29 July

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Tashi Dorji —  Blue Twelve (2014, Blue Tapes)

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Comprised of a live session of wholly improvised tunes with no overdubs,  Blue Twelve is the first vinyl release from British cassette label Blue Tapes. And what a release it is. A native of Bhutan who has lived in Asheville, North Carolina for close to twenty years, Tashi Dorji is one of the most exciting and versatile guitarists active in improvised and experimental music(s). Spectral overtones of the Himalayas are present and inform Dorji’s playing, but scarcely dominate his stylistic approach. In other words, those who are quick to ear mark the guitarist as “world” or “Asian” music both miss the point entirely and subscribe to a highly reductive reading of both the artist and his work. Dorji’s playing at times recalls British improv wizards à la Derek Bailey, Fred Frith, et al. Whilst very much a continuation of this lineage, Dorji manages to forge ahead with his own artistic voice, sonic palette, and musical language. Splendid use of delay, looping, and volume swells demonstrate the artist’s craft and ability to construct self-contained and wholly engrossing improvised guitar works. “Attain” is surely the centerpiece of the album. Arpeggiated harmonic patterns with bassy overtones combine with Dorji’s percussive interrogation of his instrument. Sections of prepared guitar yield piano-like sustain. “Visible” vacillates between vague evocations of Ennio Morricone’s work in the great Sergio Leone films of the 1960s and sparse, heady ramblings punctuated with volume swells and brusque strums and plucks. “Remembering” is a twelve minute piece which can be interpreted as a summary of the album in toto. The listener again encounters metallic clangs, rich piano-esque chording, volume swells, percussive strums, and delicate picking, all of which help to demonstrate Dorji’s ability to tease out unconventional sounds from an instrument which remains a bastion of conventionality in popular music(s). Whilst the closing track meanders a bit, Blue Twelve is another superb cut from the artist.

28 July

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AMM / Merzbow — Split Series #4 (1999, Fat Cat)

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They’ve done it again — Brighton’s Fat Cat Records, that is. They’ve engineered yet another brilliant split release featuring two of the avant-garde’s most distinct and innovative voices: Merzbow and AMM. While we’re a bit slow and behind the times here at Marginal HQ, as this release predates the Konono N˚1/ the Dead C split reviewed in June, we’re happy to bestow upon it our glowing recommendation. “For Ute” is one part sacred ritual, one part iconoclastic sacrilege. Contradictory as it may sound, one need only slap the A side on the platter to get it. Tinkling percussion, grating guitar, and diffuse, obscure tape loops precipitate an out and out rethink of the concept of “band.” Ontologies of the musical (used very loosely in this context) ensemble aside, AMM demonstrate their ability to tap into the artistic collective consciousness in a way that remains challenging and raw. While this ostensible tribute to cellist and sometimes AMM collaborator Ute Kanngiesser is not as raucous as some of their improvised sound walls, it’s still a great spin. At a mere 20 minutes, it’s some lighter AMM fare for those just delving into the group’s work. As always, the trio render no sounds incidental. Hum, buzz, chime, hiss, chord, concord, and discord — all are engulfed and deftly channeled into their freewheeling sonic experimentation. The opposite side of the wax, features Merzbow’s “Tower of Ghost,” a sickening 13-minute maelstrom that lurches between the blizzard and the blaze. The artist manages to corral the aesthetic sensibilities of science fiction and combine it with an artistic intensity seldom matched by others artists, regardless of medium. The Fat Cat Split Series is well curated and brings together some exceptional left of center artists in a format that is incisive, palatable, and most of all, enjoyable. This release in particular, is top notch.

 

27 July

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Jez Riley French — instamatic | aarhus (2017, self-released)

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For fans of field and nature recordings and “found sounds,” Jez Riley French is a name that resides in the upper echelon of this arcane aural milieu. This latest release was captured by French whilst visiting the coastal Danish city of Aarhus. The opener “parking” features the sounds of a parking garage undergoing renovations. The sounds captured feature a heavy, cold reverberation that concrete so brilliantly produces. One hears what sounds to be the sound of a groundskeeper spraying down the garage. The sounds that the listener encounters are reminiscent of the recorded works of Harry Bertoia. The album’s second track “dLg” features a mix of creaking metal (nearby train tracks, perhaps?) and crickets in the dead of night. For close listeners and fans of this type of recording, the Englishman provides a “window” into one facet of a distant land. Unlike photography, however, the ability of audio recordings to transcend the moorings of temporality provide a level of nuance, continuity, and change not afforded by visual mediums of reproduction. As the artist is well established and respected, it likely goes without saying, but French excels in his ability to capture and effectively transformer the banal into something sublime and compelling. JrF has long celebrated how rewarding a sensory experience listening can be. Moreover, French has consistently impressed with his abilities to both identify spaces and objects where interesting sounds “happen” and does brilliantly to accurately capture these aural phenomena.

26 July

 

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Aaron Dilloway —  Live at a Museum (2016, Hanson)

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Former Wolf Eyes noisenik Aaron Dilloway’s 2016 release, Live at a Museum, is a brilliant half hour of loop experimentation, well worth delving into. Comprised of a series of sets, Dilloway ventures through a universe of myriad sonic possibilities vis-à-vis tape loops, minimalism, and manipulation. “Set 1” is comprised of a hypnotic tape loop sputtering restrained panting, click-clacking, and paranoid resonances.  “Set 2” is a faster, slightly more abrasive, certainly much more confrontational loop, which, despite its shorter duration, remains simultaneously soporific and aggressive. It sounds as if digital artifacting passes through the tape (or perhaps this is the sound of the A to D Transfer) before at around the three minute mark, Dilloway starts to fade the loop out. Groggy and blunt thuds intermingle with the soft swish of a hit-hat or other similar percussive sound. The loop morphs into a strange and gritty track that seems entirely apt for the end times. “Set 3” is reminiscent of Chris Watson’s later work, with the loop recalling the sounds of a windy day from inside. In all, Live in Museum demonstrates Aaron Dilloway’s mastery of analog tape delays, his patience, and his celebration of subtlety. These traits allow the artist to tap into several sonic realms at once, making for a collage-like creation of something totally distinct. Sure, Aaron Dilloway isn’t the first (or even the best) to forge a body of work relying heavily on analogue tape; he is, however, one of the few people who is capable of merging Gristle-esque discomfort with Harmonia’s pastoralism, all without committing to the musicality of either.

21 July

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Catriel Nievas and Sergio Merce — Pampa (2017, Mappa)

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Argentine duo Sergio Merce and Catriel Nievas come together to record a tenuous, but captivating set of sonic explorations on their debut Pampa, released on Slovakia’s Mappa label. Forging a partnership after sharing a stage in their native Buenos Aires, Merce handles electronics and plays a microtonal saxophone (formed from an alto sax with the keys removed), while Capece performs on guitar. Both musicians claim to have an interest in harmonic overtones and sonic layers; as such, this release has plenty of breathing room, which affords the listener ample listening space to fully absorb and ruminate upon what is being performed. Merce’s saxophone melds seamlessly with the electronics, in doing so, creates minimalist soundscapes reminiscent of both early electronic works of Else Marie Pade or Karl Heinz Stockhausen and contemporary electronic artists Aphex Twin and Autechre. Though impossible to tell without seeing the duo live, it sounds as if Nievas remains primarily on the margins. Surprisingly, the guitar work is reminiscent of both later Fugazi and Tortoise, making the guitarist’s contributions memorable, especially within the context. Equally notable are Nievas’ quickness to duck out – a trait which is highly refreshing given the guitar’s demand to “stick out” for a better part of the last century. In all, this would make a great release for those who are just starting to explore sound art and the fringes of music, but is equally suitable for those who are deeply committed to marginal explorations. Also of note, is Mappa’s excellent packaging. Cardboard, letter-pressed sleeve. Hand numbered, + photograph insert. A great sleeve to accompany a solid release.

20 July

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Infinite Jar Space & Spankeol – IMPROV. SESSION #001 “For a Funeral” (2017, Self-Released)

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This 2017 release documents an improvised set featuring Indian experimentalists Infinite Jar Space and Spankeol. As champions of most things marginal here at Marginal Brevity, we’d recommend a prompt listen to this half-hour of power from the world’s second most populous nation – wildly underrepresented in most musings on avant-experimental-improv art. The set opens with heavily treated guitar which gingerly ventures into a heady, not quite psyche, not quite shoegaze daydream. The dense, atmospheric vibes recall a stripped down My Bloody Valentine on a warped cassette, opting to forgo the Irish band’s pretense and sonico-spectral density. After the nostalgia of the first ten minutes, the duo pursue noticeably darker themes. Confrontational and nauseating guitar work strides to the fore, while saturated and delayed vocals sway underneath. In a marked departure from the thematic consistency of the first ten minutes, the duo manages to produce visions of early Blonde Redhead, stripped of any lingering pop elements and of the Boredoms channeling 1960s vibes (or maybe Les Rallizes channeling 1990s vibes) The fidelity of the release and the lovely wobbly analog characteristics help to craft an aesthetic that is as interesting as the music itself. This is sure to be a treat for fans of psychedelia, Sonic Youth, or improvised rock.

18 July

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U.S. Maple — Sang Phat Editor (1997, Skin Graft)

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In the trailer for an unfinished documentary that follows Chicago group U.S. Maple, guitarist Todd Rittman and vocalist Al Johnson profess that the group are awoved classic rock fans and their sinewy, often nonsensical approach to rock music is firmly situated within the pantheon of Led Zeppelins, Queens, Stones, Whos, and the like. Irrespective of ‘Maple’s influences or point of origin, their destination is one which is infinitely more interesting (not to mention challenging) than playing “I am the Walrus” backwards or whatever other proto-psych drivel classic rock fans are on about. The songs have tight drumming and slack guitaring. Sometimes guitarists A & B play (deliberately) fumble their cues, play out of time, focusing more on timbre and muted plucks, leaving the power chords and bombast at the door. More often than not, they combine in an effort that sonically resembles Derek Bailey jamming with the Contortions. The ending of “Songs that Have No Making Out” takes Jimmy Page to the cleaners. “La Click” is circus of a tune: grating violin, spasmodic drumming, and an outro comprised of Casio stabs which sound closer to sitar drones than pop keyboards. “Missouri Twist” is one of the best tracks on the record. Piano-meets-revving engine whammy bar strums which give way to Melt Banana-esque squeaks and chirps. Replete with rhythms that sound like a warped record and are sure to elicit pelvic gyrations. Forget No Wave, this is Blues Wave. In the epochal upheaval caused by the hyper-reductive, yet exceedingly popular genre “grunge,” U.S. Maple stands alone as one of the 1990s truly imaginative rock bands.