A vaguely seasonal selection, from degraded trance to gorgeous ambient/free jazz fever dream to indie-canon-savvy gauze-pop…
Theo Burt – B1 (Presto!?)
Like the deconstructed trance experiments of Lorenzo Senni – who runs the suitably Interrobang-marked label scheduled to release the ‘Gloss’ LP, from which this preview is taken – ‘B1’ touches on the essence of the unholiest of commercial sugar rushes. Blares of big room stabs dominate but they’re chopped and manipulated in such a way that they don’t submit to an empty barrage of corporate-sanctioned elation, neither do they restrict themselves to a dull, academic dead end. Instead it situates itself in that uneasy position between the two, equidistant between the lowest of the low and the highest of the high, if such a division really exists anymore.
Intriguing passages of dynamic frequency filter in and out, yet the slightest flavour of commercial garishness remains. It’s as if the stems of a Trance Nation CD have been corrupted; a forgotten remnant of high capitalist escapism left out in the hot sun, its blindingly bright lustre left to leak like a gloopy wax…and that wax is then fed through some kind of Superclub organ. It’s a strange and uneventful wonder.
Coinciding with this release is The Death of Rave’s reissue of Burt’s other foray into commercial trance reconfiguration, The Automatics Group ‘Summer Mix’, a limited CDR originally released by Entr’acte in 2011 and made up of various mathematically-processed treatments of Tiesto, Swedish House Mafia and the like. From what I’ve heard, both are astounding examples of a mass market sound meticulously upended and given a genuine, slow-burn beauty.
Live Low – Versions EP (Marvellous Tone)
Formed from last year’s self-titled Tesla Tapes release, the ‘Versions’ EP reveals the suitability of dub to Pedro Augusto’s sound, a many-aliased DIY stalwart of Porto, who’s also explored hardcore acid and diverged into soundtrack work in his other projects.
Here though it’s a crawl-paced turn of moody, lo-fi hip hop (‘Earth Version’), aching noir-tinged noise-frazzle (‘Land Version’), and percussively scattershot, unnerving ambience (‘Echoes I Dizzcock Version’) that takes centre stage. It’d be a mess if it wasn’t so convincingly tied together, with Augusto proving coherent in mood and effective in wielding tension and measuring out space. ‘The Antiplot (Ripit Version)’ is especially notable for its precipitous fall from what sounds like processed melodica in a Middle Eastern mode to a gnarled, rippling sound system lethality.
Although Alice Dee’s rapped vocals on ‘Earth Version’ have a slightly irksome tone, righteous and consciously didactic as they are, there are a couple of moments of rare and impressive insight, not least when after transitioning from German to English she questions whether there are ‘supermarkets for broken homes’. It’s a striking lyrical evocation of social fragmentation that encapsulates the focus of the dark moods that pervade much of the EP. But it’s mainly through a form of guitar-strafed dub that Augusto proves he can convey a hell of a lot through mostly instrumental reductions and echoes.
Benjamin Finger – Amorosa Sensitiva (X-Ray Records)
Whilst it may be disingenuous to openly list an extensive array of influences, as if recalling the intertextual exhibitions of a tribeless and defiant teenager, those detailed in the blurb for the biographical PR for former film student and composer Benjamin Finger feel pertinent. Like a gleaming reverie, slightly submerged, ‘Headspincrawl’ announces itself, redolent of Alice Coltrane’s graceful, spiritual ecstasy and the decelerated density and dusky forest-plunge of Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS project; apparent influences which both crop up in Finger’s list.
‘When Face Was Face’ functions in a similar stride, proffering grave cello and delicate xylophone-twinkles in another moving lag of cinematic ambience. The elements rarely strike up, instead seeming to emit occasional flickers of energy, like light playing off water at night. ‘Waltz in Clay’ is titular perfection, if ‘Clay’ was swapped for ‘Ice’, with a glacial ache defined by quavering piano and manipulated string effects.
But it’s the tail end of the LP which consolidates the beatific opening by lifting the lid on some more extreme contrasts; namely, writhing brawls of free jazz sputtering and unfettered breakbeat surges on ‘Whirlbrainpoolin’ as well as scorched, lysergic, mirage-like distortions on ‘Bum Finger Notes’. Finishing on the drowned elegance of ‘Darnskullgreyness’ - a piece littered with voices and string samples which surreally swim in a wash of crystalline tones - Finger comes back full circle to the affecting serenity of the outset. It’s then you realise how far you’ve been and where he’s taken you. A fever dream at turns gorgeous and fiery.
La Nuit – Road Snakes (Beacon Sound)
The first preview of Felicia Atkinson and Peter Broderick’s collaborative project, the ‘Desert Television’ LP, recorded last Summer in Oregon. It continues Atkinson’s forays into eerie spoken word. In this instance, as on this year’s equally bewitching exercise in cut-up text and internal monologue poetics ‘A Readymade Ceremony’ (previously featured in this very column here), her expressions have an intimacy; a texture of uncomfortable closeness. Combined with drum machine susurrations which rattle and dissipate in a thick and lavish hi-spec dub, her words take on an even greater power, describing in bilingual, narratively ambiguous snapshots a charged race of some kind (Imagery of flags, sunglasses, descriptions of speed and standout line: ‘Someone is going to win but I still don’t know who’)
As for Broderick, his more recent work has treaded into the more polite end of the folk spectrum and his other solo work has felt amenable to the kind of neo-classical ambience you might hear on 6 Music. It’s rarely felt as daring as this. So this new material is both refreshing and surprising. Although it’s not clear what the division of labour constituted it’s evident from this opening reveal that the conditions and the approach bred something special. It’s also telling that this is scheduled for release on Beacon Sound, an outlet who’ve also distributed a limited edition run of Lucrecia Dalt’s ‘Commotus’, another similarly low-end driven, beguilingly tense and uncanny work which maintains a shrouded sense of mystery even after repeated listens. Another possible touchstone is HTRK’s lush command of sound system sonics and ambient hinterlands. Yet this already feels very much like it’s own quietly delirious, stoutly proportioned enchantment.
Helen – Motorcycle (Kranky)
Any material from Liz Harris is welcome, especially when it outlays the kind of exquisitely reverb-smothered sound that she’s perfected over the course of the Grouper material, something she recently adapted with the disarmingly stark and still ‘Ruins’. To frame this new collaborative effort more specifically, it opens with the kind of treated haze and entranced choral-warmth that made ‘AIA: Alien Observer/AIA: Dream Loss’ such a key work. But the way it suddenly ignites out of such familiarity into a ragged daydream feels like Harris is playing with expectations. It’s not a drastic change of setting but there’s something looser here which suggests an emotional relief in contrast with the bare-all intimacy of Grouper. Jed Bindeman (of Eternal Tapestry, who’s longform, subtle freakout drifts on this years ‘Wild Strawberries’ are well worth investing in) and Scott Simmons (of Eat Skull and who’s appeared on a Sun City Girls improvisation) are the guys Harris has roped in, two fellow Portland inhabitants. It’s no doubt a cringeworthy cliché to say but this feels like the result of a few friends casually indulging a camaraderie and a more direct sound that they would be less inclined to encourage in their own respective projects. Golden age 4AD, C86 brevity, the blurry filter of shoegaze, it’s all here, but measured with Harris’ own special gauze.