The current juncture is a little awkward and peculiar, as the cogs and machinations of major labels take heed of the purgatorial nature of the post-New Year, pre-release schedule period. Even most independents hold off. Almost as if it’s assumed that everyone was so devastatingly waylaid by end-of-year indulgency that the ability to contend and engage with any new music is something that enfeebled minds can’t even begin to consider.
As those gears begin to grind, it seems as good a time as any to continue to highlight sounds which exist well outside of the more industrious, orchestrated spheres, those which may have slipped through the net during the hiatus. These are some triumphs which seemed to quietly seep out during the latter half of last year as well as some more recent discoveries, released during this apparent fallow period.
The first two selections fall within the former camp, coming into the world in unceremonious low key fashion in September - as to be expected perhaps, considering those involved. They both share an astounding measure of sublimity too. Elsewhere there's dub murk, soporific hallucinations & proto-synth goofing…
Neotantrik – Éloigné
Considering the pedigree of the Neotantrik collective – their ranks include Finders Keepers honcho Andy Votel, Demdike Stare’s Sean Canty, revered new age synthesist Suzanne Ciani, purveyor of eccentric, kitschy jazz-electronics Bruno Spoerri and expansive pop experimenter Jane Weaver – it may come as a surprise that the most accessible and compelling standout is solely the work of Weaver. Produced in her native Liverpool - unlike the live performances from which the most of the LP is derived – it’s impeccable; awash with colossal ebb and crystalline glow. Latticed voices scurry in the background, as if the sum of a districts phone conversations have been intricately layered over one another, and there’s a terrific oceanic grandeur and lustre to the foregrounded movements. Occasionally a vocal is heard, a single, choral note somewhat drowned and distant but ascendant, and one which echoes around the otherworldliness of the rest of the elements. It’s the most fitting reflection of the cover art – designed by Votel and Asia Argento, with photography provided by Daria Nicoledi (Giallo actress and screenwriter) – as its practically the sonic equivalent of such an arresting image and state; transcendentally recumbent in a gently lapping pool of diamond-pure water.
(Blue Amiga) (Pre-Cert Home Entertainment)
Pinkcourtesyphone – I Wish You Goodbye [with Evelina Domnitch]
As with Neotantrik, the prestige of the collaborators who feature on the latest LP from Richard Chartier’s ‘microsound’ project make this an essential listen, purely on the basis of the curiosity stimulated by their involvement. William Basinski, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Kid Congo Powers are the candidates, adding contributions (the vocal ones were mostly delivered via voicemail) to the vivid tapestries Chartier develops. But once again it’s a more inconspicuous collaboration – this one, with interdisciplinary artist Evelina Domnitch - which packs the heft; an eye-widening, startlingly beatific one. A snatch of symphonic sweep like the fragmented work of a ghost orchestra loops atop echoes which spill out and extend into incredible undercurrents. Imagine the spectres who provide the soundtrack to the ballroom scene in The Shining, if not complicit in driving lunacy and attempted murder but languorous, haunting heartache.
As well as such affecting atmospherics, there’s a sense of science and design here; an acuity which puts this work in the same high league as Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops. There’s a similar thread of remaining fixed in an inevitable cessation but instead of the slow conceptual split of cohesion, the symphonic loop gracefully fades into an amorphous breath. Domnitch bookends the piece with a hushed farewell, like some benign spirit delicately declaring its evanescence;
‘I wish you shelter from the storm, a cosy fire to keep you warm, but most of all, when snowflakes fall, I wish you goodbye…’
(Description of Problem) (Line Imprint)
Tarcar – Fireball
A more recent affair, which may have gone under the radar when it was originally released in December, comes from Tarcar, a duo comprising Carla dal Forno and Tarquin Manek. Both have had previous form together, in Fingers Pty Ltd, who’s Broken Fingers LP on the Night People label mixed robust, roughly hewn post-punk with awry DIY electronics. That LP was charmingly maladroit, as well as dingy and unpredictable, its tenderness often splintered by spoiled synths and turbulent effects. And who knew a song entitled ‘My Nipple Is Worth A Thousand Hymns’ could still be as aberrantly exquisite as it is?
The sound Forno and Manek exhibited on that LP is maintained here, but it now sounds more high-grade and heavy-hitting, with besmirched dub coming to the fore. On ‘Fireball’, the closing missive from this EP, the sound isn’t miles away from that of early Peaking Lights, but instead of all the psychedelic Technicolour everything’s masked in a sooty, devious murk. The vocals, meanwhile, resemble a sinister nursery rhyme in their cadency. Like African Headcharge fronted by Trish Keenan, but still of original import, on account of the peculiar mischief* arising within the dense, low-end fog.
(*Including sampled quotations originating from a Vladimir Nabokov interview in which he announces a hate for jazz…amongst other things on ‘Loathing and Fear In August’ – certainly reason enough for a listen)
(Mince Glace) (Blackest Ever Black)
Negra Branca – Tired
Another relatively new artist, Negra Branca is the solo guise of Gnod member Marlene Ribeiro. She’s recently cropped up on the Charles Hayward (formerly of This Heat) release, Anonymous Bash, along with other Gnod conspirators. But in terms of her own work, ‘Touched’ follows her debut self-titled release for Ono Tesla, the vinyl wing of Paddy Shine’s Tesla Tapes.
If that EP exhibited a certain regard for ‘sumptuous, exploratory fug’ as so termed in Sounds #8, ‘Touched’ – a new EP for Bristol based imprint Zam Zam - presents inverse qualities. There seems to have been a downturn, from humidity and gauze* to more forbidding and unsettling textures. On ‘Tired’ the mood is one of indistinct, drowsy debilitation, the torpid repetition of plucked bass, rattling strings, choral-lullaby vocals, and out-of-wack harmonium-like tones accenting a sense of exhaustion and sluggishness. Despite those characteristics it remains a captivating listen, hanging uneasily in that strange altered state that occurs at an extreme point of fatigue, when dreams and subconscious imaginings begin to impose themselves on the barely awake, conscious mind.
(*’Those 27’, a track from the Tesla release, was formulated during an artist residency in Ibiza, a possible factor in how the sound of the track as well as the rest of the EP turned out)
(Touched) (Zam Zam)
SM Nurse – Heimwerker
From new finds to a brief but enduringly appealing presence in the Dutch ‘ultra’ scene, SM Nurse was founded by Menko Konings, accompanied initially with Jos Jak and then with Anneke Stempher. The scene that incubated them circulated cassettes of bands and artists who mainly congregated and flourished in Amsterdam. Equivalent in disposition to post-punk, it seems to be widely considered as an interesting but fleeting scene, although what constitutes ‘ultra’ and its timescale now appears to vary as much as post-punk, as retrospectively recognised here or in the States.
Judged by the latest batch of SM Nurse recordings Domestica have put together, there was no shortage of playful ingenuity in some of the more prominent exponents of ‘ultras’ open and artfully juvenile styles. In ‘Heimwerker’, as elsewhere on this collection, batshit samples abound, exacted with insincerity, immaturity and not a lot of regard for sense. ‘Ich liebe dich mein heimwerker’/’I love you my handyman’ sounds as ridiculous in its cabaret promiscuity as a Lili Von Shtupp showtune. Coupled with barrelling, hollow steel-thuds, diminutive bleeps and whirring sirens, it makes for a strangely goofy but grinding cane through the kind of sounds CHBB, Pyrolator and Crash Course In Science would concoct in the same decade.
There’s never enough of this kind of destructive play around, luckily rediscoveries like this one and the recent Science Fiction Park Bundesrepublik compilation (featured here) redress that.
(Hometape Recordings 1981 – 1983) (Domestica)