NURSE WITH WOUND, "SHIPWRECK RADIO VOLUME ONE: SEVEN SONIC STRUCTURES FROM UTVAER"
Steven Stapleton and Colin Potter's voluntary three-month banishment to the icy realms of Lofoten, Norway has borne fruit in the form of this double album on ICR. As was reported, these two prime movers of experimental sound were sent high above the Arctic Circle May through July of this year, with limited recording equipment and no musical instruments, to record a series of audio responses to their harsh environment, which were then transmitted to the local mariner's radio station at unannounced intervals. Stapleton and Potter have further edited and processed the original broadcasts, ending up with a total of two hours of sound, seven lengthy tracks. Shipwreck Radio works best when Stapleton and Potter seem to be genuinely interacting and responding to their alien, inhospitable environment, rather than falling back on familiar NWW strategies. The microcosmic sound world of ice slowly melting and cracking apart merge with the lonely, distant calls of arctic seabirds on the compelling "June 17," which slowly backslides into glacial crevasse where a mutually indecipherable conversation between Stapleton and a Norwegian child is repeatedly looped and mutated. Each track is named for the date that it was broadcast, and a handy map of the Lofoten Archipelago is printed on the discs themselves, showing the geographical location where each recording was made. When the artists seem to be most engaged with their environment forming makeshift percussion out of blocks of ice, parts of vessels and disused metal scrap and transforming recordings of arctic creatures, water runoff and wind tunnel noises into organic drones Shipwreck Radio really clicks as an album and a concept. On the opposite end of the spectrum are tracks like the album's opener "June 15," which renders the source recordings completely unrecognizable, digitally processing them into a distorted, post-industrial rhythmic dirge that wears out its welcome well before the ten-minute mark has been reached. Colin Potter's droning muse seems to have exerted a stronger influence on disc two, which exploits environmental noises and subtle looping and processing to create textural expanses of beautifully chilly ambience. "June 5" sounds like an orchestra slowly succumbing to the pulse-deadening effects of hypothermia, stretching out each chord to epic lengths, as ever more minute bits of audio detritus pan around the stereo channels. As the album trudges on, things become darker, more menacing and more sluggish, perhaps as a result of the inevitable fatigue experienced in such a hostile environment where the sun unmercifully shines for nearly 24 hours each day. There is an organic, impromptu feel to much of this music that lends it an immediacy not usually experienced with Nurse With Wound music, which often seems rather painstakingly processed, mutated and generally tortured to within an inch of its life. This helps the album operate as a sort of freeform travelogue or audio diary. The first edition of 100 copies came with a bonus disc, Lofoten Deadhead (a reference to the excerpted bit of Norwegian radio where a local explains why the Grateful Dead is "the ultimate band"), which contains more variations on the same audio sources, as well as a 30-minute track of untreated recordings of Stapleton and Potter experimenting with different methods of creating compelling noises from their surroundings, fussing about with objects and arguing with each other. It's unfortunate that this was not included on the album proper, as it is both entertaining and provides a glimpse into the duo's working methods that enriches the material on the other two discs. Taken together, even with its momentary lapses of originality, Shipwreck Radio is a fascinating entry in both artists' substantial discographies. - Jonathan Dean
"Shockout vol. 1"
The first essential compilation of the year for me has come in the form of a Shockout Records retrospective that collects tracks previously released only vinyl. It couldn't have come too soon because tracking down the 12" and 7" records these songs are from has been alternatingly frustrating or impossible. That the brand of mash up ragga jungle breaks that Shockout deals in is not more widely accepted is a crime. This, to me, is what pop music ought to sound like in 2004. I'm not deluded: I don't expect the Bug and Wayne Lonesome to achieve Britney or U2 status, but there's no good reason this stuff hasn't broken out of its fringe niche market. When I think about the perfect pop song, there is a pretty standard formula that weighs down on just about every pop song ever hummed in a car or slapped on a mix tape. It has to be short; GYBE is great, but it's beyond the attention span of the pop audience. It has to have a catchy rhythm or melody, and by nature of the ragga/dub/jungle fusion, all of these tracks have that. It also needs a vocal hook, because no matter what the cutsey, instrumental electro-pop discs that fly over from Germany like to think, a pop song is anchored by the vocal. While I can't understand half of what the MCs are saying on these tracks, they are nevertheless some of the best hooks anyone has put to music in the last few years. I don't know how many times I've walked out of the elevator in my building singing "Killer" or "WWW" to myself. By bringing together the raw grit of hardcore hip hop, an experimental studio approach to production, the rhythms and mashed up collages of jungle and breakbeat music, and the soul of ragga and dancehall the Shockout artists are essentially creating the recipie for the perfect multi-cultural distopian pop of our generation. That this stuff gets resigned to relative obscurity and special-order status means that it's not likely that the sound or the scene will evolve as quickly as it should. When mainstream artists are producing some of the sickest and slickest beats and taking more risks than their underground counterparts, it opens up a whole new world of innovation and experimentation that inevitably leads to something even fresher and weirder. The artists on the Shockout roster should be approaching that kind of uncomfortable intermediate area where what they are doing is recognized enough to lead some of them into the neverland of major labels, but instead the whole thing is promoted with the zeal for the underground that limits its audience unnecessarily. It's a dedication that I admire on the one hand, but simply don't understand on the other. Surely there's a way to keep the artistic integrity in tact while getting discs like this into the hands of the millions of people who would no doubt love them if they knew Shockout existed. Look for the bandwagon to be rolling in 2005, and for Shockout to continue to lead the way. - Matthew Jeanes
Andrew Liles/Bass Communion, "Ghosts On Magnetic Tape"
Knowing that there could be voices around us all the time that are simply very difficult to hear is a bit of an unsettling notion. A small essay provided on this release and written by Konstantin Raudive outlines how to record what he calls "voice-phenomenon." The essay details proper tape speeds and proper procedure for recording the voices of ghosts and it also goes on to classify three different kinds of voices that seem to be most numerous in his work. The third type of voice, the one that even a trained ear finds difficulty hearing and understanding, is the the kind that populates Andrew Liles' reconstruction of the excellent Bass Communion record, Ghosts on Magnetic Tape. Liles continues to make me wonder at his disposition, I'm always torn between supposing he's a very haunted, talented individual and the image of him as a medium between this world and that of monsters, demons, and phantoms. His music has always been on the creepier side of the extended tone and at times he can be outright disturbing in his presentation. His reconstruction of Bass Communion's album incorporates pseudo voices into a music whose soul was already suffused with essence of the unknown. Each of the five tracks is the owner of a unique voice; the reconstruction of "Ghosts on Magnetic Tape II" begins with the sound of a choir of angels echoing inside the belly of sunken cathedral bells ringing, organ choking, and water crushing through each second. It doesn't take long before a whisper pinches in through the wall of sound, running its fingers over my ears, and passing like a wind through the smallest opening in a window. It's a shocking moment because it's so convincing: I'm led to believe this must be a genuine recording. Whether or not it's actually the voice of an individual who no longer touches the physical plain is questionable. Perhaps it's the soul of an individual through sound and perhaps it is a trick played on the self through the imagination. I prefer to believe in the former. At times I'm tricked into believing this record is safe; there is no trepidation in me and the almost liquid rolling of hums and sparks seem welcoming. Liles is not to be trusted because he will open up a chasm of fear so quickly that any apparent tranquility that follows will seem immediately imposing and capable of psychological scrambling. This album was limited to 1,000 copies, 200 of which came signed, numbered, and contained a special photograph. The music inside is far more rare than the record itself, however. I'm beginning to have trouble deciding whether this is music or a method for the living to come to know the dead. It feels almost religous at times and elsewhere it is tense and disturbing. It just doesn't feel like it belongs on the earth at times. - Lucas Schleicher
Cerberus Shoal, "Cerberus Shoal"
North East Indie
This Rosetta Stone of the Shoal catalog is finally re-released via their ever loyal current label for the first time since its vinyl-only pressing in 1995. Their first 12" LP, originally self-released at 1000 copies, shows the band at their earliest stages: a noodling, hard-edged, and often very derivative ensemble. Influences are so clear they're transparent, with vocal performances almost ripped off from bands that were their contemporaries or their predecessors, and dynamics that bring to mind seminal recordings that helped shape or redefine whole genres of experimental music. Not to say that the band isn't speaking with its own voice even on these songs, as there are tinges and aesthetics present that are still in play with their oeuvre today, some ten years later. There is something to be said, though, that they were still searching for the right mix of the elements to inspire themselves and win over the masses. Maybe searching for the right members, as well, since the band is famous for a rotating cast of characters that changed at least from album to album and sometimes in the midst of recording one. At any rate, there's still a few moments worthy of awe or discussion, and plenty to keep the mind racing on a cold winter night. "Elena" has bright melodies and spoken word buried in its subconscious, where "Change" leaves nothing below the surface or to the imagination, with explosive guitars, screams, and loud "oohs" that howl on and on as the heat increases. The key track, though, is the penultimate "Breakaway Cable Terminal," with a gorgeous mix of the old and the new, the odd vocal performance mixed with the raw aggression but quieter jam moments framing both. There's even a hidden track, released presumably for the first time, as an added extra for the loyalists. Cerberus Shoal are vital, original, and extreme, and until now some might have believed that it hasn't always been this way. Finally the truth can be told. - Rob Devlin
Duo 505, "Late"
Collaborations have sometimes strengthened the work of the artists involved, and have expanded their sometimes limited reach, but often times they are also lackluster, producing yet more doubt and uncertainty as well as boredom in the clicks and blips that fly out of the speakers and through the air. Duo505 do not have such problems, as the music contained on their debut is a perfect collaboration where maestros and messrs. B. Fleischmann and Herbert Weixelbaum take turns waxing philosophical to transcend their own individual sound. One of the two will produce a track and send it to the other, where a second track is added of the second collaborator's design. Two tracks, each an extension of the other even though they were made at separate times that merge in and out of each other's safe space in a truly dynamic and unique waver. Almost imperceptible is each man's part in the proceedings, but it's as though one handles the beat and melody, and the other the trimmings, then vice versa on the following track. These two know each other so well that it is an almost effortless creation of cerebral concoctions. "Nochwas" is ready for the clubs, a trounce and bounce frolic that soars and thumps at the same time; "Facing It" is a metallurgist nightmare of clangs and rolls that still mesmerizes. Through every track there is a connection that can't be underestimated, and live these two must be a treat to behold. On record, they are nothing short of a vision, or, like the Trans Am track title says, a single ray of light on an otherwise cloudy day. - Rob Devlin
Andrew Peklar, "Nocturnes, False Dawns & Breakdowns"
For this jaded, disgruntled music critic, there is little more grating than a concept release that defines its intended strategy, executes it effectively, and ultimately comes out sounding like a complete waste of time and energy. With the aptly titled Nocturnes, False Dawns & Breakdowns, his second album for ~scape, Berlin-based Andrew Peklar quietly combats that all-too-common quandary with an ear-pleasing fusion of post midnight jazz and electronic atmospheres. Drawing considerable inspiration from legends such as Miles Davis and Sun Ra, Peklar composes somber, mysterious noirish landscapes that both complement the thematic darkness and pay homage to his musical predecessors. The brief opening track "Here Comes The Night," a swaggeringly slow dirge, sets the stage for the bulk of the consistently grim and pensive material that follows. From there, "Arches" leads with keyboard melodies and drumming of increasing intensity, peaking with a near cacophony that still somehow maintains a sense of confident control. "Wait" introduces soft yet meaningful horn playing, treated with a delay that meshes well with the glitchy pastiche of percussive and airy elements. The quirky and distinctly loop-based "Stardusting" specifically reminds of Jan Jelinek's work for the label with its sampler intermittently stuttering one specific section amidst the comparatively subtler cut-ups. "In Circles" toys with twinkling xylophone tones before fading into "Nocturne 3", where ambient noise bleeds through the deep bass and displaced voices, held together by a certain trip-hop sensibility. "False Dawns" finds itself stuck between the preceeding tracks and a digital dub asthetic more characteristic of the ~scape roster, veering at times into a soundtrack of the climax of some paranoiac science fiction film. Much like with labelmate Jan Jelinek's forward thinking Loop Finding Jazz Records, careful headphone-aided analysis of these tracks reveals approximate loop points and edit markers, though for true appreciation it should be listened to without quasi-scientific consideration of its technical make-up. While woefully concise at under 40 minutes, Nocturnes, False Dawns & Breakdowns acts as a brief window into a private world only found in the early hours, and only accessible to those willing to stay awake for it. - Gary Suarez
Accelera Deck, "Hereafter"
Of all the Piehead releases this year, the ninth in the monthly series from Accelera Deck was the one I was most interested in hearing. Having loved some of his earlier work and then really despised his last EP, I waited for Hereafter wondering which Accelera Deck would turn up. As it turns out, I'm quite taken with most of the tunes here, and there's only one that leaves me scratching my head, wondering what the hell is supposed to be going on. For the first three tracks of the disc, the ambient drone, guitar noise Accelera Deck is in full play, and these pieces work well in creating atmosphere and momentum. Feedback and mic noise and guitar buzzing is easily coxed into a world of loops and textures that create a sometimes playful, sometimes menacing environment. "Fireflies" devoles from a pretty ambient excusrion into sputtering clicks and noise that lead into the disc's only real weakness. And for all its clicks and digital abstractions, I was even with the meandering "Wide Awake" until about the five minute mark when I threw up my hands and yelled "What is the point?" It sounds like the song just goes into algorhithmic auto-pilot and while the programming and synthesis at work might itself be interesting on a conceptual level, it's just not a fun listen. Experimentation and risk-taking like this is commendable, but artists who bank on it need to be able to recognize when it works and when it flops. After the all-out glich assault of "Wide Awake", the melody of "Immacualte" sounds almost overly-sentimental, but it's a beautiful and welcome rest from the noise. The record closes with soft, reverb-drenched chords that echo out into the ether, brining the journey of Hereafter to a purposeful and appropriate end. The disc clocks in at only 37 minutes, but the great majority of those are minutes worth exploring and embracing. - Matthew Jeanes
Daniel Menche, "Eye on the Steel"
Excellent use of dynamics is what allows this album to succeed. Topping 70 minutes, Eye on the Steel ranges from sparse, eerie crackling sounds to massive bursts of pulsating drones. There are 11 untitled tracks, but the set sounds as if it is one piece, with indexes placed at points at which there are major shifts in sound. Track One builds up to a crescendo of swarming noise over a steady pulse. Menche uses this pulse to build tension without the track sounding rhythmic at all. Although many of the tracks are long, they need to be in order for layers of sound to slowly accumulate. On Track Six minimal rhythmic popping sounds are gradually overtaken by short, sharp, bass-heavy rhythms and loud piercing drones until the track is in a completely different territory from where it started. It is impressive that Menche has created so many different moods out of what seems to be the same sound sources. Buzzing sounds, extremely shrill tones that sound like sirens or alarms and many different crackling sounds are used on all of these tracks in different ways. The same static sounds that create a push and pull tension on Track Two are used much more sparsely on Track Six, creating a whole different, almost calming atmosphere. Track Five's whirling tones blended so effortlessly with the wind rustling outside my windows that I had to check to see if the wind sounds were coming from the CD or from outside. Menche's strength is that he makes the most out of the few sounds he chooses. Elements that are usually used in techno, such as the clicking, shuffling sounds that dance from speaker to speaker in Track Six, are interesting because he has removed them from their usual context. By placing these sounds among whirling, high pitched drones he references both minimal techno and abstract drone based music, while the result sounds like neither. The relatively quiet crackle of tracks seven, eight and nine make the tenth track sound all the more powerful, with its return to the noisy qualities of the first track. Eye on the Steel required more than one listen for me to catch all of the nuances Menche has used to create its shifting atmospheres. - Jim Siegel
DJ Olive, "Buoy"
Buoy, the latest from DJ Olive,is a strong departure from the blunted beats and urban soundscapes for which he is most well known. Following closely on the heels of his participation in another Room40 release, the Melatonin compilation that was centered around themes of sleep, Buoy provides a single 60+ minute track of sleepy alpha wave drones and dream state murmurs. This is womb music: syrupy liquid sounds humming and surrounding everything with a warm, fluid bath. There are faint noises from the outside world that occassionally trickle in, but the vast majority of Buoy is an isolated and insulated swirl that feels as smooth as it does effortless. Unlike the compositions for which Olive coined the term, "illbient," this piece is clearly centered around a comforting ambience that hints at both solace and protection. It's interesting in that respect that the disc is all drone and pulse and electronic tone, but it never sounds dark. A similar set of ingredients in Olive's hands many years ago might have given way to something a little more unsettling or disquiet, but Buoy remains calm and unthreatening. While his instructions on the inside of the CD case suggest playing the disc as quietly as possible, a dark room, a thick blanket, and the headphones turned up to ten would be my recommendation. - Matthew Jeanes
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