Godspeed You! Black Emperor — Luciferian Towers (2017, Constellation)
Canadian symphonic rockers, Godspeed You! Black Emperor return with their first record in x years with Luciferian Towers. Having not listened to Godspeed! much since Yanqui U.X.O, this listener was taken aback by the collective’s drastic departure from the brooding and sparse compositional work littered with field-recordings, monologues, etc. Instead, the group’s modus operandi has evolved into one which is jubilant, airy, and fairly wide-open. The musicianship remains top-notch, as do the politics. Sonically, however, the results leave much to be desired. This release largely underscores that Godspeed You! Black Emperor operate almost entirely within the idiom of rock’n’roll —a fact, that their musicianship has long done well to obscure. The opening piece, “Undoing a Luciferian Tower” is a sprawling, cinematic piece, that while decisively executed, is at times almost humorous in its unabashed bombast. Again, noting that the group operate largely within the idiom of rock’n’roll, their sonic vocabulary often ends up coming off like an indie-version of Trans Siberian Orchestra. The instrumentation is never lost or bizarre (in a pejorative sense), but the aesthetic framings that the group operate within, coupled with the aforementioned bombast, comes across as fairly mawkish. The third track, “Fam/Famine” is perhaps the best of the LP. Structurally, less predictable than the multi-movement crescendo/apex/release employed throughout the rest of the LP, the album’s shortest tune instead opts to explore sensibilities that closely resemble the collaborative proto-ambient work of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp à la No Pussyfooting. Not a bad direction and one that the group pull-off masterfully. While praise for this release has been virtually unanimous, here at Marginal HQ, we’re a bit more skeptical. Despite the group’s well documented political stance(s), the adherence to convention and accessibility, again casts doubt on western music(s)’ ability to catalyze or embody substantive social change.
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.
Listen/Download [free through Pan y Rosas]
Formally trained as a jazz musician, Hanoi’s Luong Hue Trinh, now works primarily in the realm of electroacoustic music. Her digital-only debut through Pan y Rosas Discos, Illusions, is a half-hour of power and arguably one of the most engaging and profoundly engrossing experimental releases in recent years. Startlingly (and most appropriately), the opener, “illusions,” begins with the sound of breaking glass. The track evolves into a 12 minute exploration of non-musical industrial sounds melded with traditional South-Vietnamese music. The result is emotive, captivating, and far from predictable. Whilst the opener positioned traditional musics alongside industrial sounds, the dichotomy between old and new is effectively inverted on “return ii.” Predominately “driven” by electronic musical treatments, the track employs pastoral sounds in place of those produced by industry. The denouement builds anxiously before giving way to fading strings and chants. Despite its brevity, Illusions is not to be missed. Given the strength of her debut, everyone here at Marginal HQ eagerly awaits Trinh’s next release.
The Fuck Chairs — Ascension (2016, self-released)
As a huge fan of the Dead C, any project featuring Bruce Russell, Michael Morley, or Robbie Yeats is certain to make these marginal ears perk up. I was recently made privy to Morley’s collaborative project with fellow Kiwi Morgan Oliver, The Fuck Chairs. Safe to say, I quickly begun exploring their already robust (25 releases since 2014) and rapidly proliferating body of work. My initial foray into TFC territory led me to throw the proverbial dart toward Ascension and safe to say, here at Marginal Brevity, we’re all happy with where that piercing projectile landed. Consisting of a singular 24 minute track, Ascension sees Morley and Oliver electing to forgo the traditional rock band approach entirely. Harsh 70s Reality it is not; the ambient work Morley has done under the Gate moniker is perhaps a bit closer. That said, The Fuck Chairs deviate from the sparser side of sound art on this release, opting to explore textures and motifs that would fit well alongside a good many Warp releases from the 1990s. Ascension is a wonderfully lo-fi electronic work, with the duo sounding something akin to a somber antipodean Autechre, who have chosen to ditch the superfluous embellishments. All in all a very listenable, deeply introspective, and wholly entrancing record from the globe’s southern hemisphere.