Well, it’s hot here in the ol’ UK – too hot, really, to be sat in a room like this with my headphones on. It’s a hard slog, you know, but someone has to do it. Well I don’t have to do it. I just do do it. Why do I do it? Why do I actually do it?
This round-up instalment is another big one because I’ve been lazy and Better Call Saul and Barry have been taking up my evenings when I should have been productive. I can’t lie: I have been one slothful son of a gun this past couple of weeks. Regardless, when I have been spinning records I’ve been digging them big time. I hope that comes across in INBOX #09 because I really do appreciate you all and what you do. It keeps me going, that’s why I do it. That’s why I do it!
So here goes…
Rob Glacier, “Unveil Vale” (Self Released)
A whopping 42 tracks make up Unveil Vale, a collection of comic obscurities, seemingly unfinished thoughts and groggy dream snippets influenced by a disparate cast of aural pranksters that includes J Dilla, Syd Barrett, The Residents and The Hurricanes, as well as (perhaps most obviously) our good friend Larry Wish. The first real “song” doesn’t come until five tracks in, with much of what surrounds the disarmingly pretty love croon “I love life, death, and love to the death” patched together from film samples, goofy stand-up routines and strange sound effects, but when the rough-hewn bedroom pop moments do arrive they stand out impressively. Taken whole, Unveil Vale is like a secret insight into a tinkering genius’s overactive brain: brief synth concertos lead into Mr Show samples lead into discourse on drunkenness, and faux radio interviews reference tracks yet to play, creating a rich sonic environment it’s as easy to get lost in as it is luxuriate. Full immersion is the best way to handle it, allowing yourself to bob around as though you’re in some sort of gloopy isolation tank with your mind going wild.
Home Secretary, “Cheeta” (Self Released)
London’s Home Secretary are a scrappy bedroom duo not a million miles away in ideology from Rob Glacier, although their collages are of a grittier, darker hue of a goofiness more akin to Chris Morris than Larry Wish. Since their debut Erly Scratchings, which melded bizarro Inca Eyeball cut-up shorts with Posset-y dictaphone mumblings, the pair (Drew Burke and T Ernest Wilbey) has upped the ante a little bit for Cheeta. Here each artist gets a side on which to display their wares, meaning comparisons can be drawn as to what they individually bring to the table, and all their respective tracks are edited together to play as a side-long experiment. Wilbey’s, as it happens, is maybe the most “coherent” of the pieces (if you can truly use that word to describe a series of fizzes, clanks and scrapes), although he doesn’t rely as heavily on the dream-logic non sequiturs as Burke whose crazed murmurings (“On Tuesday he wished for a pet frog… but he ate it up”). There are random conversations, broken string twangs, blasts of radio interruption and stray electronic pops aplenty, all making for an immersive, humorous hour if not something you’d necessarily want to blast to get the party started. Music made in bedrooms for listening to in bedrooms, on your own and not at all sexy.
Teeth of Glass, “Death Smiles at the Crystal Grave” (Waxing Crescent Records)
Another day, another faux “soundtrack” – this one being of the proggy Giallo style we all know and – for the most part – love. Teeth of Glass (aka Patrick R. Pärk) is as adept as anyone currently ploughing this well-worn and bloody furrow, with titles such as Halloween Prom Massacre in his past and a role in producing a series of musical accompaniments to a forgotten collection of Italian horror mags for Heimat Der Katastrophe on the go too. This one supposedly tells the knotty tale of a model driven insane by her own mother, although whether you truly bring a script to it doesn’t make a great deal of difference to its effect. It’s at its best when some drive is applied, as with the stabby “Empty Grave” and the somewhat martial stomp of “Cold Metal Table,” although the lengthy “Center of the Ever-Widening Pool of Red” is a sublimely nervy encapsulation of all Pärk’s influences from the hands-up surge of its opening techno minutes to the crazed synth meltdown and a gradual, spookily romantic guitar-laced rise to a pulsating rock crescendo.
yan jun, “time killer” (Hard Return)
Absolute ZONES courtesy of Beijing conceptualist yan jun, whose bio claims he will visit you personally and play a plastic bag if that’s your… bag. He works in realms not dissimilar to Retribution Body in that not everything he presents is even perceptible on a surface level. Play time killer how you will, whether loud or quiet, on headphones or booming speakers and what you’ll receive is a different experience every time. The title track played through crappy laptop speakers, for example, is barely audible; it’s merely a feeling of sound – a kind of knowledge of its existence – until properly plugged in and allowed to engulf you with all its throbbing, synapse-tweaking frequencies. “killer” is more insistent – ever so slightly closer to my particular aural plane – with its oscillations extended, warped somewhere, perhaps, like the orbit of a planet around a dense and demanding star. It gets near, too – threatening to singe at points before escaping the pull and spinning again into emptiness to pulse and buzz alone. The subtleties are gripping and constantly in flux. “er” hits a higher register, clicking like an insect hidden in scrub and similarly difficult to snare with its chirrups so clipped and neat they tickle your ear hairs. Close your eyes, pop on your best set of headphones (or even your worst) and just see what this does to you. Magnificently manipulative minimalism.
Old Nick, “Ghost O’Clock” (Grime Stone Records)
This could be my favourite label at the moment – it’s prolific enough that I could’ve conceivably included 3 or 4 releases from Grime Stone in this Inbox alone. In the end I plumped for Ghost O’Clock by Old Nick, which is yet another project helmed by label head Abysmal Specter (it only narrowly edged the superb Tennessee Witch by Hex Clock – honestly, check that out too) because I’m such a sucker for his goofy synth breaks. This is like a black metal Clinic soundtracking classic eps of Scooby Doo, which makes it sound fucking awful, but bear with me. There’s a little They Were Wrong So We Drowned energy going on in the feeling you get these guys are having a real hoot playing at Ouija, but it is genuinely raw black metal for a significant portion of the time, as lo-fi and grim as anything you’d hear from, say, Cirrhus, only with added hilarity. Ghost O’Clock is probably the furthest Old Nick have strayed from their harsher roots and it does tip into gimmick territory at times, but you can’t listen to this and not smile. The opening track in particular is an absolute knees-up.
Barkum Deer, “Barkum Deer” (First Light Records)
Forged in a partnership enforced by pandemic restrictions, this debut release by Jenny Ames and Louis Giannamore as Barkum Deer is a dense, tense collection of drones, strings, obscure creaks and countdown throbs. It is as creepy and claustrophobic as you might expect from two people bonding over black metal in an enclosed space, and any hint of light is gazed upon with great yearning like a dusty sliver through a crack in the ceiling. “Extinction Zero” is a Ben Frostian pit of raging booms and sirenlike chanting; “Doorway” skulks back into a damp, musty realm of creaking portals underpinned by deep, ritual groans; and “Clik Lik” plays with cuts and glitches, setting them against high-pitched electronic squeals and grainy haunted house thuds to create a steadily intensifying sense of dread. “Folding Fog” is well represented by its video – all Lynchian landscapes and enigmatic blurriness as strings swirl and swell – and the brief “Labyrinth” follows in similar fashion, closing out proceedings on a frayed tightrope between pure dread and genuine beauty.
Orca, Attack!, “You Won’t Remember This” (superpolar Taïps)
A short, sweet little single from the duo of Elizabeth Joan Kelly and David Rodriguez that’s a mile away from the gauzy bloops, bleeps and spoken word of their instructional C.M.S.O. tape for Strategic Tape Reserve. “You Won’t Remember This” actually sounds a bit like a distilled Spencer Krug joint, especially as it blooms out of its cute acoustic reverie (“It’s true, everyone you used to know became much bigger than you were hoping for…”) and rises on a wave of angelic tremolo into a full-blown maelstrom of squeaking feedback as the duo vocalises playfully. I can’t wait to hear more from these guys, whichever direction they take.
Euglossine, “Some Kind of Forever” (sound as language)
Here’s a name I haven’t seen in time, although it turns out Tristan Whitehill has been steadily dripping out music in the years since his tapes for Phinery, Moss Archive, Rotifer et al would regularly cross my palms about a decade ago, so that’s totally on me. It’s good to focus on Euglossine’s work again anyway, because you can rarely go wrong by allowing this fresh dreaminess to wash over you. Some Kind of Forever seems particularly suited to the current situation in Europe where unprecedented temperatures are slowing us all down to a sweaty, lethargic slog. Here, tracks like “Streaming” allow pretty guitar lines to ring clearly above spacious, cleansing orchestral trills and rainy-day key runs, while “Grandfather Clock” has a refreshingly pastoral dewiness worthy of Bryter Layter. The more explicitly jazzy numbers such as “Mod12” and “Story Mode” evoke shady basement escapes, and “Quaternion Blues” and “Flowers in the Wind” embrace a cool, honeyed psychedelia redolent of sunset park drinks. Despite its stylistic jumps, Some Kind of Forever glides by with almost laminar flow – exactly the kind of vivifying aural salve required right now.
First Third, “Salvage” (Machine Records)
A long and wholly engrossing track from Cardiff’s Christian Gates that swims through the spaces between radio frequencies and finds a universe zipping with curious life. Gates says the piece began life a decade ago as an experiment to pass time on journeys between Wales and London, using Max patch algorithms created as long ago as twenty years in its statically-charged movements. There is a fitting feeling of motion in the way Salvage proceeds – glimpses of landscapes whizzing by, perhaps, blurred and shaken by the thunder of high speed travel, and a persistent throb beneath that mimics a raw, propulsive electricity. Everything seems alive and moving all at once: inquisitive entities swim close to the lens before darting off into darkness; motifs appear on barren planes only to fragment imperceptibly and dance like countless atoms; images overlap like jammed photo slides to create deep and fascinating scenes, here washed-out, there blinding, but only for a moment.
East Portal, “East Portal” (AKP Recordings)
On paper, this is a somewhat unlikely collaboration between Brooklyn arter John Atkinson (remember Aa?) and Patrick Taylor, a touring bassist with Nick Jonas and American Idol shows on his CV. In reality, East Portal present a beguiling haze of electro-acoustic ambience dotted with occasional moments of creeping unease and richly constructed jazz flourishes. An appropriate touchstone might be Isotope 217, with a sleepy, weepy jazz feel running through the opening “Untitled #1” and colouring the early-hours Bickle groove of “Untitled #3” like a rainbow caught under dewy cafe awnings. But there’s less clarity available here, with motifs never fully allowed to form and grooves permitted to persist only as smudges. It makes complete sense even in its most unexpected diversions: Atkinson handles Taylor’s fragile arrangements with a touch as light and intriguing as the finest gossamer, treating delicate constructs of bass, ukulele, clarinet and pedal steel with a reverence that allows them the space and time to bloom and transmute organically.
MASTER BOOT RECORD, “PERSONAL COMPUTER” (Metal Blade Records)
Chiptune heavy metal. It sounds like it should be awful, and I sometimes think it is, but there are enough moments of quality riffage on PERSONAL COMPUTER it’s hard not to just get swept up. It’s like a whole album of that bit in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure when Beethoven commandeers the fuck out of the keyboard rig and you can’t pretend you didn’t jam to that when you were a kid. You could totally trash a mall in the 1980s to this. And yet as silly as it undoubtedly is, I do think there’s more going on – being from Rome, it’s not too much of a stretch to trace the methods at work in a line back to producers such as Lory D and D’Arcangelo, who took the Bleep Techno sounds forged in Sheffield by Warp Records across the Mediterranean and fed into later Steel City experimentalists like 65daysofstatic. The influence of their synthetically-charged post rock album The Fall of Math can be picked out too, as tracks jerk joyously from cheap ersatz glitchery into pounding headlong mosh-ups.
White Ward, “False Light” (Debemur Morti Productions)
False Light is a devastating dispatch from a country torn asunder. Bringing dark jazz elements to the fore with a keen focus on Dima Dudko’s saxophone, this Ukrainian black metal five-piece approach suitably harrowing subjects such as mental illness, police brutality and environmental disaster through a lens caked in Jungian psychoanalysis and the spiritual explorations of Mykhailo Kotsubinsky… all of which makes it sound rather harder going than it really is. In fact, it’s one of the more accessible black metal records you’ll likely pick up this year. Post-rock and electronic elements akin to a less polished Deafheaven inventively break up the flat-out horror of “Leviathan” and “False Light,” and acoustic tracks such as “Salt Paradise” (featuring Crowhurst’s Jay Gambit on vocals) lend a pleasing edge of haunted verité straight out of the vast, flat plains of their Odessan homeland. There’s a wonderfully triumphant feel to the way “Phoenix” crashes through its closing passages, demonstrating via gripping blast beats and a maelstrom of screams the immense strength and will of a people under unimaginable pressure.