Oneohtrix Point Never - “Replica” (Software)
Apparently this is the first Oneohtrix Point Never release to be crafted on modern software, rather than the vintage equipment Daniel Lopatin has favoured on previous releases. Sound wise you’d not know it however; this album is based on warmly humming ambient sounds, floating together and gradually developing. Tangerine Dream would be a good comparison, as would any number of eighties science fiction soundtracks. Almost entirely beatless, when there are beats, as on ‘Nassau’, they are somewhat reminiscent of Autechre material like ‘Chiastic Slide’. Although very slow to develop, this is an entertaining release that’s well worth the time it takes to get going.
Various – “White Eye of Winter Watching” (Hospital Productions)
At over three hours long, this is a formidable treasure trove of noise artists. Released on Hospital Productions representing ‘a dynamic compilation that brought together many of the genres that the label has explored’. Showcasing a diverse mixture of styles; abrasive power electronics, grinding field recordings, dirges and drones, whilst this may not all be to me liking it is always interesting. I particularly enjoyed the screaming noise of the Sutcliffe Jugend/Prurient collaborative contribution, the dark throb of Contrepoison and the ambient industrial scraping of Grey Wolves. There’s a lot of ground to cover here though, the diversity of the selected tracks makes this a great introduction to today’s noise scene; as it was for me to be honest.
Pinch & Shackleton - “Pinch & Shackleton” (Honest Jon’s Records)
Whilst listening to this album, I finally got into this style of dubstep. I’ve always found artists like Burial and Kode9 to be a little too ambient and slow to develop for my taste, but I’m now willing to admit the problem was just my own impatience. Similar to those artists, the music Pinch and Shackleton have come up with here is expansive, ambient and requires time for it’s enthralling grooves to develop and unfurl. Really this could be called post-dubstep; there’s very little of the cliché elements of the mainstream version of this style. Without any sudden bass drops or badly chosen samples, this album develops through intricate percussive programming and slow development of, eventually, bass-led grooves. This is a great album when you’ve got the time to devote to a full length listen.
Blut Aus Nord - “777 - The Desanctification” (Debemur Morti)
After previously reverting to a sound somewhat similar to their 2003 album ‘The Work That Transforms God’ earlier this year, Blut Aus Nord have once again confounded expectations by producing this masterwork of desolate, expansive and glacial black metal. Once again stretching the boundaries of what can be considered as part of the genre, this is essentially frozen cold industrial with an ambient sheen of hypnotic black metal. The programmed beats may initially sound too clean, but that’s the mark of the albums brilliance; this is precise and calculated exquisite misery where distortion or rough production would be heavy handed and a disappointment. Fleshed out with achingly beautiful and emotive icy guitar work throughout, this is an almost unparalleled work of perfection.
Clams Casino – “Rainforests EP” (TriAngle Records)
Clams Casino has spent the last couple of years contributing some great beats for many of the current crop of rappers building their careers through YouTube and Tumblr. Lil B has Clams to thank for most of his best beats, particularly ‘I’m God’ and ‘Motivation’ (the instrumental of which was featured on the ‘Instrumental Mixtape’ that Clams put out last year). Soulja Boy and Main Attrakionz have also made great use of his ethereal beatscapes. With this EP he has released his first material supposedly conceived as stand alone music. This five track CD contains some of his most abstract work yet. Unfortunately though, that is part of what I disliked about it. Particularly the opening track here, ‘Natural’, sounds like an unwanted leftover that no rapper took him up on. The damp, lo-fi dirty beats are just a little too indirect and strange for their own good. Had this material truly been crafted to stand alone it might also have been more well-rounded. Most of this material simply sounds like the instrumental of an unreleased track. Whilst it’s interesting to hear such beats naked and without rhyming added, I think I’ll still be going for Lil B more often.
Barn Owl – “Lost In the Glare” (Thrill Jockey Records)
Barn Owl is the musical output of Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras, both contributing guitars. This is the duo’s second album of glacial, majestic folk-influenced drone. This is drone which builds in waves, similar to the best material from Sunn 0))). Unlike that most influential of bands, however; this is not dark in tone, theirs is no black metal overtone to this music. Being devoid of any vocals, this music manages to be both overwhelmingly enveloping, almost to the point of suffocating, but yet also warm, inviting and even friendly sounding. For the second track the guitar playing duo are joined by drummer Jacob Felix Heure. His subtle, elegant yet paradoxically heavy playing style reminded me of the Neurosis album ‘The Sun That Never Sets’, this is a fleeting reminder however as the main focus is still on the swelling hymns of ethereal drone created by the core duo. Closing track, ‘Devotion II’, comes the closest to the kind of ambient sound produced by drone artists from the metal sphere. The track is by far the darkest mood on the album, bolstered as it is with portentous, apocalyptic yet spacious drumming. This album is intense, haunting, hypnotic and above all, beautiful. This is very definitely well worth an expansive listen.
Barn Owl & The Infinite String Ensemble - “The Headlands” (Important Records)
Released earlier this year, is this, the collaboration of Barn Owl with Ellen Fullman’s Infinite String Ensemble. The material on this album has a more forboding sound than ‘Lost In The Glare’, the addition of Ellen Fullman’s long string playing makes for an eerie sound that is both euphoric and oppressive. Although creating a darker overall tone, this album is also worth checking out, although I slightly preferred ‘Lost in the Glare’ of the two.
Prurient - “Bermuda Drain” (Hydrahead Records)
Although I had only heard a little of Prurient’s extensive discography prior to this release I knew it to be pure aggressive noise. I was interested to hear this particular album as it has been released on Hydrahead; although having read a couple of reviews from other sources, I was expecting this to be something of a dramatic departure from the previous material. This is indeed very different from the blanketing and somewhat ineffectual whining and crashing of the rest of his noise discography. This album could be described as ambient noise pop and I for one really enjoyed it. I certainly found it be to far more engaging than any previous work I had heard from Dominic Fernow, the sole musician behind Prurient. Fernow was previously the guitarist and vocalist for the black metal band Ash Pool (check out their album ‘The World Turns on it’s Hinge’, it’s very good), more recently he has also been playing as the live synth player for the Goth pop group Cold Cave. If you’ve heard the Cold Cave album, however; don’t worry this album is nowhere near as euphorically pop. At various points during it’s running time this album reminded me of Suicide, the earliest albums by Skinny Puppy, the first Autechre album and Wolf Eyes. This album gradual flows between a mixture of throbbing noise, intensely humming ambient drones, Fernow’s primal screaming howled vocals (an excellent sample lyric being; “If I could, I would take a tree branch and ram it inside you”) and industrial clanging. There’s also a definite film soundtrack feel to a lot of the songs, with several points, particularly the beginning of track six, ‘There are still secrets’, really reminding me of Goblin or maybe something from a John Carpenter film. This album will of course feel like a massive betrayal to anyone already familiar with Prurient who was hoping for more pure noise. To everyone else, however; this album comes highly recommended; I really enjoyed the throbbing mixture of sounds, tempos and styles it includes. Pop album of the year? Maybe.
Caȉna – “Hands that Pluck”/”Old Songs, New Chords” (Profound Lore Records)
Wow, this release is a big surprise, suddenly it’s a shame this has been announced as Caȉna’s last release. The work of Andrew Curtis Brignell, the sole member of Caȉna, has at times been a little too abstracted and blurred away from black metal for my liking. In fact to the point I had all but lost interest in it by the release of Temporary Antennae in 2008. That album was too much of an ambient, blissful, post-rock influenced excursion for my liking. The first disc of this release presents over an hours worth of the bands last new material, ‘Hands That Pluck’. The second disc, ‘Old Songs, New Chords’, features reinterpreted and re-recorded versions of four tracks from earlier Caȉna releases, paired up with the original versions and finished with a Nico cover version.
The material on disc one is revelatory. Sparse, ambient and minimal, with the addition of some guest vocalists Brignell has come up with some highly enjoyable black metal that serves as a fitting epitaph to a career of interesting but not always essential recordings. With a mixture of fully formed atmospheric black metal and some purely ambient pieces, this is a very enjoyable yet accessible recording. The guest vocalists are Krieg’s N. Imperial on ‘Murrain’, Starkweather’s Rennie Resmini on ‘Callus and Cicatrix’, and Chris Ross of Revenge on ‘I Know Thee Of Old’. The twelve minute long last of these three songs is the pick of the bunch. After four minutes of blissful ambient drone, drums suddenly crash in and are joined by Ross’s bestial, violent almost animal-like grunted vocals. Combined with music that is still very sparse and ambient, this makes for an unlikely but very enjoyable piece of music. I can’t adequately describe the clarity and crispness of the production here, but it’s used to create a crystalline work of beauty. This is a constantly engaging, fantastic and highly enjoyable album.
Whilst the re-interpreted old songs on the second disc are a little less interesting, I think this is mainly due to their being instrumental. The tracks are still enjoyable, they just fall short of the breathtaking elegance of the first disc. Although it is interesting, the Nico cover is hardly essential. Personally I think the second disc would’ve been better as a separate EP release, however; on the strength of the first disc alone, this has potential to be one of the albums of the year.