14 May

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Joe Talia – Tint (2018, Black Truffle)

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Having first become acquainted with Joe Talia by way of his drum work on Hubris, the 2016 release from compatriot Oren Ambarchi, I was excited to hear this solo release from the Tokyo-based Australian multi-instrumentalist. Rather than being an exercise in neue kosmische a là Ambarchi’s Hubris, Tint is a brooding, cinematic affair which would not be out of place as a film score in Andrei Tarkovsky’s work. Comprised of two electroacoustic pieces (two parts of the same suite), Talia, one part mystic sage, one part sonic observer, crafts hypnotic and somnolent soundscapes which are masterfully composed from/using an array of analogue tools. Futuristic electro-chirps, wooly synthesizer textures, and heavily manipulated cymbal strokes swirl together to engulf the listener in a work that sounds ahead of its time, whilst remaining unburdened by the implied artistic fatalism or teleology of such a (clichéd) statement. Similarly, Tint escapes feeling anachronistic; while the earlier suggestion of serving as a score for some weathered Soviet science fiction film certainly fits, the work still feels spry, malleable, and fresh despite its density. Innumerable sonic points of experimentation are visited and Talia presents rich, dynamic junctures, which despite the variegated form, remains coherent as a whole. The results are sufficiently interesting and keep the listener (this one, at least) engaged for the duration (40 minutes) of the release.

12 May

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Cravune — Figures (2018, Detriti Records)

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On the first listen through Figures, the latest release from Berlin-based Neapolitan artist Cravune, feels blisteringly short — a collection of electronic études and fragmentary ideas hastily put to tape. On the second listen, however, Figures begins to open itself to the listener and reveals an artist who is clearly competent and adroit in composing many variants of electronic music. One who can appreciate the brevity is generally rewarded; those who yearn for works which remain temporally without constraint or have more time for sonic exploration will struggle with this release. Even for those most attentive and/or patient, at times Figures feels tediously brief. Yet for all of its temporal foibles, the listener is treated to a release which coherently melds and explores sometimes disparate aesthetics of electronic music. Opening with ‘Vicarìa’, a downtempo piece of minimalist electronica which is at times reminiscent of Autechre, yet manages to bask in all the self-assured minimalism of Ghislain Poirier’s early work. At the album’s halfway mark, ‘Figure 2’ (the longest track on the album), the listener is treated to what is perhaps the most straight forward (house) tune on the release. With nods to Detroit techno and even momentary glimpses of Martin Rev’s work with Suicide, the track stokes a sense of late night nostalgia and truly feels like the album’s most developed, fully realized work. As the album winds to a close, the listener can find many of the album’s trademarks (both good and bad) on the penultimate and ultimate tracks, ‘Figure 6’ and ‘Etudes’, respectively. The former, ‘Figure 6’ is this listener’s favorite. Its alluring simplicity is hypnotic and recalls the brilliance of early Mouse on Mars, without decadence or gratuitous production work. The final track, ‘Etudes’, as its title suggests, has a number of étude-like detours, which diverge from a central trip hop theme. In many ways the final piece is representative of the album as a whole: a myriad of unique and intelligent, yet self-contained fragments briefly appear from a thematic locus, only to evaporate mere seconds later. In sum, Figures is a frustrating release: in listening, one experiences moments of pure bliss and can revel in late night introspection or youth-like nostalgia. At other times, however, the brevity of the tracks is stultifying (if not disorienting). This listener ultimately gets the feeling that Cravune is just getting warmed up and as the artist’s longest playing album to-date, Figures bodes well for future releases from the artist.

13 April

 

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Lao Dan — Functioning Anomie (2018, WV Sorcerer Productions)

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For many a listener hailing from Western Europe or North America, China is not the first nation to spring to mind as a hotbed of improvised and experimental music(s) (this fact is astutely gibed in the title of New Zealand label End of the Alphabet’s superlative compilation containing Chinese artists, There is No Music from China). Enter Lao Dan, alto saxophonist from Nanjing.

Lao’s forthcoming solo debut cassette on Chinese/French label WV Sorcerer Productions, Functioning Anomie, is a work that showcases the many sides of a skilled altoist. Lao’s timbre, though at times unrepentantly caustic – recalling the coarseness of Mats Gustafsson or Peter Brötzmann – also manages to reflect inward: a musical ellipsis that resignedly undulates into an evanescent question mark, that starts to disappear as soon as it is penned. Whilst capable of all the freewheeling charivari of both the aforementioned Gustafsson and Brötzmann, Lao possess a flowing, seductive side that eludes the former players, even in their most restrained moments.

One of the most fascinating elements of Lao’s debut is that the listener can hear the artist’s curiosity and fascination with the sound of his instrument in space. On both sides of the tape, one audibly discerns Lao’s acute understanding of the environment’s effect on the produced work. The result is an interesting exploration of timbre, tone, and dynamics, all of which are captured far from the sterile environment of the studio (and so often the theatre or club). Recorded in Hangzhou’s Qinglongdong Tunnel, the extraneous sounds and cavernous reverberation do not merely serve as a layer of “field-recordings” or texture in the mix, but rather help the space assume the role of actant-cum-phantom instrument.

“Riou,” the opening track on side-B, is perhaps most illustrative of Lao’s range and prowess. The first third of the tune spectrally glides from dusty blues into melancholy ballad, before Lao hums into his mouthpiece, signaling a brisk departure into new territory. For the remaining ten minutes, Lao blasts rollicking sonic sidewinders that at numerous points threaten to blast holes in the listener’s headphones from the sheer intensity (a feeling underscored by the artist’s subdued screams in the closing minute). The closer, “Doppelganger & Immateriality,” features prominent use of sultry flute lines, which makes for a heady, meditative closer on a fantastic solo debut.

Fans of darker, more abrasive strains of free jazz would be wise to check out this release, out April 30, 2018.

2 April

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Gabie Strong – Incantations Vol. 1 (2018, Crystalline Morphologies)

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Having been greatly enamored with Gabie Strong’s supreme 2016 releases, Marginal HQ was abuzz upon discovering the artist’s latest cassette release, Incantations Vol. 1. Comprised of two trademark pieces of guitar driven aural mysticism, the latest release on the artist’s own Crystalline Morphologies label does not disappoint. Upon popping the tape into the deck and engaging the heads, the A-Side starts to unwind into ‘Overhead, A Raven’, a 31 minute work consisting of field recordings, tinkling bells, immersive feedback, and a singing bowl used to great effect. Opening with a wind whipped recording of an assortment of bells and what sounds like the ocean, the listener unwittingly finds themselves listening to something that is one part ritual and one part audio vérité. Akin to sinking into a dream, the initial sounds are fluidly displaced by cascading feedback which ultimately brings the listener under it spell. Around 17′, the track begins to shift queasily; whilst lacking any obvious meter, the listener has the sudden sensation that the tempo has increased and the dense layers of sound assume a darkness not present in the composition’s opening half. After six minutes of immersion in a hellish tempest, the mighty, resonant ping of a singing bowl jolts one back into the present, not dissimilar to the electrifying surge one experiences when waking oneself from a nightmare. The pulsing drones of the singing bowl hold the listener with their sure embrace. Despite the simplicity of its construction and its duration, ‘Overhead, A Raven’ neither feels haphazard nor tedious. The B-side, ‘Incantation for Revolt Against Brutality’ is equally captivating in its simplicity. The opening 12 minutes revolve around a gentle pulse of tremulous feedback, which is suddenly punctuated by the warbling clang of bells. Within seconds, the track begins to descend into meditative psychosis: a looped assemblage of monologues crescendo into inarticulate sound, melding with Strong’s guitar. By the 20′ mark, the track assumes a gritty harshness, contrasting anything up to that point. Coupled with the recording’s fidelity, Incantations conjures the spectre of Keiji Haino’s early works; but make no mistake, Gabie Strong retains a unique voice and style all her own.

One can only hope (as the title implies) this is the first volume in a successive string of imminent releases…

13 March

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Wolf Eyes — Strange Days II (Lower Floor Music, 2017)

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Having loved Wolf Eyes’ March 2017 release Undertow, you’d think the marginal crew would have been quick to get Strange Days II up in running immediately following its August release. This post, however, is clearly a testament to the contrary. Perhaps the delay has afforded the listener some much needed critical distance — especially since we are talking about those demented doctors of density from Detroit, Wolf Eyes. Days picks up the mantle where Undertow left off. Whilst the band has self-stylized themselves as a “trip metal outfit,” the recent direction they have pursued far exceeds anything offered by the appellation metal. Of course, the soundscapes that the group craft are metallic, but Bathory it ain’t. Wolf Eyes have definitely crossed the Rubicon: they’ve effectively moved into new territory, begun to incorporate new motifs in their playing, but still manage to sound like Wolf Eyes. Surely this is the mark that one would hope all bands and players strive for, yet the base/superstructure logic of late capitalism sees art and artists ultimately defer to the spectacular and omnipresent dominance of the commodity. Debord-cum-Marxian bullshit aside — and not to imply that Wolf Eyes operate beyond the aforementioned logic—the two tracks on this release are hypnotic and explorative, which makes Strange Days II great for successive listens. Nate Young and John Olson come across like modern day incense-burning Martin Rev and Alan Vega on an Einstürzende Neubauten kick. Flutes, guitars, and oscillators all contribute to the dark and somnolent basement musings of the Detroit. Despite the brevity, Strange Days II is another strong release from Wolf Eyes.

6 February

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Tashi Dorji and Tyler Damon — Leave No Trace: Live In St. Louis (2018, Family Vineyard)

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Tyler Damon’s glassy opening cadence on top of Tashi Dorji’s hazy guitar swells form an eerie sonic vignette which gingerly filters into the listener’s ears. One cannot help but recall the lowering gate arm and ringing bell at a level crossing. An apt notion indeed, as the train that approaches is the tandem sounds of Dorji and Damon who set out to incinerate the air as they blast forth from the stereo, full-speed ahead on their second long playing release on Indianapolis’ Family Vineyard. Leave No Trace is two tracks -that’s all the duo need. This release is devoid of any bullshit. “Calm The Shadows” is the sound of meditating heavy machinery. If one listens beyond the immediate bombast, there remains an unmistakable serenity. The flip side of the slab is the titular “Leave No Trace.” At times sparse and reminiscent of the blurred swagger of the A side’s opening bars, yet unafraid to meander into dangerous territory. The duo possess the ability to bewitch and entrance the listener, yet do not shy away from exploring the shadowy interstices which fleetingly appear in their sonic traversals. Few contemporary outfits can take up the platitudinous tools which rock’n’roll has worn down to the point of absolute banality and so masterfully repurpose them to craft something so wholly original, enthralling, and incendiary. Remaining in the discursive universe of rock music(s), one must recall Black Flag vocalist Henry Rollins’ remark that the first time he saw the Clash in the late 1970s. Rollins recalled the group played with such unrelenting ferocity, that it seemed impossible that there would be any corporal or sonic remnants left of the band by the end of the set. Listening to Damon and Dorji, one is able to appreciate these sentiments in a contemporary context. The title isn’t merely a descriptor, rather it’s a statement of intent. As is the case with any collaboration between Dorji and Damon Leave No Trace is not to be missed.   

 

5 February

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Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi with Masahiko Satoh —  Proton Pump (2018, Family Vineyard)

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2018 is off to a cracking start, no thanks to the Family Vineyard label, who are quickly becoming a mainstay at Marginal HQ with their steady supply of superlative sounds. This latest release by Japanese stalwart, alto saxophonist Akira Sakata, sets 2018 smoothly in motion. Falling somewhere between Coltrane’s Village Vanguard releases and his final work with Rashied Ali, Akira Sakata along with Chikamorachi (aka Chris Corsano on drums and Darin Gray on bass) and Masahiko Satoh on piano, take up the mantle as standard bearers of contemporary free musics. The title track, ‘Proton Pump’ manages to traverse varying sonic milieus of intensity: at times the ensemble sound-off with such ardor, they sound as if they are ready to burst clean off the stage, fragmenting in the process into interminable specks of aural detritus. At other times, canyons of breathing space remain for Sakata to amble over (listen to the massive, sustained piano bit at the 8:05 mark from Satoh). ‘Bullet Apoptosis’ recalls Dolphy’s film noir suite-cum-masterpiece Out to Lunch with all the intensity of Last Exit (minus the latter’s cloying 1980s production). Part spiritual reckoning, part Corsano masterclass, and part exorcism, ‘Chemiosmotic Coupling of Acorn’ might be the most solid cut on an LP of most solid cuts. Satoh’s playful piano drives the piece, while Sakata employs howls, yells, throat singing, and chanting. Corsano rips through every piece of kit available belling, bowing, slashing, and rolling along the way. Gray’s serpentine peppering on the low end stretches the tune in a way that threatens to bring the universal percolator to a boil and reorder the cosmos—Charlie Haden’d be proud. If Proton Pump is at all indicative of the shape of musics to come in 2018, this year is going to be an absolute cracker.