Will Guthrie — Dream Spink (2018, Teen Dreams)
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.
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.
Ute Kanngiesser Geäder (2015, earshots)
Boldly speaking, musical performance reaches its apex when an artist is both able to demonstrate precision and mastery, and more fascinatingly, possess an evident ability to manipulate their instrument in such a way that negates its original functions, thus expanding its sonic capabilities well beyond those initially conceived. On her 2015 debut, Geäder, German cellist Ute Kanngiesser, brilliantly achieves both feats without breaking a sweat. Tracked at two separate locations in London, both tracks show the cellist in top form. “Project Space” demonstrates Kanngiesser’s ability to tease flute-like swirls and harmonic drones from her cello. The final three minutes of the piece feature plucked notes, the tensile strings resist Kanngiesser’s nimble fingers, making for an unnerving but engrossing performance which abruptly ends, presumably when the artist runs out of tape. “Clock Tower” initially saunters out of the speakers, recalling the works of Kiwis A Handful of Dust. Far from derivative, Kanngiesser’s approach to the strings vary wildly from those of Alstair Galbraith and ultimately demonstrate greater range, restraint, and virtuosity. At times “Clock Tower” resembles some lost form of string-based kosmische / psychedelia (far more interesting than John Cale and the Velvets, however). One notable trademark of the second piece is the soft, yet near constant tapping throughout the piece, which provides a loose sense of continuity that wonderfully compliments Kanngiesser’s open and interpretive playing. The second track also ends rather abruptly, which results in both tracks feel a bit unresolved (perhaps the desired effect). Regardless, Geäder remains a great release and would likely appeal to a wide swathe of improvised music fans from drone-heads, antipode-enthusiasts, and string-bowers, to those whose ears, as a rule, generally perk up for marginal sounds.
João Lobo — Nowruz (2017, three:four)
I first tuned into João Lobo’s 2017 release Nowruz on account of the album art’s similarity to the Dead C’s Patience. Not know what to expect, the moment that the opening schizophrenic and typewriter-like paradiddles hit my ears, I knew I was in for a treat. The opener, “Bahííía” combines the aforementioned frenetic wrists with incessant, paranoid bass drumming (the latter of which recalling Martin Rev’s spartan drum machine-programming in Suicide’s early material) overtop of hushed vocals (impossible to tell if it’s live or a sample). “Tardigrado” further explores the drums’ resonant possibilities and features deep, metallic soundscapes and violin-like resonant passages. “Besa” is a tinkering, playful piece with a quiet, yet expansive cadence courtesy of the kick drum. “Bakbou” is simultaneously both woody and mechanical, if you could find one of those old wind-up drumming monkeys and replace the monkey with a miniature Zach Hill, you’d have a pretty solid like-for-like representation. “Tom” and “Zé” flow seamlessly into one another and recall some cliché bohemian scene of turtledneck’d, beret wearing percussionists providing the accompaniment to some sly hipster poet. The closer, “Mynah” is awash with cymbal rolls, scrapes, and a further testing of the resonant waters. With touches of jazz, avant garde, and experimentalism throughout, Nowruz, marks a splendid debut for the Portugese. This record is best listened to with headphones, so that the listener better opens themselves up to all the wonderful subtlety and nuance of the drums, which are all too often ignored or deliberately mixed out. A solid solo debut, which should whet the interest of listeners into Lobo’s contributions elsewhere.
Oren Ambarchi — Hubris (2016, Editions Mego)
I was on the train to Glasgow to see the solo wonder from down under, Oren Ambarchi, when I received an e-mail: Air France had lost his gear and his show was cancelled. Perhaps the brilliance of his latest release makes up for it. Oren Ambarchi’s newest LP from Editions Mego is worlds away from the serene Grapes from the Estate or his work on Touch Music. Continuing along the sonic lines of 2014’s Quixotism, Hubris sees Ambarchi bring a host of notable collaborators into the fold (Arto Lindsay, Jim O’Rourke, et al.). “Hubris, Pt. 1” is Autobahn for a new generation. In our age of cultural over-saturation and bastardization, Ambarchi’s work will not have the same degree of impact; a shame, because the opener is no kosmiche pastiche — it’s all its own and demonstrates a rich palette of music making by the Australian and his chosen ensemble. It magisterially combines many of the traits of Kraftwerk’s 1 and 2 with the aforementioned Autobahn and is soothingly repetitive and highly soporific in its 22 minutes of glory. “Hubris, Pt. 2” is the pop tune of the album. Light-hearted, delayed guitar mixes with chopped up fragments of a conversation, just barely audible. Musically, one could easily envision this track as an OK Computer outtake. Fortunately, Ambarchi realizes there’s nothing doing in extending this tune unnecessarily and ends it in under two minutes. The track’s brevity keeps it interesting and places it into stark relief against the album’s two longer movements. If “Pt. 1” is a merger of early/later Kraftwerk, “Hubris, Pt. 3” is the sound of those records being physically melted together. The song’s initial, innocuous musings morph into an electrified cyclone of neo-psychedelia. Ambarchi shows his competence as an arranger on top of an ensemble whose chemistry is nothing short of remarkable. While his back catalogue is superb, the direction Oren Ambarchi has set off in makes for some equally stellar listening.
Paul Flaherty — Aria Nativa (2008, Family Vineyard)
Not as thick or throaty as Peter Brötzmann and not as course or orotund as Mats Gustafsson, Paul Flaherty is just as spirited and verbose in his playing. With a timbre that is nasally and brisk, but at times utterly soulful, Flaherty will definitely appeal to most fans of the iconic Ornette Coleman. The opening trills of “Woman in the Polka-Dot Dress” give way to Flaherty’s nasally almost whistle like shards of sound. “Weren’t There Two of Them” opens with a violin like chords and changes direction into a claustrophobic fit of skronky, buzzy playing that at times sounds is mistakable for human screams. Flaherty’s rollercoaster whirlwind mellows and hardens — expect sharps turns, kettle whistles, and even some more relaxed melodic bars interspersed. The digital release of this album closes with Ken Delpointe reading his political poem “No More America.” The poem graces the back jacket of the LP, both providing the songs with their names and in essence, frames Flaherty’s music. It’s unfortunate that the reading of this powerful poem is excluded from the physical version of the record, but this may have been necessary given time/space constraints of physical media. While it doesn’t in anyway detract from Paul Flaherty’s playing, the closing statement that is the poem provides the listener with an entirely new reflection and understanding of Flaherty’s point of origin. A good solo record by Flaherty, however, the digital version with DelPonte’s poem, should be favored over the LP.
Kanada 70 — Vamp Ire (2012, Constellation)
Buy [ no stream, sorry]
Since the mid 2000s, Toronto musician Craig Dunsmuir has deconstructed pop formalism, producing a slew of highly repetitive (at times somnolent) postmodern études. These works are brilliantly executed and take cues from a host of different stylistic predecessors, although Dunsmuir leans heavily towards 1960s-1970s West African Afrobeat (presumably, his selected moniker is an homage to Fela Kuti’s Legendary Africa ’70/Nigeria ’70 groups). From the coasting melodica on the opening “Ignore Dub I” to “Mou,” which shifts wildly into proto-industrial territory recalling the tension of Suicide and the atmosphere of Skullflower, Dunsmuir demonstrates (on the first two tracks, no less) that artistic prowess, depth, and versatility are not dependent on temporality (which is to say song duration) to appear fully-formed or well thought out. “Delivery” is acid-house for noiseniks. Pads gently swell in and out and the listener is submerged in the repetitive motorik machinations of the tune. Whether it’s two-minute fragmented electro pieces or reimagined Afrobeat motifs, Dunsmuir’s Kanada 70 resorts to a seldom used format which re-envisions popular music(s) structural make-up and its compositional process. The result is as interesting as it is accessible.