There’s quite a lot to pack into this instalment, going back a few months. It’s a perpetual frustration to me that I cannot cover these records in more depth – unfortunately, life is just too busy to afford me the time I require to do so with any kind of regularity, but I hope these sporadic round-ups go at least some way to repaying the generosity and immense creativity of the kind folks who see fit to continue sending across their wonderful music. It really is a privilege to spend time every night immersing myself in all the new magic I’ve received.
Theo Alexander, “Sunbathing Through a Glass Screen” (Arts & Crafts)
This beautifully stark performance from London composer Theo Alexander is at its intense best when being tugged and worried at by exterior sources, such as the nail-biting double bass undertow provided by George Cremaschi for “Accidental Enlightenment,” or the shuffling clunk of accordion bellows that puff and strain beneath “Bright-eyed Hunger”‘s blinding reflections. But Alexander’s piano work remains the star of the show, rippling vividly throughout, cleanly expressive in its flighty minimalism despite the drones that occasionally threaten to close in and the harsh horn parps that spit and snarl at the edges of “Deathly Bronze.” For all it’s relatable doubts and niggles, Sunbathing Through a Glass Screen sees Alexander looking assuredly ahead in a creative and emotional sense, and that’s about as positive as anyone can hope to be as we emerge out of this hellish era.
UAN0002, “UAN0002” (Hard Return)
A right old goose chase, this, both musically and in terms of provenance. Released officially by Hard Return, the links provided nevertheless send you to another obscure page full of identical-looking releases whose catalogue numbers are the same as the listed artist, although that label appears to be called SM-LL and you can do whatever the hell you want with this. Sonically, as with almost everything else I tried out on SM-LL, we’re talking glitchy, repetitive beats ‘n’ squelches, clipped and splattered to within an inch of their skittish lives and pulled out past any reasonable person’s tolerance. The usual hard-to-avoid touchstones apply: think Autechre, Aphex Twin, Ryoji Ikeda and Alva Noto, often within the space of the same few seconds. It’s rarely fun and awfully cold but that’s the bloody point, isn’t it? Call yourself a music fan?
attks th drknss, “Tales of Werewolf Cheeseburgers” (Self Released)
Unfiltered oddity in the vein of Painted Faces, Filardo et al from one dAVE Inden, who decamped to a slice of unceded indigenous land in Seattle to record this, his first album in over a decade. There’s so much packed into the five tracks – from the Hawking-vox and sepulchral chants of “All My Clothes…” to the depressed techno squelch and slowed-up train samples of “The Longest Shortest Time…” – that it can take several spins to catch what the game is, exactly, and there’s certainly no real coherence track-to-track. It comes as a bit of a surprise, therefore, to read this almighty rag-bag is in fact a paean of sorts to Inden’s daughter, whose recent arrival ‘pon this plane sparked no small amount of soul searching by the artist and forced him to slam down on tape whatever he could in the precious moments he had alone. What still comes through in spades, though, is the subtlety of craftsmanship with which Inden works; everything, regardless of how bizarrely it might clash or smear, is so expertly poised that you emerge with the idea he might turn his hand to anything at any particluar moment and succeed gloriously.
Winter Family, “Chevaliers” (Sub Rosa)
Inspired by the faltering, highly emotional work of Albert Schweitzer, Winter Family’s Xavier Klaine once longed for the opportunity to play the pipe organ at the church near his French home. He was granted access by his grandmother Loulou, who had keys to the building, and promptly recorded the music that now wheezes, hums and squeaks beneath the grand pair of glacially-paced sotto voce rituals that make up Chevaliers. That was over a decade ago, and the music was stored away until a few years later when Klaine once again found himself playing at the church, this time – devastatingly – at his grandma’s funeral. The memories this brought back spurred Klaine to dig out his earlier recordings and he listened to them as he cleared out Loulou’s rooms, eventually remixing them with the help of his friend Ruth Rosenthal who vocalises cryptically in English and Hebrew, reciting lists of numbers and measurements like dark spells and telling strange stories as the church’s bells ring through, heralding a final Gothic flourish of breathtaking power and no little dread.
Spacelab, “Knell” (Hreám Recordings)
BIG music from Spacelab that pins together lashings of raw terror and Giger-esque sci-fi surreality with a title track that may or may not be the very sound of sunrise on Venus. That Knell is space-bound is scarcely without doubt – think Paul Jebanasam and Roly Porter as far as scope and scale goes – but there’s an aura of gloom to tracks like “Attack” and “Strange Lights” that chimes more with the blackened ambience of Lustmord or Sleep Research Facility. It makes for an occasionally unsettling ride – I understand an LP by the name of Dead Dimension is to follow soon, the title of which should give you more than enough info as to which unforgiving corners of the universe it’s heading.
Blanket Swimming, “Arioso” (Decaying Spheres)
Absolutely gorgeous loop experiments from Cork, Ireland, recorded during the pandemic-riddled winter of 20/21 and completely evocative of that strange time in which everything precious seemed to dangle from the merest thread. Using fragments of an arioso performed by string quartet, these two long pieces swell and recede gently, their vocal lines cut loose to bob and splash as they drift hopelessly away into the rain-lashed night, leaving ghostly moans to sink gradually beneath the waves.
Wóma, “Three Drones” (Hiru Records)
Created using a bow chime, these tracks creep and creak with a haunting iciness, prickling your spine like fetid emissions leaking through cracks in a false door. With the steel cello’s slow, tormented reverberations given to the occasional off-cue clank, and its uncanny ability to mimic human groans and growls bringing black metal atmosphere, there’s a bleak ritual feel to the EP redolent of decaying woodland and nostril-searing night air – perfect immersion material I can envision coming more and more into itself as autumn progresses and the chill of winter tightens its bony grip.
Spirit Skinned, “Spirit Skinned” (Edelfaul Recordings)
I actually intended to include this in my last round-up but it must’ve slipped my mind, which is weird because it’s pretty much been drilled in there ever since it came out. Spirit Skinned is Ben Ronen (aka diburnagua) and Ofer Tisser, both of whom come out of the Israeli punk underground and here create a savagely simmering aural armament fusing elements of rap, industrial, punk, black metal, musique concrete and blunt force noise over which Ronen barks lyrics no less incendiary for their impenetrability. Impressively, this all happens without ever pouring over the top into pantomime territory, instead staying coiled for the duration, stalking its prey from behind the dust-caked windows of bombed-out buildings. It is difficult to separate the music from the environment in which it was made – although I can rarely pick out what Ronen is growling, there is so much fury in his voice and the scraping, pounding music it emerges from that it can’t not reflect the seemingly endless turmoil the duo’s home country plays host to. Oh, and it all ends with a deeply weird Nyabinghi-style detour into free jazz-injected dub. One of my favourite releases of the year, for sure.
Jamaica!! Meets Sly & The Family Drone, “Celebrating The End Together In The Good Time Swamp” (Self Released)
Wild and winding improv killers from Underscore palz Sly & The Family Drone, here joined in a riotous blow-out with fellow jammers Jamaica!! for a live sesh at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. An absolute blast from start to finish, the show builds out of James Allsopp’s slinky sax squeals into a glorious celebration of percussive fellowship, all bolstered and braided by zappy flashes of electronic noise and hoots of joy from the players. Less viscerally wrenching, perhaps, than the usual Sly live performance, but the sense of fun and togetherness on display is palpable. All proceeds from sales of this go to The Gate, a London arts centre for people with learning difficulties whose members are included in the ever-fluctuating Jamaica!! line-up – all the more reason to pick up a copy.