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Alessandro Cortini and Merzbow

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cover imageIn classic Important Records fashion, this intriguing collaboration came together as a celebration of a specific vintage analog synthesizer (in this case, the EMS Synthi).  The Synthi is apparently quite well-known for its ability to generate striking analog "sci-fi sounds," which goes a long way towards explaining why Alessandro Cortini does not particularly sound at all like Alessandro Cortini here.  The singularly reliable Masami Akita, however, always unavoidably manages to sound exactly like Merzbow.  As such, this collaboration is best appreciated as an excellent and appealingly divergent Merzbow release, as Cortini's arsenal of drones, blurts, swoops, bloops, and chirps adds a welcome splash of vibrant color to Akita's characteristic howling blizzard of white noise.


The first few moments of "MCAA" essentially convey all there is to know about this album, as an unpredictable squall of squelches and gnarled, stuttering electronics erupts over a deep, machinelike throb.  And then, of course, the expected firestorm erupts.  Initially, it is not quite typical Merzbow fare, as the noiser elements sound more like strangled feedback or a violently sick shortwave radio than an ear-shredding cascade of static.  To most ears, that is an insignificant distinction (like being beaten by a crowbar instead of a bat), but it matters a lot here.  While I suspect trying to articulate the difference between shades of punishing harsh noise is a fool's errand, this particular strain of hellish miasma is noticeably a bit more dense and texturally varied than usual.  Also, it is quite prone to wild swoops and squishy, bubbling electronic textures.  Sometimes it sounds like a field recording of an auto race filtered through an enormous amount of howling interference.  Other times, it sounds like a microphone placed inside an active volcano.  In every case, it proves to be quite a visceral experience.   Of course, every Merzbow album is a punishingly visceral experience, so the most interesting bits are all the various ways that Cortini and Akita manage to give each piece its own vibrancy and character.  Being explosive is one thing, but keeping that explosion compelling and unpredictable enough to combat listener-fatigue in the face of such an unrelenting and prolonged onslaught is a much trickier challenge altogether.

Each piece reveals a new twist upon album’s viciously pummeling formula, such as the slowed-down and pitch-shifted "car alarm" central motif of the opening "ACMA."  Naturally, that sound is not particularly easy on the ears, but it is constant, giving the piece a graspable and perversely hypnotic pulse.  Cortini and Akita then capitalize upon that solid foundation by crafting an alternately skittering, shuffling, and crunching rhythm around it.  That is quite a cool trick, as the endless shifting rhythm below the endlessly static and woozy swooping is appealingly disorienting and sometimes even adrenalizing.  That is probably not quite enough to sustain the piece's 22-minute running time, but it does unexpectedly cohere into a groove of sorts around the 15-minute mark to reward those of us willing to ride out the storm until the end.  The last few minutes are especially enjoyable, as all of the harsher textures fade out to leave only sputtering and gurgling synth tones over a thudding beat resembling a slow-motion, malfunctioning heart.

Extended song durations are a bit of recurring feature among these five pieces, incidentally, as only the third piece (“AAMC”) clocks in at less than 10 minutes.  Most pieces are much closer to 20 minutes.  Though “AAMC” probably exists primarily to eat the remaining time on a side of vinyl, it is not noticeably weaker than the rest of the album (it often sounds like someone attacking a bunch of contact mics with a power sander).  In fact, it is arguably stronger due to its brevity, though its massive crunching industrial throb and howling chaos never get a chance to evolve into anything else.  The rest of the album is rounded out by two more wonderfully eviscerating pieces with some inventive twists.  For example, “CMAA” locks into a very insistent gibbering and squiggling rhythm, while “MCAA” steals the show with an unstoppable earthquake rumble and a snarling, jabbering, and roaring tide of merciless electronic turbulence.

Obviously, the one major caveat with this album is that attempting to listen to two full albums of searing extreme noise in one sitting can be a bit exhausting (even for those of us fully acclimated to it).  On the bright side, this is an album where sequencing is essentially meaningless: this release is vinyl-only and any one of the four sides cheerfully offers up a similarly prolonged and vicious aural strafing (and with a similarly cryptic and interchangeable song title to boot).  Of course, yet another possible issue is the complete absence of Cortini's excellent melodic sensibility, a trait that was partially responsible for luring me to this album in this first place (I like Merzbow just fine, but Akita already made his impact on me long ago).  Surprisingly, however, that absence is more interesting than glaring, as Cortini impressively holds his own with Akita in the realm of dynamically compelling ferocity.  Any hint of a melody would actually seem badly out of place here, as this album is a crushing avalanche of jagged and corroded elemental power wielded masterfully.  I do not know how much Cortini fans or synth enthusiasts will get out of such an unmitigated storm of sonic ruin, but this is a legitimate monster of an album nonetheless: the textural benefits of the Synthi make a huge difference in making the old seem new again.  Anyone numbed to the genius of Merzbow will likely find this album to be a bracing reminder of the invigorating pleasures of pure noise done right.



Last Updated on Sunday, 07 May 2017 21:44  


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