DJ Olive - Buoy
DJ Olive offers an hour-long whisper of warm, narcotic sound with Buoy, and the single track marker is meant to disengage you from your physical space and to submerge you into the spacious ambience of his fabricated environment. Recorded during sunrises (an external influence that leaves its mark all over the disc), Buoy is a record for the edge of sleep, for delightful moments of incipient drowsiness. Drones pulse faintly, tiny melodic elements melt across static-laced spaces, decaying voices hint at the presence of spirits, and field recordings of early-morning apartment dwellers hint that someone somewhere else has something to do. You? Nothing. Just an hour of lenitive euphoria.
Room 40 
Dead Hollywood Stars - Gone West
"The main idea was to literally 'go west'," John Sellekaers explains of his new project, Dead Hollywood Stars, "to play with the idea of a classic western atmosphere and to twist it as much as possible." Sellekaers, more known for his releases under a variety of pseudonyms on labels such as Hushush, Ant-Zen, Hymen, Sub Rosa, and Foton, teams up with several of his regular conspirators to tackle the popular conceptions of the western soundtrack. Claiming to take back country and western music from the achey-breaky "my love left me for his pick-up truck" sentimentality that it has been saddled with, Sellekaers and company craft a soundtrack for the Wild West of the nineteenth-century that isn't so much a point-to-point recreation of the past but rather a digital-reconstruction colored by the processes of the future.
After a brief fade-in with drifting static and the stretched voices of lost children, Gone West picks up a sprightly banjo melody and layers it over a click-track perfect drum beat, a glitchy, wiggly rhythm that is strictly a digital creation. Sellekaers et al continue their recreations of a period long gone with "Jigsaw Motel," crafting the sounds of an empty one-street town, the wind blowing doors and shutters back against worn wooden walls, the dust crackling against bleached steps. And their twisting of the genre continues as ghostly choral voices more at home in a dark ambient release on Cold Meat Industry flow behind the peal of an old church bell, and distant hurdy-gurdy melodies that you're sure you've heard under the garish lights of traveling carnivals weave around the pneumatic hiss of starship doors.
Their vision of the American West has a spectral spookiness to it; it is Westworld brought to life -- the cold face of Yul Brynner straight out of The Magnificent Seven with half of his robot visage showing. As the lonely ode to solitary gunslinger's perpetually roaming exile of "Amongst the Stars" fades into the pop melody of "Afterlife (see you later)," it's time to bring up a wagon and a couple of pine boxes. A Small, Good Thing's Slim Westerns and Steve Roach and Roger King's Dust to Dust have been the unstoppable gang running this town for the last ten years. But they're in trouble now. John Sellekaers has just come over the hill with Gone West and the sun is gleaming off his twin six-shooters and shiny badge.
Dead Texan - self-titled
It only takes a few seconds (or minutes depending on how you lose yourself in the long tones) of "The Six Million Dollar Sandwich," the opening track from The Dead Texan's self-titled debut, to realize that you're in Stars of the Lid territory. The Dead Texan is Adam Wiltzie's (one half of Stars of the Lid) audio-visual collaboration with Christina Vantzos and the record is a CD and DVD, collecting the music and the seven videos as languorous travelogues through tranquil settings and playful animation in a collaborative process that seamlessly ties the music to the cinematics.
The eleven tracks of the CD, which, as Wiltzie says, were too aggressive and too short for Stars of the Lid pieces (a statement one should take with a grain of salt because, after all, nothing moves very quickly on any of these tracks), are tiny symphonies of pastoral movement: the slow shift of light and sound across bucolic scenery. These are aural landscapes done in slow motion brushstrokes, huge canvases of broad tones and gentle guitar textures. Voices drift in and out of the space along with shards of slow static and temperate synthesizers melodies. Piano on tracks like "Taco De Macque" and "Aegina Airlines" lend a European flair to the record, a soundtrack aesthetic reminiscent of Zbigniew Preisner's work, and are testament to the influence of the Continent on Wiltzie (he's been living in Brussels these past few years).
The Dead Texan is a delightful respite from the frantic bustle of the last week of the year. This is decompression music, an hour of blissful ambient soundscapes that will unravel all the knots and kinks in your spine after a day of holiday shopping. Put this one on in a dark room, put it on the TV with all the lights off, and let Wiltzie and Vantzos blow all the tension out of your head. This is how the year should end: with a slow exhalation. Take a minute. Take an hour. Exhale.
Deru - Trying to Remember
Deru's latest release for M3rck, Trying to Remember, manifests itself in a fog of particles, as a collection of songs that struggle to express themselves through veils of static and hazy sandstorms. The songs are the breakbeat equivalent of isotope decay -- charged ions rattling against a Geiger counter with random frequency as if the source of their expression was a wild mélange of radioactive elements, a heavy metal bouillabaisse. Filled with radio static and particles of blown sand, Trying to Remember is an obscurity of memory that suggests melody more than it is actively driven by it.
"Spread Your Arms" is overrun with a gentle river of static while a single note melody pines with aching melancholy over a tiny ripple of chattering synthetics. It's the sound of the high desert sands trying to cover up a rusting piece of machinery that has lost its way. The machine struggles on towards its destination, servo-motors whining with the heat and the grit while internal alarms sound their distress with increasingly fainter calls. "The Reasons," a thirty-eight second explanation of the record, is nothing more than the processed sound of a windstorm blowing sand through an empty house. The opening of "Tapah" is a walk into the depth of the desert, past the dust devils and shifting dunes (the payoff of "Tapah" is the delicious oasis of rhythm and whispered voices that lives beyond that wall of dirt). "The Days Before Yesterday" is a Mobius strip of decrepit loops, struggling to bring themselves back into a cohesive sonic structure, but too much air has gotten into the works and the edges of the loops fragment and fracture with each iteration. The bell loops of "Only The Circle" close the record with their fading song against a rising hiss of static like sunlight dying across an expanse of wind-burned rock.
The delight of Deru's record is that it takes the crackling focus of Pole's static and locks it into an echo chamber with delicate bell tone melodies and M3rck's penchant for breakbeat, spinning everything into a slowly evolving windstorm of brushed noise and fragmented downtempo. Trying to Remember is desert chillout music to follow a wild night of tribal dancing across the hard sand of the arid plateau. The summoned spirits whisper through the night with tongues of sand. This is a gorgeous record.
Die Warzau - Convenience
I've made no bones about the fact that Die Warzau's Engine is the standard by which I compare most records (both in texture and execution). Since I am unabashedly biased about their work, I don't believe that I can be critically objective about their music since it continually thrills me with its attention to sonic density and its immaculate production. Frankly, I thought it would never be an issue, really. Van Christie and Jim Marcus -- the duo at the center of Die Warzau -- broke up over a half decade ago, and moved on to other projects. I had Engine and, if that was it, it was good enough.
And yet, here's a copy of Convenience on my desk. I bought it the day it came out, thinking that if I paid for it I would be absolved from the tyranny of having to make words about it. I came to the record as a pure consumer and I could just be a happy listener. And then the package from Pulseblack arrives. Inside is a review copy of Convenience, Die Warzau's follow-up to Engine, and hiding beneath the CD was the subtle goading undercurrent of my own guilt and ego: come on, have you got what it takes?
Maybe that's what brought them back. Maybe they looked down the line and judged themselves by the last thing they left behind and thought, "Maybe that's not enough." Maybe where we were yesterday isn't enough for today, and maybe we want something better for tomorrow. Maybe "All Good Girls" needs a proper answer. And, in the end, maybe silence is the same thing as dying and some of us aren't ready to go just yet.
So, Convenience, the new record by Die Warzau. It is, simply, an industrial pop political statement, a sonic sermon on the horror of being devoured by the machinery of our own mindless commercialization as we are subjected to the dictatorship of malignant self-servicing and corporate toadying. It is a bruised draught of vitriol that slips under our numbness and burns all the tender linings we thought we had hidden away from the world. It is, beneath its caustic veneer and hook-laden indictment of the current disarray of our culture, the light in the wilderness that is a beacon for our still possible ascendence and triumph over mediocrity and terror. It may be convenient to turn a blind eye to the hypocrisy on the television screen. "Fall asleep and stay that way / Valium or a different way," they muse on "Linoleum." But Die Warzau asks: Is this enough? Is this the way we want to be remembered?
The subversive delight of Die Warzau lies in how they make pop songs out of barbed political commentary and arrhythmic noises. "Radiation Babies," the track which showed up on Positron Records' Komposi002 compilation last year, hums with a thick bassline and a rousing chorus that sinks itself into the base of your throat. It's the sort of catchy pop song that effortlessly finds its way into the idle moments of verbal expression when you are caught in traffic, trapped in elevators and stuck in lines. It's only later when you choke on the lyrics that you realize just how much sugar has been layered on top of these bilious words. "I'm gonna love you like you're someone else, like you're somebody else / While you're bombing radiation babies into the ground." Van Christie's saxophone engages in a Peter Brotzmann-esque skronk-out with the fuzz guitar for the final verse of the track, a detonation of chaos that dissolves the saccharine sweetness of the pop lick and reveals the underlying frustration and pain of the narrative voice. "You can fight it but we know it that you never won / You took it then you ran and then we woke up."
"Glare," a reminder of our culpability through silence, contrasts the narrator's confusion as to his seemingly isolated awareness of our national insanity with the relentless parade of death and blood that confronts him every day on the television. "Who builds the mines that shatter / Children's arms and what does it matter / We focus on the now, remind ourselves we are right." "Linoleum" spirals around the despair of the single man with just one vote. Does he count? Does he even dare to second-guess the weighty choices laid upon our leaders? "It all feels like fear to me," Jim Marcus sings.
Art is based on three impulses: the fear of the unknown, the despair of the now, and the aspiration for some sort of cultural and biological evolution. Die Warzau are the rare band that addresses all three of these impulses through their music. Driven by visceral reactions to the current political climate in the United States, Marcus and Christie have rediscovered a need for Die Warzau's potent brand of brazen energy. There arre still songs to be found in the belly of the machine; there are still protest songs to be built from the hiss of the television's dying signal, the looped contortion of the political sound byte, the rhythmic pulse of our industrial society, and the distorted wail of our evolutionary degradation. "We are not men, we are machines that take the breath of life away / We are not men, we are pathetic animals who kill to kill / We are not sane, we are colluding with the enemy is us / We are not sane, we are destroying things we are unfit to touch."
In the end, it is "Shine" that guides us. A response to "All Good Girls," Engine's disturbing pop song, "Shine" is all about asking for redemption, about asking for another chance at salvation -- even for the debased and unworthy.
"How do I even say I love you
Soft enough to be heard
Sound asleep and yet I imagine
You understand every word
And if I were to shine shine shine
Every light every ray would be you
And if I were to rule the world
I'd throw it all away for one of your smiles."
It's not the flower child answer of "Love will guide us." It is the pure exhortation that we don't have to live in fear and that fear isn't the only emotion that can guide us. The chorus of "Come As You Are" reminds us: "Near the end as we are / We can be superstars." Indeed. Welcome back, Jim and Van. May we all be worthy.
Digitalverein - Internal Course
Joerg Schuster lives in Dortmund, the industrial heart of Germany's Ruhr Area, and like all impressionistic artists, his work reflects his environment. In this case, the underlying influence on his dub-inflected electronic music is the eternal decay of vanished industry: the bleak mouths of abandoned mines, the corpses of neglected steel foundries and the broken skeletons of run-down factories. Released as a high-quality MP3 album on Thinner (who seem to be all about making music available under the Creative Commons License, bless their hearts), Internal Course is an introspective dub electronic album, a record not out of place on the ~scape or Chain Reaction labels. Schuster's work is quietly filled with cold grey light filtered through white fog, an atmosphere of unreality which leaches color from the landscape.
While the atmosphere is dominated by a minimal dub aesthetic, Schuster experiments with vocals on this record, playing whispered voices that float through his carefully constructed landscapes like specters. "Listen," he says in a hushed voice during "Awareness in Time," "Time passes. Come closer now." This is the extent of the lyric and he returns again and again, drifting in space, to repeat this valuable observation while the kick drum marches resolutely onward and the bare melodies sound their echoes like distant foghorns. The voice returns again in "Face The Horizon" to intone the plaintive request of "Can you show me the way?" against a quiet Detroit flavored techno piece.
A saxophone sounds over a river of wind in "If It Only Were So Simple" and a chattering percussive loop chases after them. This is one of my favorite tracks on the record. The repetitive swells of sound remind me of the wind passing through collapsed buildings, the shape of the holes in the walls creating tones as they allow the wind to move through the once solid obstacles. The delicate programming of the percussion brings to mind the play of sand particles against stone. "Next To Mont Royal" is another favorite with its popping beat and atmospheric interplay of steam jetting from access panels and water falling randomly through six-inch pipes.
When you get right down to it, since the entire record is available in MP3 format, there isn't much point to fussing about favorites. Internal Course can be readily downloaded and you can keep the tracks you like and jettison the rest. Though, Schuster's work is so consistently enjoyable that you may just keep the whole record in your rotation.
des Esseintes / E.P.A. - AZ50HD
A split between Sweden's des Esseintes and Australia's E.P.A., AZ50HD adroitly demonstrates that power electricians aren't just bashing machinery without plan. Not all noise and thunder is random fortuity; in most cases, the decision to create howling walls of noise is a conscious one and not just a studio accident that occurred when the artist left tape running and stepped out for a sandwich. Both Magnus Sundström (des Esseintes) and Darrin Verhagen (E.P.A.) have much more classically inclined projects and, in the case of AZ50HD, they each reconsider a piece by the other in this vein.
While strands of noise curl and spark in the background, a chamber orchestra plays out a soundtrack for an action film chase scene (complete with the rising and falling sound of police sirens) for Shinjuku Thief's remix of the des Esseintes track. It's an interesting juxtaposition, especially as the remixes come before the original tracks on this split release. Unlike pop song remixes which are all about adding a techno beat to the core elements of the pop song, the remixes here are collaborative efforts where the baseline of a track is simply a suggested mood and everything can be further changed to realize the final mutation. des Esseintes' original track isn't as orchestrally cinematic as the Shinjuku Thief remix; that piece is better suited as accompaniment to the growing tension of a supernatural film.
des Esseintes redrafts E.P.A.'s "With Shredding Rubber," distilling the thirteen minute noise excursion into a five minute symphony of slumbering martial drums and glacial tones that struggle to break through the coruscating shower of noise. The full fury of "With Shredding Rubber" is a frontal assault on your cranial receptors and des Esseintes "recap" is a bombastic redrafting of the shrieking fury of E.P.A.'s power noise. If the E.P.A. track is Ragnarok, then des Esseintes' "recap" is the final approach, the last outpouring of courage and strength before being consumed by the conflagration at the end of time.
As both original tracks are pulled from other CDs (the des Esseintes is a Malignant Records release while E.P.A.'s can be found on Dorobo), AZ50HD is not just an exploration of the cinematic skills of Sundström and Verhagen but also a sampler of other noisier releases. As a fan of both aspects of these creators, I found AZ50HD to be a great summary of their work: a little bit of noise (which is all one really needs) to cleanse my head of idle synaptic garbage and a bit of gothic orchestration to properly color my day.
- D -
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Publications I've Written For
- Eraldo Bernocchi
- Fields of the Nephilim
- Peter Gabriel
- Chris Randall
- This Morn' Omina