Cravune — Figures (2018, Detriti Records)
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.
Wolf Eyes — Strange Days II (Lower Floor Music, 2017)
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.
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.
Merzbow / Keiji Haino / Balázs Pándi – 迷惑をかけない無防備 = An Untroublesome Defencelessness (Rare Noise, 2016)
Merely eying the roster of this LP is enough to raise Marginal pulses. Featuring freakout legend Keiji Haino, noise deity Masami Akita (Merzbow), and the much lauded Hungarian percussionist Balázs Pándi, this record sees the trio explore two long pieces divided into individual movements and does not disappoint. “Why Is the Courtesy of the Prey Always Confused with the Courtesy of the Hunters (Part I)” has no wave guitar crashing into free jazz drumming, both of which descend into cathartic madness before a neo-heavy metal ending. In “Part II” Merzbow lays down gravitas textures while Haino and Pándi extemporize some David Lynch meets Hella uptown, bad dream vibes. As the track progresses, Akita becomes more involved and the tune goes into Hendrix at Woodstock, Star Spangled Banner screeching parallel universe peyote meltdown. At times Merzbow feels a bit superfluous and one wonders how a Haino and Pándi duo might come across; other times, he feels indispensable. On “How Differ the Instructions of the Left from the Instructions of the Right? (Part III),” Haino’s vocals on top of Merzbow’s sonic tumult is a thing of sheer brilliance. I was always a fan of Last Exit, but Iron Path‘s production always reeked of the decade of it’s recording. This may very well be the replacement that jumps into the spazz-jazz rotation.
John Kijiko & Atomic Jazz Band — Na Tucheze Pachanga Vol. 3 (year/label unknown)
Having come to this album courtesy of the most excellent Awesome Tapes from Africa, I must first and foremost offer a profound thanks. This is one of the most uplifting and solidly solid set of tunes my dear ears have ever stumbled onto. Tanzania’s Atomic Jazz Band play with soul and pomp and are an absolute pleasure to listen to. Having seen its musical landscape altered following the importation of various guitar records in the early 1950s, many parts of East African underwent what musicologist Gerhard Kubik identifies as “the process of re-Africanisation of imported Afro-American kinds of music.” Drawing influence from the aforementioned imports and from the new musics discovered and brought back by Tanzanian soldiers serving away from home during the Second World War, groups like Atomic Jazz Band proliferated and forged “neo-tradtional” forms of music throughout Tanzania and East African in the immediate decade following the war.  Again, while my personal exposure to this particular album is fairly recent, it evokes a sense of sublime nostalgia: I first heard these songs at the tail end of winter and distinctly recall driving in my car with the sun shining on my face, the window down, brisk January air skipping through the window as Atomic Jazz Band ripped through an untouchable set of jams. While the details on this recording are a bit scarce, I can safely say that the combination of Swahili vocals, rollicking brass, rumba rhythms, and joyous melodies make these cuts a treat to listen to. If you don’t already know it, get over to the Awesome Tapes from African webpage (linked above) and check it out as quickly as possible.
 Gerhard Kubik “Neo-Traditional Popular Music in East Africa Since 1945” in Popular Music,
Vol. 1, Folk or Popular? Distinctions, Influences, Continuities (1981), p. 93