Fire! and Oren Ambarchi — In The Mouth – a Hand (2012, Rune Grammofon)
Don’t yell it in a movie theatre, but Fire! (Mats Gustafsson, saxophones/Fender Rhodes and live electronics; Johan Berthling, bass/guitar/ organ; Andreas Werliin drums and percussion) are a heady and paroxysmal ensemble, whose 2012 release featuring Australian multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi, In The Mouth – a Hand, is archetype of what contemporary psychedelia should be. At times reminiscent of Mats Gustafsson’s work with Italian experimental rockers Zu, this quartet effectively bridges the gaps between contemporary improvised music(s), the free jazz of the 1960s and 1970s, and the pulsing hypno-psychedlia of the MC5 in their most incendiary moments or early counterculture kosmische. Throughout the record, moody bass grooves, taken straight out of UFO’s Guru playbook combine with hypnotic, in-the-pocket drumming, flowing strokes of guitar feedback, and Rhodes keyboard fragments to create works that are immersive, immense, and generally relentless. The psych-rock of yesteryear always remained firmly moored within the idiom of rock music, but this quartet have no inclination to do so. They are content to use the tools and motifs of 1960s psychedelia, but use them instead to traverse a landscape more consistent with Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders’ frenetic playing on Om than with the insipid neo-psych drivel in the contemporary rock zeitgeist.
Gilman Mom — Manifest Destiny (2017, Macaque)
On the bandcamp page for the latest release by Berkeley, California artist Gilman Mom, the listener encounters a disclaimer of sorts indicating that Manifest Destiny should “feel like a troubled night walk of self-reflection that blossoms into realization.” Indeed, at times, the listener is immersed in the unpredictability of a late night saunter through some unnamed urban hell. The combination of field recordings, sound clips, and ethereal electronic production craft an album that straddles the line between erratic introspection and dreamlike aplomb. Moments of minimalism emerge and mirror late night stillness and the mildly obsessive pensiveness that one is awash in when surrendering oneself to critical self-evaluation. Trip hop vibes surface and recede at varying points throughout. The sonic/compositional lightness is sometimes reminiscent of the early works of Ghislain Poirier—if he were playing fast and loose with his composing—or the KLM on an off day. At times, the deeply personal, confession-like monologues are somewhat jarring. When contextualized alongside GM’s 2016 release I Forgot to Tell You, however, everything comes into clearer stylistic focus. The artist’s propensity for sound clips, monologues, etc., while unapologetically subjective, lend a degree of rawness that is often lost or suppressed in the digital realms of electronic music(s). While it remains unknown if the clips employed are in fact the artist themself, the selection of these fragments effectively represent subjectivity and self-examination, even unintentionally. At Marginal HQ we’re musing over what an even more minimal Gilman Mom record looks like, but who knows what’s in the cards. Fans of Australia artist Pogo and the aforementioned KLM should find this palatable, whilst those who gravitate more towards field recordings and high degrees of aural abstraction will find the musicality and human voice to be a nuisance.
Albert Hunz — broken from the inside out (2010, World 8)
Hailing from the island nation of Jamaica, Albert Hunz (who hasn’t released new material on bandcamp since 2015) possess a style that seemingly draws largely from breakbeat, industrial, and even hip hop. Broken from the inside out oscillates between a sparse, menacing ambience and a vein of thoroughly disjointed breakbeat, where off-kilter rhythms precariously swing and threaten to seize at any moment. At times kick and snare are harmonious and recall the drum samples of 1990s hip hop and rap music(s); other moments, the chest pounding kick drum feels lost, haphazard, and even antagonistic. While lacking in the full-on intensity possessed by the “drill ’n’ bass” side of DHR, the listener is treated to stuttering breaks, square in the chest kick drumming, and minimalist glitch —with an unmistakable patina of industrial trepidation— all in about seven minutes time. One might argue the brevity of this release is a weakness and demonstrates the failure to fully develop themes and constricts the tracks from full realization; however, Hunz’s ability to navigate the artistic tightrope between RZA and Alec Empire* and (re)contextualize many of their stylistic motifs into a set of post-electronic études, makes for an interesting listen, no matter the length.
* Given RZA’s influence on Empire, there is a salient and interesting intertextuality between the aforementioned and Hunz, that due to space restraints, can’t be explored at greater length here, but is certainly worth theorizing in both localized and broader contexts.
Choi Joonyong and Hong Chulki — Balloon and Needle (2017, Never Come Ashore)
A skronky, scratchy live release recorded at the University of Glasgow in the spring of 2017, featuring South Korean experimental artists Choi Joonyong and Hong Chulki. Named after their own experimental imprint, Balloon & Needle features the duo producing noise tempests without the usual bombast or predisposition towards electronically-based sound crafting. This is not to suggest that advances in modern technology are a hindrance to artistic vision nor are they absent on this release. Radiant beams of feedback are central components of this performance. Regardless, the duo demonstrate that they are also adroit in their abilities to produce jarring, provocative, and captivating sounds from found objects and resonant frequencies. Laptop junkies and pedal pushers need not apply.
Keiji Haino and Yoshida Tatsuya — New Rap (2006, Tzadik)
Buy [no stream, sorry]
This 2006 collaboration between two titans of the Japanese underground is both everything one would expect it to be, yet still manages to delight and offer surprises. Released on John Zorn’s Tzadik label, New Rap is something of an artistic balancing act. Not only does the duo possess the requisite talents to throttle up and pull back, Keiji Haino and Yoshida Tatsuya balance their own reputations and egos. Resultantly, the listener is treated to a spastic and exploratory release where the collaborators effectively transcend preconceptions and expectations, and craft an artwork reflective of this transcendence. It’s not Haino, it’s not Tatsuya, it is some strange rendering of both and neither, contradictory though it may sound. The duo flirt with no wave, free jazz, and noise rock, never sounding lost or contrived. The opener “Houston Street” sets the tone and undoubtedly caught those of us at Marginal HQ by surprise: instead of Haino doing full on freak outs, the duo knockout something approaching a postmodern-no wave tango.”West Broadway” features a shrieking Haino who makes extensive use of vocal loops. Tatsuya’s frantic drumming lends to the frenzy, which builds to the bursting point by the song’s conclusion. “West 48th Street” explores free jazz motifs, before exploding into a mélange of tight, yet erratic drumming and vocal howls. In the final 3:00 of the track, Haino’s vocals sound as if they’re part horse, part horn, as the duo spiral down the billowing reaches of the sonic maelstrom. “Chinatown” is arguably one of the best tunes on the album, and begins as a prodding and staccato number that evolves into an engrossing and radiant piece punctuated with Haino’s shrieks. In their 48 minutes through New York City, the two demonstrate why they’ve become icons and mainstays. Highly recommended for no-wavers, fans of Rhode Island noise rock, or any of Haino or Tatsuya’s other works.
Christina Carter — L’Etoilles de Mer (2015, Emerald Cocoon)
The notion of a minimalist solo guitar may immediately sound to the reader like a haphazard exercise in amateurism (not innately a bad thing). That said, Christina Carter’s L’Etoilles de Mer does not sound hopelessly amateurish, haphazard, nor flummoxed. Instead, this 2015 release feels deliberate, raw, and at times inquisitive. One gets the impression that the artist has a sense of brooding artistic introspection that must be interrogated and exteriorized. As such, the course of this interrogation unfolds in real time, with a constant and captivating sense of wonder ever-present during the performance. The results are stunning. The opening two tracks, “First performance” and “Second Performance” draw the listener in and take them along on an unpredictable, yet wholly engrossing trip. Much of the remainder of the album consists of solo vocal études, which demonstrate Carter’s vocal control and her dexterity in the brilliant usage of silence. Long, still passages add to the aforementioned impression of introspection and create maximum emotional affect and effect. Fans of everyone from fellow Texan Jandek to Diamanda Gallas will no doubt appreciate Carter’s fascinating work on L’Etoilles de Mer.
Psychic Paramount — Gamelan Into the Mink Supernatural (No Quarter, 2005)
Listen [Youtube stream]
Nb. I would strongly urge any visitors to this page not to purchase this record directly from No Quarter; I placed an order through their website and never received my copy in the mail. When I tried following up with Mike from No Quarter, I never heard back. Total drag.
Born out of the ashes of the most-excellent Laddio Bolocko, Psychic Paramount largely abandon the jazz-punk stylings of the former, instead opting for a noisy, gritty form of (post-)prog. While not as daring or demanding as Laddio Bolocko, there are nevertheless, exciting moments throughout their debut album. The atmospheric bombast of the relatively calm two minute opener “Megatherion” quickly gives way to the searing “Para5” where guitarist Drew St. Ivany oscillates between slide playing and some Ron Asheton meets John McLaughlin riffing. The whole album is heavily overdrive and reminiscent of Cherubs Heroin Man LP, with the music crumbling out of the speakers. The result is dirty with strangely percussive overtones throughout. Rounding out the record is the ten minute closer, “Gamelan.” After seven and a half minutes of cascading, delay-heavy guitar looping that creates a schizophrenic and nearly unbearable tension, the band almost seamlessly loose themselves in a groove, before the track cuts out to a distant recording of the group playing something else altogether — delaying gratification and a resulting in an anticlimactic denouement. The record is by no means disappointing, but does feel a bit underwhelming. On that note, their Franco-Italian Tour release by Baltimore’s Public Guilt delivers where this studio album falls flat.