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.
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.
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.