3 October

a1147443925_16

Psanck – Psanck II (2019, Chocolate Monk)

Listen/ Buy


Buckle in — and prepare to slake yr Graham Greene allusions — as trio Psanck proffer Psanck II, their latest heaping helping of some tasty Brighton Rock! Errr Brighton free music. Right  —to The Heart of the Matter (couldn’t resist): Kev Nickells, Chris Parfitt, and Al Strachan deliver a 10 marvelously evocative tracks courtesy of Dylan Nyoukis’ Chocolate Monk label. Save for playful seven minute ‘Saith Cant Un Deg Un,’ nary a tune exceeds four minutes. Instead, the listener is treated to a series of hazy sonic vignettes. Though each tune varies in its approach and constitution, the album is bound by an overarching continuity: the listener revels in an auricular world that is equally reminiscent of Andrei Tarkovsky’s cerebral and slow moving cinematic ruminations and the spectral, sometimes indiscernible demarcation between waking and sleeping (maybe Tarkovsky also traverses this grey area?). 

Particular standouts include ‘Tri Cant Deg Pedwar’ with initial primitive percussive thumps that mix with what sounds like a low drone (possibly courtesy of a hydrophonic recording being looped?) before a somber violin takes centre stage lending an air of surreal fatalism. Elsewhere, noise of the breath, disjointed thuds, whispy (sometimes heavily reverberant) flutes intermingle and create a diverse sonic world that winds up feeling like Frances Bacon doin’ a Bruegel study (ya’ follow?). Whilst the combo of string and flute sometimes invokes an almost mediaeval primitivism or some other aesthetic essence from a bygone era, the group counterpose any notions of vulgar-nostalgia or derivation by injecting firmly-contemporary motifs: the collage-like construction, the improvisational approach, and electroniche (e.g. the oscillations in ‘Pedwar Cant Wyth’, which by my ears, recall early Cluster)… In all, Psanck II manages to ride the dialectic razorblade of old/new (or wake/sleep) and produce a work that is sure to be a hit amongst fans of confectionary ascetics, the AMM, or Francis Bacon (but probably not a hit for Bruegel-ites and definitely not for Graham Greenies).  

 

27 September

a3704684483_16

Embla Quickbeam, Natalia Beylis, and Neil Campbell – House Sparrow Settle Back  (2019, Crow Versus Crow)

Listen/Buy


As the end o’ summer malaise sets in and the engorged bleakness of late capitalist modernity™ becomes even harder to ignore – and just in time for all your Autumnal Equinox rites and rituals – West Yorkshire’s Crow Versus Crow bestows upon the unsuspecting another auricular assemblage aka a fresssssh C45 of tunes, containing concoctions by Embla Quickbeam, Natalia Beylis, and Neil ‘Don’t call me Neve’ Campbell. Two sides, two duos, two performances, in two different cities. Enter House Sparrow Settle Back. 

Side A, (‘Settle Sparrow’) features Quickbeam and Beylis extemporizing in Todmorden in early May of this year (2019). In their roughly half hour set, the duo generate a soundscape that would make an excellent sonic companion to Jan Nemec’s Diamonds of the Nights or act as a fine alternative to listening to Jez Riley French on LSD. One is engulfed in a swirling, fragmentary journey, encountering splintered bits of conversation, gurgling tape noise, flowing streams, and varying modalities of bird song along the way. Invocations of memory, the (sur)real, and (dis)location (both of the self and of the self amidst the vanishing ecologies and spaces not traditionally inhabited by humans…two for one!) all permeate a deeply engrossing performance.

Side B, (‘House Back’, also recorded in early May) features Campbell and Beylis tape slinging in Leeds in a performance that manages to come out feeling simultaneously more and less solemn than the number on the album’s reverse. Whilst Side A affords the listener with an opportunity to consider the body in space and to contemplate largely internal phenomena (memory and subjectivity), Side B dispenses with the contemplative ballyhoo and instead opts to examine extraneous stimuli: the body is acted upon, in ways that are both banal and unnerving. The listener is prodded forth by the lurching pulse of a phantom tempo, ever-present in the performance. The free-floating conversational fragments and sense of psychedelic eavesdropping are replaced by the act of dictation. The directive voice, ever at the ready to command, rebuke or advertise, is at the fore. One especially salient and humorous moment is audible when the artists employ a recording of a machine-like auctioneer –one of capital’s most wanton and yet most farcical appropriations of the voice. Curiously, Side B elects to include the crowd’s applause at the terminus of the performance, where the Side A does not. This listener’s immediate reaction interpreted this decision as a breaking of the fourth wall – and in making that fracture audible – an invitation to the listener to shatter the ‘homogeneous empty time’ (following Walter Benjamin) and fatalism implied by any sense of tempo, real or otherwise perceived.*

All the waxing feel-o-sofa-cull aside, if boney Sony didn’t have a vice fucking grip on the Clash’s work, Crow Versus Crow would be wise to expropriate the title of the group’s 1980 tune ‘Hitsville UK’ and swiftly endow this appellation on Halifax as the burg’s civic title. Another great release sure to appeal to lovers of everything from Crass (namely, ‘Reality Asylum’ from Feeding of the 5000 or Stations of the Crass) to Gabie Strong’s recent work (notably, Incantations, Vol. 1).

* A number of scholars, hacks, and observers have written on the radical potential of improvisation as an artistic practice.(See, David M. Bell, “Improvisation as Anarchist Organization,” Ephemera 14, no. 4 (November 2014): 1009-1030; Bruce Russell “What is Free?a free noise manifesto.” In Left-Handed Blows Writings on Sound 1993-2009, 21-25. Auckland: Clouds; et al.Regardless of a given artist’s (public) politics, an underlying radicalism remains manifestly present in the practice of free improvisation and in the rejection of formalism, structure, consonance, &c. As ‘House Back’ was recorded (ostensibly for posterity and/or dissemination) an additional recycling of radicality takes place. As aesthete extraordinaire and Deutsche-Francophile Wally Benjamin says:

‘mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility […and] the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice—politics’. (Benjamin 1969, 6)

By making use of the radical potentiality of the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction and thus making the May performances accessible and contemplatable – errr just plain enjoyable – to a slew of listeners from Todmorden to Tikrit to Texas, these talented duos promise to send us careening towards that savoury jeztzeit which Benjamin believed art was capable fostering.

 

 

29 August

a4197437043_16

Yoshihide Namasu – 姦淫と死 Adultery&Execution (Engram Recordings, 2019)

Listen/buy


If you want to make lots of friends and get everyone dancin’ the night away at your next soirée, be sure to patch Yoshihide Namasu’s latest digital release, 姦淫と死 Adultery&Execution, into yr bluetooth sound system and laissez les bons temps rouler! Comprised of six tracks — or fragments, like? — Namasu’s release feels more akin to a dive headlong into pipping hot schizophrenic catatonia than putting on your favourite sweater and spinning through a wobblin’ warblin’ stack of extended plays.

Sonically, 姦淫と死 Adultery&Execution, features a rollicking, machine-cum-electronic blend of Jaap Blonk’s nervous neo-dadaism (see also, the album’s surreal hyperreal artwork), with a humorous ferocity, suggestive of everything from compatriot Merzbow’s late 1990s work ( the album’s pulsing closer “音響詩13王墓|囚徒 king grave|Prisoner” wouldn’t be out of place on Aqua Necromancer) to Red Mecca-era Cabaret Voltaire (Sheffield be damned!). The only question that remains is how to keep ye olde party pals nice ‘n smug when the good vibes have zipped by in a flash of 10 or so minutes…Enter the era of industro-dada? You betcha.

 

22 July

a3978387256_16.jpg

Chlorine — Gallooner (2019, Crow Versus Crow)

Listen/Buy


Does music(s) ever fully embody the historical contingencies present at its creation? Or perhaps asked another way, can the artist/musician (or the listener [or the critic]) ever sidestep genre conventions or recycled descriptors and simply (!) attribute an artistic work to being a product of its time? Well, sure. Maybe that’s all musics (and art) have ever been: the result of artistic labor framed and formed by the artist’s interaction with material reality in their lifetime (or perhaps that’s a load of historical materialist hogwash). Whatever sound art and musics are (or do), Gallooner, the latest cut from Gateshead’s Graeme Hopper aka Chlorine on Crow Versus Crow certainly embodies the zeitgeist of late capitalism better than many ‘a cultural object to emerge in the last 50 years.

As one might expect, Gallooner contains many of the signifiers, signs, trademarks, tools, etc. of late capitalist musicking; yet, the listener has the distinct feeling that the works are imbued with the artist’s deep introspection, while also possessing their own, autonomous negativity. In Basinski-esque fashion, if the tunes were played enough, they’d eventual dissolve* and any conception, execution, urtext, etc. etc. would be irretrievably lost, akin to planned obsolesce of both technology and goods as mandated in the lifeworld of homo consumericus. Over the course of six tracks, one encounters the symphony of insubordinate office machines (‘Song For A Silhouette’ or the first half of ‘Hindered By Humility’), yipping dogs that fade into Ambarchi-esque sonic voyages (‘Confessions Of A Broken Temperament’, last half of the aforementioned ‘Hindered…’), transitory piano loops flanked by sparse live drums (‘Protect, Lust’), and generally, the sounds of a tumultuous world where the portents of ruin have begun to show, yet the cracks continue to be glossed over in an act of desperate solipsism and penance to the omnipotent market.

In all, whilst not a total negation (i.e. silence), the works contained on Gallooner are something of an inversion: the mundane and incidental are focused (or blurred), manipulated, and reflected back in on themselves. From this,  the artist manages to create theatrical soundscapes from the fragmented ephemera of the postindustrial 21st Century wasteland.

***

In the final scene in Akira Kurosawa’s late work Ran (A.K.’s retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear), the character Tsurumaru [Gloucester] stumbles blindly on the precipice of cliff, dropping a sacred object, before timidly backing away from the edge. I am confident in asserting that the same sense of forsakenness or existential dread present in Kurosawa’s final scene — so grave that it borders on the sublime— can also be encountered on this release.

Fans of Oren Ambarchi’s early work, industrial knobheads, and bleak Warp-devotees would be wise to tune in sharpish.

* I recognize that quite literally, like Basinski, it would be possible to play physical versions of this release to death; this is not what is referred to here. Instead, I am stating objectively postulating that the record’s aesthetic is one which deeply suggests a negation of an even more metaphysical nature.

 

3 July

 

a2836444034_16

Posset / Ulyatt — A Jar Full (2019, Crow Versus Crow)

Listen/Buy


Dear reader, they say that brevity is the soul of wit, which must mean that Marginal Brevity HQ is an indisputable bastion of enlightenment, sagacity, and wisdom, given the preponderance of brevity in this neck of the cyber-woods. Well, it’s back to the dark ages (or out of the dark ages?) as we’re back with a philosophical-cum-auricular treatise which examines the very bases of the Hegelian dialectic – or something like that. What better representation of the thesis/antithesis poles than cello and dictaphone! And what better synthesis than the improvising of Marginal alumnus, Charlie Ulyatt and wow and flutter whiz kid Joe Murray aka Joe Posset on their tape release A Jar Full, courtesy of West Yorkshire’s Crow Versus Crow. 

The A side treats the listener to three improvised pieces (and lovely printing on the cassette shell), all of which are the result of first-take improvisations recorded in isolation and shared between one another. The product is a sonic kaleidoscope in which Ulyatt’s woody, sometimes probing, sometimes whimsical, always fascinating cello serves as an earthy, steadfast counterpoint to the schizophrenic and turbulent tape warbles that arrest (or disorient) the listener, courtesy of Posset. At times, the line between speeding tape and whistling strings are blurred and sickeningly indiscernible. Throughout, one encounters a continuous, jagged dialogue where the pair create something that oscillates between erratic restraint and bursts of reserved psychosis. The final track on the side, ‘High Head’ features some of the best interplay on the side: nauseating and gurgling tape manipulations converge with Ulyatt’s slowly and subtly excruciating string work, which on audition sounds to be the baglama credited on the release’s bandcamp page. 

On the reverse side, the listener encounters the duo improvising live in Ulyatt’s native Nottingham. The live performance remains aesthetically consistent with the approach established on side A, but the dynamic shifts are more equitable and the exchange between the two is audibly more cohesive. Just the same, these two varying improvisation techniques are wonderfully captivating and highly complementary of each other — unsurprisingly, the same can be said for the two artists themselves. Fans of Rik Rue, Bruce Russell, and Judith Hamann (and also a slew of improvisers who aren’t from the South Pacific) would be wise to check out this release sharpish. 

4 November

a0208133744_16

Will Guthrie — Dream Spink (2018, Teen Dreams)

Listen/Buy


Marginalites! The summer of discontent has ended! Things at Marginal HQ have been topsy turvy and after some months of no new brevity (marginal or otherwise), we’re back with a treat. The latest cassette release by Australian drummer Will Guthrie on Minneapolis’ Teen Dreams label. Whilst Guthrie’s CV speaks for itself, the artist lets the playing do the talking on Dream Spink. The work consists primarily of a solo drum piece recorded at Cafe Oto earlier this year (2018). The live performance is augmented by additional percussion, keyboards, and sparse vocals recorded ex post facto by the artist. The result is an evocative experience, where the listener is left to hypnotically glide through a lifeworld of surreal paranoia.

The A-side of the piece recalls the Dead C’s magisterial mid-90s Siltbreeze output (most notably, Tusk): jingling cymbal paradiddles are interwoven with stray, churning kicks on a bass drum, which crescendo into vast forests of nothingness. Whilst the A-side is a barbed descent where the listener is brought under the artist’s thrall, the B-Side ascends from the netherworld, the listener is transported out of the forest and into the clear. But this is neither reprieve nor a place of solace. An overarching sense of trepidation lingers, leaving one with a lingering sense of some remnant hypnosis, fueled by Guthrie’s diligence on the drums. The B-side of the tape proves to be fertile ground: startling vocals accost those daring to trespass, whilst keyboard treatments further the listener’s sense of dread and propel an eerie captivation. As the piece progresses, Guthrie increases the tempo, the drums start to boil, and the listener is hastened forward. Yet, just as the listener is preparing to run, the drumming pulls back curiously, like a sudden gust of wind on a day otherwise characterized by its phlegmatic stillness. And much the way that life’s complexities seem to prompt an stream of endlessly imbricating questions, Will Guthrie guides the listener somewhere, only to vanish, leaving the listener mystified.

The engrossing nature of this piece ranks it highly amongst other works that feature a single artist engaging with percussive techniques/instruments, however a major detraction is the abrupt ending of the cassette’s opening side. So jolting is the end of Side-A, this listener would recommend you stick with the digital format, so you can sink in and savor all 30 minutes of Dream Spink without distraction.

14 May

BT037LP_CU

Joe Talia – Tint (2018, Black Truffle)

Buy [Sorry, no stream available]


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.