2019 Year Enders, Music

Ted Sweeney: Not Everything Was Terrible In 2019

by

Music Selections and Reviews by Ted Sweeney

 

Howard Stelzer/Brendan Murray – Commuter

Dave Public – More Than This

Buck Young – Buck II: Where Do You Want It

Lazy Magnet – Tide

Homeworld – Dedicated Sampler

Candy Ricotta – Fuck You Pay Me

Lapse – Transmissible Cancer

Solid State Entity – Neither/Nor

Sanyan – Blakk Gauze

Andrew Tomasello – Vertical/Horizontal

Hand of Food – Tropical Income Tax

Bastian Void – Acreage

 

Howard Stelzer/Brendan Murray – Commuter

Humanhood Recordings

Howard Stelzer and Brendan Murray, both collectively and independently, can be considered within the most essential experimental musicians hailing from Massachusetts, and have maintained residency in that space for decades now. Commuter is their most recent release, coming out in early 2019 on Humanhood Recordings. Sometimes I like to dumb things down for myself and break things out into the poles of “smart noise” and “caveman noise” music. Smart noise need not be academic necessarily, but probably should open for Christian Marclay the next time he appears at the ICA, whereas caveman noise is performed exclusively on Boss guitar pedals sticky with years of splashed PBR gumming up their knobs. This is a smart noise record. While a quiet a lo-fidelity motion sets the stage for this tape, it only takes moments before glacial resonances begin to unfurl and present themselves as the dominant voice, gaining momentum and energy as each ascending drift ascribed the whirlwind of tone even more power. Having had the chance to speak with the two about the project earlier this year (long overdue interview forthcoming, and to be linked here,) it can be clear when Brendan or Howard’s voice is shining, but when Brendan and Howard’s voices interlace at supreme sweetspots (evidenced in the climactic ending of the opening track Indoor Foliage,) though in a non-sequitur twist of endings this climax is snuffed out by sparse dialogue and an unwound Looney Tunes hiccup. The second track, Molina, immediately thwarts all levity proposed briefly as it picks up with haunting tonal tombs of reverb, and is arguably the most challenging track on the record, where it seems as if the listener is being hushed after accidentally stumbling into some strange sacred den of profundity interwoven with clips of what genuinely sounds like someone on their train ride commute (peak mundanity). This is the type of cognitive dissonance that shines when Stelzer and Murray put their sounds into motion. The final track which clocks in at just under a half hour, and bears the foreboding title Let The Children Guard What The Sires Won, may be the most classically “musical” sounding track on this release, (and by that I mean maintaining a tape loop of a synthesizer drone or manipulated stringwork), inevitably introducing a pulse that can operate as the beat of the song (alongside more outside-the-box “pew pew pew” sounds that dance around this beat). These slowly fade out without a dynamic resolve or reveal, and the album ends with that simple pulsing, and it is with this style of conclusion that we’re reminded it’s about the journey and not the destination for Commuter.

Dave Public – More Than This

Hot Releases

As if pursuing a hackneyed crystal radio dial where most stations seem to have queued their records at the wrong playback speed, More Than This opens with the tape flutter and hiccups one might expect from the weirdo underground’s premiere fountain of the dangerously absurd, Dave Public. Voices pitch shifted down into their appropriate gurgles-from-hell tuning stretch like molasses across fragments of cassette tape detritus that leaves the listener in a mental space that parallels an unsuccessful escape from a pit of quicksand. We’re being swallowed whole by Public’s aural defilement through his hyper-manipulation of all parameters that give recognizable sounds a definition. And without any resolve or goodbye in the morning, the listener is abruptly whisked away to track 2, Prairie Rose, where the sequence of playback truly informs how the individual pieces are received. Coming out of the bubbling tar pit (the tape’s opener, Same old Scene,) delicacy and shimmering harmonic subtlety seem to hit harder than any of the noisier transitions one could imagine. But this is truly a gem edging tonal orgasm with . Something about the pacing of the looping dronework establishes the first half of the piece to sound closer to transition than redemption. There is a crystalline resonance building of momentum that rides underneath the wash and blur of this transition. And (intentional or not,) right around the 4:20 mark within the song we’re finally allowed to see where this portal Public has ushered us down leads: Prairie Rose leads us to a palace where an artful tapestry of 10,000 singing phantoms providing a sense of protection, our amulet to carry through what seems like an otherwise dubious cavern. (It also takes the cake for my favorite abstract electronic composition of 2019.) NL51217 comprises the whole of Side B, and though starting poetically harmonic, things quickly devolve into deeper exercises on absurdism and foaming canine roars. This culminates into a chorus of dadaistically syllabic dissection and twists into deeper plunges into the more perverse spectrum of pitch-shifting. Possibly the best release of the year, but definitely the weirdest, and highly recommended for anyone who likes a little strange in their soup.

Buck Young – Buck II: Where Do You Want It

No Rent Records

Lulled in by the inescapable enticement of a cotton-soft ambient loop Buck II: Where Do You Want It opens their compost opera from a careful positioning of a listener at rest. I find myself wondering “Where are the gunshots and abuses of metal whose jarring force we’d fell in love with on their debut release Proud Trash Sound? Who cares, this is so melodiously enchanting that…” (One minute passes of this drifting loop…)

…ALIEN LASERS! There we go. The beauty of the simple ambience is knocked off the counter quickly and under full attack from a storm of what this listener can only describe as alien lasers. As the ambient loop struggles for air in the sea of noise that quickly engulfs the whole scene, its brief reprisals are stuttered and diminished. The battle for serenity has been abandoned and now the listener faces the remainder of Buck Young’s record at a charred ground zero location, where we had only moments earlier, entirely swooned along with.

With the most violent display of power in absurdism the opening track comes crashing to a close and transitions into its second movement a. Heist (Barrel Tank for Nancarrow) which could possibly be the field recordings of the Buck Young ensemble’s gunplay over a haunted player piano – recalling just how much this release stands as an absolutely definitive document of American Experimental music (and truth be told, I’m unable to tell if the player piano simply is a 21st Century repurposing of Nancarrow Studies, or just a sly tip of the ten gallons?) Doesn’t matter. Once this tape finally is allowed to reveal its honest grit on Side A we’re in the middle of a long-play barrage of TNT exploding throughout a Warner Brothers cartoon where the explosions just keeps exploding – a highlight reel of Wylie Coyote fails. 

And this is a recurring sequence the listener can expect to experience throughout the 4 sides of this release – a lure fashioned from heartstrings reels inward, and once we’ve been hooked, our faces torn back to the central expression  – and within this formula lies there bedrock for this document existing as the Pinnacle of contemporary American experimental music.

Even quite early in the album one is able to discern that there is a predestination of importance embedded within the cacophonies and non-sequitirial melodies, but it’s quite important to make mention of the distinct hotspots throughout the tape, Easter Eggs that serve as reminders that this is truly more than the records beside it on the shelf. The first instance of this occurs during II. Stop Motion Mississippi, in which a simple pulse and dusty guitar loop give pause for sullen reflection and over the blur they’ve just been pushed through (staring out of the window, miles after leaving the bank we’d Heisted with Conlon just minutes earlier.) And the efficacy of these interludes really does play on the listener like catnip.

But plot twists never cease throughout the length of the work, with the peppery upbeat country diversion (Ballad of Bruce McClain), bookended by prepared and manipulated slide guitar ambient passages Quiet (on the) Frontier and Reclusive Kingdom. It’s all quite dreamlike within its cadence, but the formula is quickly subverted as soon as we’ve come to follow it’s habits when Side C opens to play the single, side-long opus Scorpion. Warm and fuzzy plunderphonics fetishists will gush over the slow burn Scorpion takes- a durational meditation that forces reflection as its bliss descends into increasingly grand canyons of Inferno.

And in no motion of subtlety in the practice of delivering listeners a hair-raising payout, Side D opens with Bell Jar of Whiskey which is simply the most perfect shining nugget of gold wrestled out of the muddy pan of Where Do You Want It, wherein Zoe Burke manages to simultaneously conjure Tammy Wynette and Mazzy Star, an anthemic melancholy to highlight the paradoxically heartbroken and empowered daydrunk poetics found in Bell Jar’s lyrics. The intoxicating and healing energy channeled in Bell Jar meets a stark counterpoint in the album’s title track, equal parts true crime confession and locker room banter spoken in deadpan sincerity. These diametric opposites find resolve as the tape closes, returned to safety with the return of dusty looping guitar ambience. Buck Young II: Where Do You Want It, stands out not so much as an album, but as a manifesto: a declaration of the power that lies wirthin American experimental music. Something someone should write about long after we’re all dead.

Lazy Magnet – Tide

MORE Records

Shoegaze, as a genre title could not be more nebulous. There’s achingly slow Codeine sparsities and forward momentum Loveless rushes.The bulk of Tides seems to exist somewhere in between, a Jesus and Mary Chain space of mid-tempo steady rhytms where washes of guitar wrapped until warm and fuzzy reverb incubators. It would be impossible to write a review for Lazy Magnet’s studies into shoegaze rock music without simply aping a review for The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy. If you have yet to hear this absolutely flawless collection of songs that time traveled from MTV’s 120 Minutes into a 2019 cassette release, you may already have a fair idea of what to expect sonically: this is that brand of driving shoegaze rock music written and executed as masterfully as you’d ever hope to hear it. And that’s just what makes this album such an anomaly to me. This is not the work of mopey Brits reviving the corpse of delaybox warriors pumping out out college radio guitar rock. The vocals are of the buried sing-speak variety with subtle delay and micro-modulation buried just deep enough where the listener understands it to be another instrument in the wall of gaze. Tide is a singular exercise in the study of a specific genre. Just because Harris can. Because he’s that good. His subsequent work has been a drum and bass anthems that could have been written in the late 90’s (also under the name of Lazy Magnet.) So here we have multiple reasons to adore Tides. In listening to it, we get to hear a wunderkind go “Shoegaze? Sure, I’ll write one of the best shoegaze albums you’ve ever heard.” And he did. And on to the next one….

Homeworld – Dedicated Sampler

Moon Villain

Homeworld is the nom-de-plume of low key rhythmic supergenius Will Mayo. On his first release for Moon Villain records, Dedicated Sampler is a collection of mutated dance music that refuses to adhere to genre distinctions and instead prefers the unsteadiness of bizarro bleepy-bloop flirtations and meditative slow burns, and that’s exactly what it is. In discussion, Mayo can seem like a walking encyclopedia of the inner workings of varieties of dance music, and is smart enough to never rest in any zone for too long without moving his audience on to the next epiphany. This is not to suggest Dedicated Sampler is dance music first, by any means. It’s instead a framework which seems to bookend increasingly odder excursions into electronic curiosity. The perfect example would be Cats For Wendy in which a recurring chant carries the listener through an increasingly disturbing funhouse, until the chant which gives us our very anchor in this house of confusions, our anchor is replaced by an anonymized futuristic voice of the unknown, and the listener is left in an overly saturated oil spill of reverb and loneliness. But this dystopian melancholia is addressed with the album’s closing track – Strings For Tim. Here, Homeworld slowly nurtures the broken listener back from the void with the  steady momentum and a promise of the narcotic safety of spaces that occupy enormous real estate in the low frequency spectrum. And just as it opens as a display of bass-centric frenetic energy, Homeworld returns us to the womb with that same frequency, playing at an altogether different party. 

“All tracks recorded direct to stereo without overdubs.”

Candy Ricotta – Fuck You Pay Me

No Rent Records

The release of Candy Ricotta’s cassingle Fuck You Pay Me is indeed the most warranted facelift to confrontational electronic music in, with the absence of any hyperbole, the past decade. Electronic music intended to subvert and disturb is typically a genre overrun with edgelords, incels, and well …a lot of dudes (my ears are burning in a fierce way at the moment.) Fuck You Pay Me is the many voices of the disenfranchized and millenialized masses and condensed into a single, bubblegum-popping, technology-dependant hyperfemme. I’d like to think of the ham-fisted vapidity as a caricature depicting the monstrous culture we’re being bred to cohabitate within, but some of our narrator’s quips resound in an all-too-real manner. With spoken word musings oscillating between everything from Sephora hauls to tying off with an Anal Cunt longsleeve shirt, Candy Ricotta are poking at the dystopian now where sexual favors are exchanged for slots on tonight’s basement show. Snippets of the inner-monologues of camgirls and recreational drug users and all the while nodding to the all-too-small fraction of femininity in 2019’s noisy music underground. Composed by sound experimentalists Rachel Slurr (Stroker) and Rosie Rae (Apologist, No Rent Records) the two have come together to create a singularly fragmented voice that is at the same time validating and chastising the very subculture they call home. 

 

Lapse – Transmissible Cancer

Small Mercies

Unfuckingstoppably huge powerflex noise music in its most pure and uncut sense. A titanic storm of crunch and crash with a momentum that seems to ever be leaning forward, lending a sense of urgency to the blare Lapse opens his second release for Small Mercies on. There is no stuttering, no call and response, no hook and no angle: this is rippingly fast harsh noise for harsh noise enthusiasts. The sound Lapse delivers Transmissible Cancer with (two long play tracks, Can’t Get High and Fuck Misery, respectively,) is born from a disciplined framework of processed metal wires exclusively. Can’t Get High is a roaring blast furnace for 8 minutes before pulling the listener underwater and forcing the gaze fathoms deeper into the hidden and forbidden wreckage. Only within the final three minutes does the track narrow into a more specific bandwidth, a gnarly steel fabric torn apart with cyborg doberman nuance. Even at its most refined, Lapse delivers absolutely nothing but blindingly upsetting sound spaces, leaving us motion sick and pummeled. The second piece bears similar metal battering with a profound low end that pumps open a subsequent descent into deeper studies on collision. And it is with this car crash as vehicle where Lapse sits as tribunal to rumble during the second of the two screech and blast eulogies. Transmissible Cancer is a sadistic, disturbed, and gravely overlooked gem.

Solid State Entity – Neither/Nor

Basement Tapes

The composer by way of occultist-poet Cerrill Scott once posited, “Life is a mystery to those who trouble to think about it, and the same may be said of music. It is not merely a combination and succession of sounds, but a mysterious something…” I find a personal treasure in artists working directly with that branch of mystery, and Solid State Entity displays this with a ferocity that plays out like an RPG mecha-intiation… but this is a puzzle that draws the listener in to play along, certain to evade the frustration and bore that a bouquet of disparate electronic music pieces might allow for. Not here. This tape warrants the listener get in and go for the ride. The visual packaging informs what we can expect to experience. While the J card displays fragmented handcut collage and poetry, I would be amiss not to mention that the cassette tape housing itself has no clear marker of which side is “A” or B”, but instead is split between one black side, and one white side (with a small black insignia scrawled into it, possibly an accident, a perfect accent.) I found this pushing me to consider the dichotomies and symbiosis between the two sides of light and shadow instead. Like roulette at the tape deck, I guessed that the side black played first and I was right! (I guess we’ll tell them that we experienced the shadow before the light). Futurewaverly bass momentum is immediately established, and the user is sucked into a hypnotic drive that gently pulls at the cortex through the tempo’s gravity with etheric voices and choral synth beds. Top down neon eternal driving to nowhere music establishes itself as our friendly guide that will recur throughout the journey. Things slowly corrode into more unsettling passages and the ride begins to veer towards the edges of something that feels much, much darker. Probably torture chambers? I don’t know, something dark and super fucked up. The car drives past there. However, with the trance states being induced by temporal kick drum discordances, the listener now must trust that the guide certainly won’t take us too far off of the path. And the formula we’re following lends itself to exploration of increasingly exotic soundspaces while being returned to a guided compass of syncopated beatwork. There’s some ugly scenery explored within this tape, but it’s handled with the elegance and confidence of a brilliant soundworker- Solid State Entity manages to exponentially resolve each twist through a more disembodied passage, a catered dialogue between chaos and catharsis.

Sanyan – Blakk Gauze

No Rent Records

Without regard for hiding the seams of inspiration, Sanyan’s C60 of Muslimgauze-inspired dune poetry bears the title “Black Gauze”. A follow-up release to 2014’s Journey To The Dunya, on Black Gauze we see quite a bit more sonic diversity along with a markedly noticeable improvement in the production of these Orientalist vignettes. And to spell things out even further, there’s plenty of furiously polemic samples bound to disturb on this cassette from the mysterious Florida 19 year old with a taste for snake charmer dirges occasionally peppered with Hashishin carnival rhythms or tape manipulations of Tantric incantations. But so is what matters on this tape: this is not a simple Memorex-play of Muslimgauze inspirations. Instead, what we have is a powerful repurposing of the ideas of some other guy who repurposed a sound not his own through the synthesis of starseed samplers built from opium and ketamine. There’s just so many holographic reflections of signaling that it’s best to enjoy this album in a more loose way than obsessing over the polarizing punctuation that many of the spoken (and shouted)-word samples color in the release. It’s troubling, it’s confusing, and it’s bound to bother and bewilder more than a few listeners. With Black Gauze, Sanyan has pulled the rug out from our magic carpet ride and forced the audience’s listening experience (and the language chosen by this particular reviewer,) to be handled with kid gloves.

Andrew Tomasello – Vertical/Horizontal

Moon Villain

Andrew Tomasello is a Boston-based electronic musician. Vertical/Horizontal is his first vinyl release on Moon Villain records, and it competes as one of the hometown label’s finest works to date. The record kicks off with a cyber-raga that unfurls delicately for just over five minutes until the primary components of synthesis have been slowly dropped from the selection to reveal a simple ominous plucked . This transitions quite amazingly as the listener is presented with a simple guitar melody drenched in reverberations on the album’s second track, Horizontal. Sparkling single note meandering dances atop the bottom layer of guitarwork and create constellations the listener can quickly form outlines from before they pass into a cascading and rippled conclusion of the first side of the record. The final track can only be described as the saddest song that has ever been sung by an aging old woman with an out of tune clarinet for a throat and an obtrusive speech impediment. It’s true beauty. Written and recorded in Portland, Oregon between 2016 and 2017 using electric guitar, tamboura, and modular synthesizer

Mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri at Black Knoll Studios, May 2018

Hand of Food – Tropical Income Tax

MORE Records

Stay away from the pufferfish: it has toxins which can and will relocate your consciousness to warm island settings. Too late? Well, you can expect Hand Of Food takes the most blurry definition of “island music” (gelling somewhere between gamelan, warm breeze oasis ambient drifts, Orientalist miasma, and bustling field recordings) and serve them to you, dish after dish, for the next . Songtitles aren’t included with timestamps, so track titles such as

the year of pleasure, third sunbather man, smoke island ocean, and husband of the cruise 

serve more as a lax topography of the unfolding soundworks than a literal delineation of songs. The setting is ripe for a rough and tumble take on the outsider exotica – that is until we’re introduced to the crooning of what can only be the channeled spirit of Mr. Frank Sinatra himself. I like to think of Ole Blue Eyes, sitting on the beach shore, letting the foam rise up to his feet (he’s cuffed his pants so as not to get wet,) meditating the mantra he spoke to himself during these times of transcendence; “You gotta love livin’, baby, ’cause dyin’ is a pain in the ass.” Side B opens with what could be spliced tape from the cutting room floop of the Akira OST, without ever managing to anadon the bird calls and nature sounds that effectively pepper the entire tape. Vocals return through this trip into the sand bar, but poor Frank seems to have have been affected by the toxins in the exotic seafood he’s been picking at, as his utterances are indistinguishable croons, oceanic glossolalia. As delay and repetition blur the ambience the listener may find themselves drifting out to sea as we make our way through Side B, but only as to provide a brief valley for the colossal peak these shores take us. Not to say this was all just foreplay, we were being basted and blasted, primed and prepared for the entree: the menu of culinary delights, read verbatim by the Hand of Food’s maitre’d, until the final wink to purulent soundplay forces the hand of playback, and Hand of Food is returned to the gurgling mess of inedibles we should have known they were all along.

Cornelius F. Van Stafrin III – Bird of Praise Return​.​.​.

Enmossed

I have to admit this tape arrived in my collection as a bit of a self-imposed mystery, having acquired at the legendary (and now defunct) Moon Villain concert loftspace, where I frequently found myself enjoying their curated evening’s interplay with my own hallucinations. And as they do, things on that evening’s timetable were smeared. I awoke with this tape, knowing nothing about it or too much about how it ended up with me (with the exoticism of self-imposed serotonergic modulations sometimes the details are lost) – but the cover art surely spoke to the headpsace I was vibing with at the time – maximal hi-contrast and hyper xeroxed totemic figures of a Mayan-looking variety. which I’ve found seems to suiting for the artist and/or collective that is Cornelius F. Van Stratten III (CFVS). Side A creeps open with radiating warm sun rays of warm delay – with a subdued yet firm piano line maintaining the dialogue between accenting and informing the drone it wanders about. This has strong Theater of Eternal Light at their very best vibrations, while standing on its own shape shifting feet quite nicely. Things coalesce into a fragmented loop that quickly loses meaning beyond there sheer phonetics if the original message were discernible at any point. Somewhere though, my brain is translating this repeated loop, and the CFVT3 message is being trepanned into my full attention now. Side B opens with with sonic documentation of what sounds to be the methodical dragging of torn 100 year pineal old trees in the cleanup following a psychic storm. There’s a feedback source and some smashing which sounds attached to some type of primitive electronics, so one must assume we’re not too far near an outlet – which isn’t to stay that I still hear this piece deep in a forest. Segue as a lone accordion or even hurdy gurdy and tape textures return the listener to a place of comfort and familiarity within the moonlit forest dance around the fire that quickly gains inertia: the volume increases, the fire spreads, the feedback begins to dominate the signal path, the dangers are increasingly losing control over their movements. We’ve been possessed.

From the artist’s BandCamp:

:: intertwined roots murmur,

crumbling plaster facades to open glades ::

All sound sources are from field and live recordings collected during 2014, 2015, 2017, & 2018. Edited for time and space.

Bastian Void – Acreage

Muzan Editions

Bastian Void is an alias of Joseph Bastardo, who also operates the label Moss Archive. Introducing his most recent album on Muzan Editions, and fits well in their catalog which includes releases by Aidan Baker, Pulse Emitter, Hainbach, Amulets, and many others who could easily be considered the best of the best in the field of contemporary abstract electronic music composition. And it is within that field which Acreage opens: playful synthwork that might have been called “braindance” in a different universe, Bastian Void presents us with the type of music that continues to expand the listener’s definition of satisfaction by continuously hopping the cars of a definitive sound on the 12 song train ride that is Acreage. The whole tone of the effort seems quite celestial for what I’d initially ascribed as being counterintuitive to its quite terestrial title, but units of measurement on Earth have no bearing in the soundscapes established by Bastian Void. As the album progresses, reptiles built from printed circuit boards attack each other’s amplitude nests and what started as a smooth ride down electro lane quickly finds itself prickling with the chirps of corrupted .flac files. Acreage is fun because it plays out as a linear narrative, but the mythology within the narrative is created by the listener. And its with that type of interactivity that I can safely refer to this recording as legendary.

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