Saturday, August 21, 2010

Burial - Untrue

Burial is a dubstep producer from the UK. Notorious for refusing to appear live or engage in celebrity theatrics, he's remained true to his ideals by releasing two of the most groundbreaking records electronic music had heard in ages. 2-step has never been this introspective, nor has it conjured late night urban landscapes like Burial's second album Untrue does. A review from a fellow rymer, the_sound_reigns: 

"Yeah, this fucking album. I've listened to it while baking in the scorching heat of a Canterbury nor'wester and while walking through the rain on a late Seattle afternoon while the sky grew dark and heavy. It sounded just as wonderful in either situation. Contrary to what some might say, this isn't an album that takes life from its surroundings; it's an album that gives life to its surroundings. There are songs that stand on their own as stunning tracks ("Archangel", "Raver") but by and large, this is one bleak and beautiful symphony. Perhaps bleak is overstating it somewhat: take the moment in "Shell of Light" around 3:30 when it all melts into a gloriously uplifting smear of heat-hazed piano and strings. And who would have thought a track called "In McDonalds" could be so knock-out gorgeous? But again, it's when you take the album in its entirety that you get the full picture of how wonderful it is. Try to disassemble it into component parts: murky aquatic funk beats, the deep-bass thrum of dub, neon-on-pavement ambient bleed, the ever-present hiss and crackle of the city speeding by, vocals lost and whirling in the void. You could add these up over and over again and never get close to the beauty and darkness that Burial coaxes from the strands he(?) weaves. Sometimes it's hard to explain why one particular album stands out from the clamouring throng; what's the magic ingredient that takes this particular record and elevates it until it takes hold of me until I can barely breathe with the intensity of it all? Why do I keep circling back to it, wanting to lay back and sink into the sound, fall beneath the hum and clutter of it and lie submerged, listening to the voices leading me down dark and echoing paths. How can something so dystopian be so beautiful? Something that conjures images of cities dissolved in a chemical fog, the only flickering signs of life the voices of the dead still travelling lonely on the airwaves, broadcasting their final messages into the emptiness. It's a transmission from the end of the line, soaring out into the endless void opening up at the death of the universe. This music should play among the burned-out husks of the stars when the human race is long extinct. Still telling our stories, baring our hearts, singing our songs."

cigarettes and nightwalks

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Swans - Soundtracks for the Blind

Swans have been an immensely influential no-wave act who have gone through various transformations, sort of like a shedding skin and maturing with absolute class without sacrificing any of their quality. 

Michael gira is an enigma. Raised and fed on a diet of the experimental and largely noise oriented new york scene, Swans is practically his vehicle for expression, one he's guided through the years and has been its only consistent member, from the inception of the band to date, where we await their new studio album almost 20 years after the band formed. 

Early Swans material, was in a nutshell, absolutely fucking brutal. Tape loops, heavy riffs, guitars completely detuned and atonality are pretty much commonplace here. This is basically some of the most aggressive music that ever existed. Case in point, shows were so loud and dissonant that people were reported to have ended up passing out and occasionally going dizzy, from sheer volume. Cops would regularly shut down and ban them from playing in certain areas (Gira returns his love for the authority on the wonderful release 'Cop') But it wasn't harsh for the sake of being harsh, the time signatures were reminiscent of Gira's love for jazz influenced 'rock', the minimal chord structures seemed to be a nod to early, minimalistic blues based rock and roll.   

Swans themselves are a study in evolution. From the violently noisy beginnings in the now legendary no-wave scene, they carved out a really unique path for themselves, seeing them morph ever so slowly, but surely, into a more melodic juggernaut, paving the way for 2 of their finest efforts - White Light from the Mouth of Infinity and The Great Annihilator. What was to follow was anyone's guess, but really, nothing in the world prepared anyone for the masterwork that was Soundtracks for the Blind. Soundtracks adds up to nearly two and a half hours in length. It's a sprawling effort, one that changes mood and tempo on every possible turn, but still retains its character alongwith its devotion to an unique, sinister atmosphere that is always seductive and hypnotic. Dissonance is the modus operandi here, you are literally compelled to understand music as you know it as a different kind of instrument altogether. 

They meddle with a frenetic punk aesthetic on "Yum Yab Killers" which is layed out deliciously over Jarboe's ferocious vox, they travel into warped techno soundscapes on "Volcano" and even feature a medieval harpsichord swirl on "Red Velvet Corridor". The drones exist to serve as psychoactive rather than a foreground mechanism, slowly lulling you into a lucid daydream, evoking ambience that brings to mind desolate industrial landscapes, war torn fields and ruins of ancient civilisations. Maybe they are allusions to the dark recesses of the human psyche; "Prisoner in Yr Skull" and "Final Sacrifice" seem to be the sound of personal ghosts being exorcised.  There also seems to be an undercurrent of carnal sexuality to the rhythms that pulsate under each selection, from the thunderous tribal drumming to the beating of primal overtones that permeate the drones. But the two key highlights on the record are definitely the epics, 'Helpless Child' and 'The Sound'. The former being a cinematic ode to a obsessively dependent relationship that glides effortlessly into the atmosphere as it builds to it's climax, and the latter is just about the best fucking song there ever was - a monstrosity that predates the 'post rock' movement by at least 3 years and is arguably the watermark for Godspeed you! black Emperor's career and every other derivate that has followed since - 'The Sound' stands as a milestone in 'build-and-release tension' finesse in music; a solemn orchestral dirge that marks Gira's omniscience on the record to fantastic effect. 

It's quite hard to believe they bowed out with this, even for today's standards. A disjointed, double disc ode that compiles nearly every manifestation of Swan's career and more; tape loops, mournful drones, samples, field recordings, distorted guitars, ambient keyboards and Gira's lovely baritone - the result is spectral, to say the least, there's not a wasted minute, and the album is so unstably unfocused that trying to allocate a narrative to it is almost invariably bound to be futile - it has to be heard to be believed. Soundtracks for the Blind stands as a testament to one of the best bands of our time - Swans were so far ahead of their time that most of us are still catching up. I recommend that you give it a listen because it could possibly change your life.

Lose your eyesight

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bark Psychosis - ///Codename:Dustsucker

So let me kick things off here. I'd like to start off by posting the album that the blog name is derived from. Let it be known everywhere that Bark Psychosis, the pioneers of the 'post rock' genre in 1994 (with the magnificent Hex), came back ten years later to show the competition how far ahead of the game they still were. Master innovators who use texture and form to fantastic effect. Listen closely and you find enough enigma and intricacy in this record to qualify it as a musical puzzle, one that reveals more every listen. Check out this review from Nick Southall from the now defunct Stylus Magazine.

Vapour trails of distant airplanes turning orange in the sunset, a smear of royal umber bruise. Universes appear within your iris, tremulous rumbles consume miniscule worlds. Glass and metal are pushed beyond physical limits, bend and break. Bark peels like skin from trees. Points of water evaporate under immense heat. Whispers drown out coils of industry. Forward motion is reversed and progresses faster. The church walls begin to close in again, and so you swing aside the oaken door and step outside into the buzzing orange half light another time, people still moving, still alive, even at this time of night, and you melt into the tarmac, the brickwork, the sulphur, the pallid strip-lights… 

Shrouded in ten years of mystery and disappearance and elusive ‘other projects’, it’s easy to feel that ///Codename: Dustsucker doesn’t really exist. Bark Psychosis as a band don’t exist anymore, certainly not in the way they did a decade ago. John Ling and Daniel Gish have long since gone, and Mark Simnet exists on ///Codename: Dustsucker only in the form of ‘found drums’. By the time “Blue” was released and the band put on hold in 1994, Bark Psychosis had fallen away, leaving only Graham Sutton. When he put Boymerang aside in 1999 it was only natural to pick up where he had left off: resurrect Bark Psychosis and once again make a music different to that of those elsewhere, everywhere. 

Use of shape, space and sound betray ///Codename: Dustsucker’s lineage and creation from the moment a corrupted, familiar melody bleats from the speakers as if it were a forgotten joke. Time is blurred for fifty minutes, topography altered, positions changed, rules of deportment completely unconsidered. It’s clear that ///: is the work of the man behind Hex and the singles compiled onIndependency, but it is not simply a retread of the past, or even a direct continuation of what was left ten years ago. ///: has a decade of space and a lifetime of experience between it and its predecessor; it is necessarily a different beast. Five years of creation have ensured that every detail is deliciously agonised, every note placed with purpose, nothing left to chance except chance (a guitar is knocked over, ruptures sound like fractured bone; a flippant voicemail message given space within the minus seconds). No significance is attached to passing time; dates are ignored, anniversaries forgotten, temporal shifts unnoticed; “From What Is Said To When It’s Read” floats over you on hypnotic waves of guitar and suggestions of electronic noise, before pausing and crashing back with the force of a tidal wave, hushed, devotional vocals subsumed beneath a gorge of sound, absolute calm within absolute intensity. This is just the beginning. 

Delayed organs, mouthless do-do-dos and a cascading guitar riff form the bedrock of “The Black Meat”, talk of standing on “black sand” and trees, “one for you / one for me”. Hesitancy, a clock is broken, someone closes a door. A guitar groans and signals the birth of a trumpet, slowly melting into gaseous synths and a whiff of melodica; it comes in two parts like The Isley Brothers through the looking glass. “Miss Abuse” is a cavernous, sinister cloud of dub space, a bassline crawling for a handful of notes every few bars and no more, a kick-drum with arrhythmia, an eptopic heartbeat guiding the song’s progress through vortices of sound towards the moment when a 303 begins, seizing the songs arteries and windpipe and strangling life slowly from it. ///: is uncategorisable, even neologisms fall short now that the old words have been warped. It exists in a space outside of rock, post-rock, jazz, pop, dance and avant-garde, in a nothingness zone, unfettered by genre or gatekeepers. 

“Dr Innocuous / Ketamoid” rips apart the fabric at the centre of the album, a distant stamp and tear, Lee Harris using hi-hats and cymbals in a way that makes them sound like broken glass, building an intensity before stop. begin again. piano. count to three. brushed guitar strings. “Did you ever hear the one / About that bird-girl?” A pipe organ breathes for a second. “Burning The City” is an escapist dream, rebellion touched with an elegiac sense of yearning and a wry smile, warm in tone. As is “400 Winters”, caressed by a woman’s voice, tiding on acoustic guitars and falling into piano. “INQB8TR” crawls through infinite dub-space, glades of synth and destructive passages of rich, beautiful noise. “Shapeshifting” tears itself apart with electric guitar scree, filling your head before backwards loops and perpetual-motion drums guide the song through an estuary of found-sounds. “Rose” guides us home under a swell of Germanic trust and nothingness. 

///Codename: Dustsucker has been a long time coming (it seems an age since its existence was first even rumoured) and it will not please everyone because it is not a simple relation of Hex. But taken on its own terms it is an outstanding record, multi-hued and consuming, concerned with invented realities and blurred lines in much the same way as Magritte’s pipe and Borges’ invented facts. Agonised, fearful, compelling, beautiful and measured with infinite precision and chaos, ///: is close to miraculous.