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.
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.
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.
Else Marie Pade — Electronic Works 1958-1995 (2014, ImpRecs)
On the Important Records webpage for this release, there is a quote from the artist claiming, “in the evening I could imagine that the stars and the moon and the sky uttered sounds and those turned into electronic music.” Danish electronic pioneer, Else Marie Pade didn’t just produce works that sound like they came from the night sky, but rather sonic tapestries that originate from a place that is well beyond the uppermost reaches of the stratosphere. Pade’s work is an enigmatic blend of oscillations, sine and square waves, and Stockhausen-esque chirps. Opening with the artist’s “Faust Suite” a deeply harmonic piece with a ghostly and unsettling aura, brilliantly captures the risk and intrigue of Faust’s pact with the devil. The earliest work on the album, “Syv Cirkler” from 1958, is again marked by an eerie sense of surrealism. The tune features rising and fall tonal strokes as square waves fade in and recede. Other highlights include “Illustrationer” a work from 1995 comprised of four movements, demonstrates a clear continuation of Pade’s modus operandi. This piece captures the playfully frigidity of a cloudless day in Northern Europe in the late autumn, just before winter and short days take hold. The album jacket features an image of Pade with a wry smile, gazed transfixed onto something in the distance. The image image feels entirely appropriate given that her music still sounds light years away, even after the development of electronic music(s) in the decades that followed the earliest recordings on the record. This wonderfully curated retrospective of one of the avant garde’s unsung heroes and is required listening for those interested in the aforementioned Stockhausen (whom Pade studied under at Darmstadt), the history of and/or early electronic music(s), or any variant of otherworldly sounds.
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.