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JH1.FS3, "Trials and Tribulations"

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cover imageWhile Frederikke Hoffmeier is justifiably best-known for her solo Puce Mary project, she has had a hand in quite a few collaborative projects over the years as well (a common trait within the Post Isolation milieu).  Most have been one-off events, but this duo with Jesse Sanes (Liebestod/Hoax) has held together long enough to make a second album (or arguably a third, if their earlier Fejhed project counts).  I am delighted that it did, as JH1.FS3 have evolved from a solid noise act into something considerably more distinctive and wonderful.  In fact, Trials and Tribulations shares a hell of a lot of common ground with last year's brilliant The Drought, though the focus is shifted away from Hoffmeier's confessional-sounding spoken word and more towards an inventive and vibrant onslaught of mangled and haunting textures.  It sounds like two dueling noise artists at top of their games, except they are trading imaginative, sharply realized textures rather than escalating ferocity.  And it also feels like Hoffmeier has brought the same incredible level of compositional and editing rigor to this album that she brought to her most recent solo work.  The Drought was one of my favorite albums of 2018 and Trials and Tribulations will likely be one of my favorite albums of 2019: it is a bit more seething and understated, but it is every bit as masterfully crafted.

Last Updated on Monday, 18 February 2019 07:44

Ellen Fullman and Okkyung Lee, "The Air Around Her"

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cover imageAs Ellen Fullman can likely attest, one of the downsides to inventing your own instrument with 100-foot-long strings is that it definitely limits the number of possible venues for your performances.  Another is that Fullman's Long String Instrument takes roughly five days to install and tune, adding yet another level of amusing inconvenience to the endeavor.  Fortunately, an optimal situation surfaced in 2016, as John Chantler's First Edition Festival was given access to Stockholm’s Performing Arts Museum while it was being renovated.  Given the limited "pure drone" nature of her instrument, the success of Fullman’s work can be heavily dependent on finding an appropriately sympathetic foil who can add vivid splashes of color and new layers of emotional depth to that rich harmonic backdrop.  In that regard, Fullman could not possibly have hoped for a more talented and amenable collaborator than avant garde cello virtuoso Okkyung Lee.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 February 2019 07:38

Robert Ashley, "Private Parts"

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cover imageI am hesitant to state that Private Parts is one of the most unique and weirdly beautiful albums of the 20th century, as that will likely sound like overheated hyperbole to anyone who has not heard it.  Nevertheless, it is exactly that.  Originally released back in 1978 and newly reissued, Ashley's hushed and intimate second album was unlike anything that came before it and no one else has since come anywhere close to replicating its precarious magic.  That includes Ashley himself, as he revisited and expanded upon this album's themes with his ambitious television opera Perfect Lives, an ‘80s avant-garde landmark that has comparatively aged quite poorly.  The elegantly simple piano-and-voice palette goes a long way towards making Private Parts feel timeless, but not nearly as much as the fact that it does not even sound like it was recorded on earth.  Rather, it evokes the feeling of sitting next to an incredibly interesting, enigmatic, and gregarious man in heaven's waiting room.

Last Updated on Monday, 04 February 2019 09:05

INRA, "The Content Consuming Its Form"

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cover imageThis unusual and fitfully fascinating album was quietly released near the end of 2018 on the small New Orleans-based Pinkbox Teleport label.  INRA are themselves based in Berlin, yet The Content Consuming Its Form sounds very much like it was partially birthed in a bleak and blighted late-'70s industrial area, favorably recalling the UK’s finest art-damaged dystopian experimentalists of the period.  While I probably would (guiltily) enjoy an album that was essentially straight-up Throbbing Gristle worship, INRA merely recapture the intelligence, low-budget futurism, and deep sense of post-modern alienation that defined the milieu of the era.  Stylistically, they reanimate the formula with fresh blood in the form of kinetic drumming and nods to the heavier side of the dance music underground.  While not every song gets the balance of murky mood and skittering, propulsive rhythms exactly right, the ones that do are a deliciously inventive feast of post-industrial collage done beautifully.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 February 2019 07:26

Bowery Electric, "Lushlife"

E-mail Print PDF someone who already reviewed Bowery Electric's third album 19 years ago, I can't discuss it now without recognizing the importance of their second album and the differences in the world where each existed. Whereas Beat was very much the right record at the right time, Lushlife, in hindsight, feels like the wrong record at the wrong time. What made the world listen to Beat was its seemingly effortless mastery of sound, structure, and songcraft. The group didn't follow a particular formula between tracks and it never felt as if they were obliged to reach for a hit single. Released originally in late 1996 on Kranky in the USA, it grabbed the attention of Beggars Banquet for a release in Europe followed by two remix 12" singles, a remix album, and worldwide distribution to the follow-up. While they may have not explicitly been tasked with the duty of creating a pop-breakthrough, Lushlife feels at times like Bowery Electric are aiming for it. The songs were certainly more consciously composed, lyrically dense, and the sounds on the whole were much more vibrant and stunning than previously. Martha's vocals are more pronounced and confident, the bass riffs are a thunderous force, the guitars are sublime, and the strings are gorgeous. The dominating backbone of the record is the hip-hop beats, which eventually becomes its weakness.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 February 2019 23:15

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