The journey documenting outlying sounds, both sacred and profane, continues...
Erik K Skodvin – Red Box Curves (from Flame LP)
Erik K Skodvin’s work - whether as part of duo Deaf Center or under solo nom de plume Svarte Greiner (‘Black Branches’) – consistently engages with scenes marked by mournful disquiet. Very often stirrings rustle in the midst of a weighty resonance, with graceful, fragile snatches of piano, strings and field recordings of various import breaking through an engulfing air of dark and dense ambient and drone. Such a powerful foregrounding – of complete, pitch-blackness – often assumes an overarching, atmospheric dominance, as if the small fissures of instrumentation are marks of moonlight within a consuming nightfall of larger sound. Unfortunately the sheer filmic stature of what Skodvin frequently creates lends itself to hyperbolic descriptions like this, as it is with this recent project under his own name.
Initially begun in 2010 with the release of ‘Flare’, Skodvin’s follow up, ‘Flame’, continues an apparent interest in Americana. Although there’s a more stripped back feel to what features on both ‘Flare’ and ‘Flame’ – with a quality of acoustic intimacy differentiating it from his previous work- its still a fair way distant from the character of roots-based ‘authenticity’ often associated with such a traditional term. Rather there’s an evocation of a more contemporary slant. The work sits somewhere between the more ruinous moods arising in the soundtrack work of Warren Ellis and Nick Cave, if reduced into deader, more scorched landscapes, to the point that the level of stark tenebrosity even begins to approach the extreme minimalist gloom of Raime. This is especially pertinent on this highlight, which unifies and repeats a chord of broken strings, drums of dank echo and chalk-board screeches, before suddenly petering out.
Ben Frost – Venter (HTRK Remix) (from V A R I A N T EP)
There wasn’t a jot of much wrong on HTRK’s latest (at least in my humble view) and this feels closer to the dub-charged, sensual lavishness of that record than it does the original work. To let loose my own two cents on the source material, I’m thankful, as there’s little on Ben Frost’s ‘Aurora’ which really connects, somehow it feels too dictated by stratospheric soar, one so high-sounding and monumental it’s like the soundtrack to an ‘epic’, off-the-mark nature documentary that’s utterly disassociating; all unrestrained grandeur, no grounded perspective. In some ways you could say the same for East India Youth; that is, if you agree with me…abuse welcome if you don’t.
To return to the remix at hand, this doesn’t so much as rattle the fixtures as completely possess them, with monolithic, sternum-shaking voltage. A few basic, pounding treads of bass power it along before a gradual interplay surfaces; between flurries of percussion which sound like streamlined, compressed snippets of digital dancehall, distant fragments of construction-site drills and a repeated flow of serene but sombre ambience which spreads between the cracks of these heavier constructions.
In terms of the sound they’ve adopted as a duo, it coheres, and further cements a sense of surefootedness. Another special dose of silken thud.
Officer – Life At The Water’s Edge (from Life At The Water’s Edge 7”)
Whilst the crux of what Blackest Ever Black release and the subsequent appreciation it receives, is often predicated on the gaunt, tense ferment of acts like Cut Hands and Raime - who have carved out a sound now immediately synonymous with the label – the more unassuming departures away from this essence have frequently represented some of the most rewarding and interesting listens.
I still maintain that Gareth Williams & Mary Currie’s ‘Flaming Tunes’ is the best release which has bore the label’s signature. Despite the fact that it was reissued material it felt like something truly remarkable had been exhumed, a discovery from an enclosed world, one characterised as much by humour and eccentricity as it was by strangeness and experimentation. A thread of peculiar charm also lay in how homegrown it felt. Recently this sound and scene has been masterfully well catalogued and loosely branded as UK DIY in this mammoth list by Fact.
This particular 7” originates from that same world, namely from the mind of Mick Hobbs, who worked on Flaming Tunes as well as a litany of other similarly natured projects, including The Lo Yo Yo. The title track retains some of the spree and sprawl of BEB’s previous Officer release ‘Dead Unique’, especially in the percussion, which marches but quickly halts, in a lurch-like procession; like a small remnant of that LP’s structurally disruptive character.
Besides this however, there’s a more constant, palpable romance of melancholy present, one more keenly felt than anything previous. As you’d expect though – for a label like BEB and someone like Hobbs – that presence is far from conventional. The subject matter of the vocals for one, seem at odds with the other elements, as they reflect on an abusive childhood in rueful, downtrodden tones whilst a beautifully elegant, spritely violin (courtesy of Terri Robson) empathetically mirrors their melodic pattern. In spite of – or perhaps because of - its bizarre disjunction of grim coming-of-age drama and a lightly, crestfallen sound, it makes for another startling addition to the subtler territories of BEB, and yet another reason to dive into Hobbs other work.
Dirty Beaches – Stateless (from Stateless EP)
A firm SFTOR favourite (another track from this forthcoming EP was previously featured on the first volume here) it seems Alex Zhang Hungtai has unfortunately decided to lay the Dirty Beaches moniker to rest, but not before another huge odyssey of titanic ambient. In keeping with the sense of an ending, this feels appropriately momentous; sounds which might fit with rolling credits.
Contrary to the gripes aimed at Ben Frost and East India Youth, it’s lofty elevation doesn’t preclude connection. Instead it has a power which remains, even after the trill of horn-squeals, held organ tones and cascading drones have subsided into the quiet rush of the tide coming in. The run of images are equally powerful and fitting but they also reveal how much of an impact the sounds have, as even scenes of idyllic horizons become convincingly coloured by their sinister, enigmatic haunt. Testament to their stir also comes with how these sounds integrate fluidly with vistas of city skylines at night; what’s heard attaining a sense of expansiveness, suitably reflecting the swathe of glistening skyscrapers and neon lights that’s seen at one point in the accompanying visuals.
Apparently this was mixed by Dean Hurley, a frequent collaborator of David Lynch, and recorded with Italian composer and Father Murphy member Vittorio Demarin. It shows the lengths to which Hungtai has gone to, to attain such a colossally atmospheric sound.
Mischa Pavlovski – Untitled (I) (from Kapitel)
The initial track on this release on Danish experimental label, Posh Isolation, emits a claggy, burbling texture, with rippling echoes and chamber-reverb extending out as if reaching the many recesses of a palatial foundry. Arguably it draws parallels with Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement’s ‘Black Magic Cannot Cross Water’ 12”, if a little more adrenalized. In a similar fashion to that mesmeric half an hour, this untitled work maintains the same air of oppressive menace through one driving, viscid rumble. As it grows denser, percussion begins to galvanise and everything starts to converge in a greater intensity. For the simple arc and humble draw of elements, it does a remarkable job of bewitching.
Pavlovski previously ran with a few punk and black metal groups before turning his hand to electronic music, inspired by an exposure to dub techno. In a somewhat trite ambition he's identified his intention for Kapitel as: 'a soundtrack for a story that doesn’t exist yet'. Despite the well-worn nature of that aspiration the architecture of the sound over the course of much of the EP does justice to that idea with encouragingly distinctive aplomb. An evocative setting is constructed in the case of each track, with this as the most vivid standout. A rare buck to the all too familiar formula.