Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy”, a song he played piano on when Miles Davis recorded it for Miles Smiles, and this version just overflows with energy, with all of the players joyfully caught up in the moment.

Brett Naucke: Mirror Ensemble (American Dreams, 2021)

November 16, 2021 at 7:24 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Brett Naucke: Mirror Ensemble

Brett Naucke’s breathtaking new album is a collaboration with Natalie Chami (TALsounds, Good Willsmith) and Whitney Johnson (Matchess), both of the duo Damiana. Both artists add different dimensions to Naucke’s analog synth arrangements, and the results are unlike any of the artists’ other work. “The Glass Shifting” is a sort of goth sleepwalk, with starry synths shimmering down among Chami’s ethereal vocals and slow yet detailed machine beats. “A Look That Tells Time” is sparser and more crystalline, with mist floating off of thumb piano-like notes, then strings and more vivid synths rising and flowing like a fountain of pure energy. “Parallax” is clusters of haunting lights in the night sky, and “Rose Water” is similar but even spacier. “Sleep With Your Windows Open” is delicate and more acoustic, then “Late-Century Reflection” is one last burst of transcendent arpeggio-heavy synth power.

v/a: Back Up: Mexican Tecno Pop 1980​-​1989 (Dark Entries, 2021)

November 15, 2021 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

v/a: Back Up: Mexican Tecno Pop 1980​-​1989

Dark Entries’ latest compilation sheds light on underground synth pop and new wave produced in Mexico during the 1980s. Most of the tracks were actually featured on a 2005 CD compilation (Backup Expediente Tecno Pop), aside from 2 exclusives, including the previously unheard proto-acid synth odyssey “Las Cucarachas” by El Escuadrón Del Ritmo. Some of these songs recall Spanish electro pioneers Aviador DRO, who coined the term tecno-pop in 1979. The first songs on the album contain tinny, uptempo drum machines and melodramatic, new romantic-style vocals, with Syntoma’s “No Me Puedo Controlar” being a particular highlight. Then there’s a sample-crazy industrial track by Artefacto, who changed the “c” to “k” and collaborated with Sascha Konietzko of KMFDM, and later ended up founding the Nortec Collective. The self-titled track by Cou Cou Bazar predicts a lot of the hypnagogic pop stuff that came into vogue around 15 years ago. Volti’s Crammed Discs-issued “Corazón” is more disco-friendly, verging on freestyle, while Nahtabisk’s “La Dama De Probeta” is off-the-wall synth-punk. Década 2’s “Alfabeto (Cold Version)” is a New Beat-ish stomper, and the release ends with a stunning, dub-tinged darkwave tune by Silueta Pálida. Lots of fascinating material on here, and like the best of these compilations of obscurities, clicking around on Discogs and YouTube links will lead you down several rabbit holes with tons more to discover.

Nate Smith: Kinfolk 2: See The Birds (Edition Records, 2021)

November 13, 2021 at 12:02 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Nate Smith: Kinfolk 2: See The Birds

Drummer and keyboard player Nate Smith leads an all-star cast on the second LP of a trilogy. Influenced by the entire spectrum of Black music, Smith’s work is heavy on breakbeat-like rhythms, tricky time signatures, rock riffs, and insightful lyrics. Opener “Altitude” is just a calm, welcoming vibe with cool keys, scat vocals, and ear-tickling vibraphones by Joel Ross. Class is in session with “Square Wheel”, a mini-marathon containing rapping, encouraging lyrics, angular rhythms, and boppy sax soloing, then it leads into a brief, tongue-twisting freestyle by emcee Kokayi. The instrumental “Street Lamp” intertwines driving alt-rock with heartfelt soul-jazz. Regina Carter contributes violin to the enchanting “Collision”, and a surprisingly dark, ethereal prelude leads into “Rambo: The Vigilante”, a tense, somewhat difficult, but riveting scorcher featuring Vernon Reid. Amma Whatt sings on the sensuous ballad “I Burn for You”, then Joel Ross and michael Mayo return for the synth-funk groover “See the Birds”. Finally, Brittany Howard guest on “Fly (For Mike)”, a gentle, hopeful ballad which feels like lifting off and floating in the air.

Suneaters: Suneaters XI: It’s the Future (Lotuspool Records, 2021)

November 11, 2021 at 6:19 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Suneaters: Suneaters XI: It’s the Future

Kansas City’s Suneaters are described as “post graduate rock” and “scientist rock” online, but they’ve gravitated towards electronic music with their most recent releases. Their newest album has palm trees and a setting sun on the cover, and it sounds like the score to the type of film that builds a lot of suspense out of long, breathtaking shots where almost nothing happens. Slow, hazy synthscapes point your mind in directions without spelling too much out. “Climate” creeps quietly, but there’s several sudden bursts and hallucinatory flare-ups. “Graveyard” is a long, drawn-out doomscape with an unexpected chopped-and-screwed sample appearing out of nowhere and adding to the tension. “No. 3” is a shorter, prettier piece that feels like floating in some sort of lush, crystal garden. Synths are so lovely, aren’t they? “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres” is a bit more alien, with more abrasive splotches of synths squirming about, but apart from reproducing and squizzing on top of each other, they don’t seem to move too much. “Sacco and Vanzetti” is just a long, heavy, dead-eyed stare, with some faint rumblings of stray synths and drums under heavy, swarming synth clouds, and a bug-out ending that truly catches you off guard.

Christoph de Babalon: 044 (Hilf Dir Selbst​!​) (AD 93, 2021)

November 9, 2021 at 7:02 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Christoph de Babalon: 044 (Hilf Dir Selbst​!​)

Christoph de Babalon perfected the bleak, soulcrushing side of breakcore with his classic first album, and his work from the past decade has taken his signature sound to cinematic heights. This EP obviously sounds more high-definition than the lo-fi early stuff on his debut or the many archival releases that have since appeared, but it’s in the same spirit — unrelenting grimness, no way out, yet not absolutely smothering you with cliched “woe is me, life is a living hell” mopery. His drum programming has honestly never been better, there’s a nuanced jazziness and even a bit of an old-school hip-hop/breakbeat hardcore slap to it, yet this is clearly stretching beyond the confines of any genre. Pure artistry. My heart is full.

James Fella & Gabriella Isaac: CCTK Music LP (Gilgongo, 2021)

November 4, 2021 at 7:44 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

James Fella & Gabriella Isaac: CCTK Music LP

On the first side of this LP, James Fella produces metallic tones with a cymbal and a kalimba, additionally using tape to further deconstruct. Gabriella Isaac processes the sounds and adds additional feedback and effects, and both artists process each other’s output in real time. We hear rumbling electric storm clouds, static spray, and a much clearer patch of rolling kalimba near the end, and it all resembles an intense, supernatural wrestling match using fire and black magic. This material was cut to six stereo reference lacquer discs, and those discs were the source material for a live collage performance. The B-side of the record is a studio recording using the discs, taking the duo’s own interactive noisemaking even further into the realm of the metaphysical. It’s the same sound material, but it hits you from different angles simultaneously, and sounds like more of an attack. Yet there is some structure to it, so that airs out right before it fades away at the end of the side.

Watkins/Peacock: Acid Escape Vol. 3 (Freaks, 2021)

November 3, 2021 at 9:02 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Watkins/Peacock: Acid Escape Vol. 3

Zachary James Watkins (Black Spirituals) and Ross Peacock (Heaven’s Club) play a hybrid of analog and digital synths for their duo improvisations, and this is their first LP after two tapes and a digital release. Mostly channeling positive vibes, these are joyous explorations which verge on techno but don’t fully lose themselves to the beat. The flowering melodies and anxious drum machine pulsations of “Love” end in rumbling, subliminal bass before the synth blooms up one last time. “Fear” is digital dub with upbeat melodies and crawling tempos, slowly sliding off-balance as it’s becoming more intoxicated. “Hope” has heavier, more insistent beats, yet they still don’t feel like they’re aggressively pounding the floor, and the synths scuttle and sprawl on top of them, poised between a gentle touch and a frantic grab. “The End” is a slow cruise with electrifying sweeps of static and a more undercover, prowling feel. All four of these pieces slip by quickly, and you barely notice how long they stretch out because they’re so engrossing.

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