Author: Ryan Hall

The Salt, The Sea, and The Sun God – It’s All For You

The Salt, The Sea, and The Sun God
It’s All For You
Street: 08.30
The Salt, The Sea, and The Sun God = Zorch + And So I Watch You from Afar + early Bright Eyes

The minute-and-a-half instrumental intro to It’s All For You possesses all the embryonic brilliance contained in this whale of an album. It is something: tremolo-picked, overwrought guitar sounds, unhinged drumming, tight bass line. This sounds like Provo’s answer to Sargent House’s mathy pop. Unfortunately for us, TSTS&TSG don’t know a good thing when they’ve got it. When Dakota Miller’s “raw” voice fills in for the cathartic racket that the group makes as a unit of equally sweaty, yearning, achieving humans, it does not serve the truly righteous noise achieved on and contained in the album’s instrumental tracks. It certainly works in yelped addendums and place-holders, but as a vehicle, it is too steeped in histrionics not usually associated with this ace-ly executed math-rock. Especially on “Wandering Wonder,” missteps included, this is a document of beautiful potential. –Ryan Hall


Various Artists
Trilogy Part I – Heaven
Underground Alliance Records
Street: 08.29.13
Underground Alliance Records = 90’s Warp + Plug Research + AUN
Are you up on former Yugoslavian underground electronic music? No, you are not. However, listening to this compilation from Underground Alliance will give you a billion-point word in the Hipster version of “Have you heard of?” Heaven is the first of a trilogy of Croatian, Serbian, Slovenian, Montenegran and Macedonian artists who, as the name suggests, play in a vein of subdued electronic music. Ambient, dark-ambient, drone, post-industrial, downtempo and every other shading of qualifier-laden electronic music find their way on this compilation. That soundtrack from your favorite ’90s computer game, that made it on here, too. There are some great finds—Atom Output, Serbian producer’s track “Early Summer Cells” stands out among a lot of fodder. These compilations are scattershot blasts representative of an apparently large community of Balkan electronic artists. There are some diamonds in the rough here. –Ryan Hall

Various Artists

Trilogy Part II – Earth

Underground Alliance Records

Street: 09.20.13

Underground Alliance Records = In The Dark: Detroit is Back + Rephlex Records + BPitch Control
In the trilogy of ex-Yugoslavian electronic artists beneath the Underground Alliance label, Earth is positioned under the shimmering, ambient tones in Heaven and above the dark, industrial/noise soundscapes of Hell. Earth is for dancing—techno, boilerplate Dubstep, EDM, a random dub/dancehall track, IDM and a whole host of what Freud calls “the narcissism of small differences” make their way onto this compilation. A lot of this is quite good. De Ja Fuz’s minimalism is a sort of Burial-meets-Vangelis affair that just feels Eastern European. Phoenix Cain’s track, “Arachna Hive,” surges with huge synth pulls propelled by an Acid House beat with a couple of really well placed breaks. While it may seem there is a lot of looking back to electronica’s ’90s heyday on this record, it isn’t the kind of fuzzy, retromancy of American producers mining Detroit’s storied past—I just think they go H.A.M all the time. –Ryan Hall

Various Artists

Trilogy Part III – Hell

Underground Alliance Records

Street: 10.31.13

Underground Alliance Records = Front Line Assembly + Razed in Black + Feindflug
If the Laser Viking taught us anything, it’s that the Eastern Europeans don’t fuck around when it comes to their electronic music. About as serious and as scary as that dude is, I would put my money on ex-Yugoslavian noise/industrial/breakcore any day of the week. This is my favorite album in the trilogy of electronic artists in the Underground Alliance Records trilogy. The compilation consists of music on the darker/sinister side of electronic music: harsh noise, muscular industrial music, seizure-inducing breakcore. Never a huge fan of industrial, I really find the straight noise tracks of Broken Bird and D.sub0 especially intriguing. Youth A.D. however, totally go for broke (complete with spooky, throat-singing monks) on their intense industrial track, “Kult Vuka.” Wasteland Port Caledon reminds me of a slightly darker Porn Sword Tobacco. What, you don’t listen to Croatian breakcore? Laaaame. –Ryan Hall


…and so we destroyed everything
Monotreme Records
Street: 08.21.11
Sleepmakeswaves = Russian Circles + And So I Watch You From Afar + Mono
Sydney Australia’s Sleepmakeswaves have the ability to move from the sublime to sublimely heavy in a half-breath’s time. That split-second rush of air into the lungs is all it takes for sleepmakeswaves to turn a beautiful passage full of twining guitar lines and buzzing synthesizers into a bone-crushingly loud and soaring crescendo that approaches Mono’s epic grandeur and capture the plodding, corporeal heaviness of late-era Isis. Post-rock, as a symptom of something so formulaic, has grown pretty boring lately. Sleepmakeswaves don’t reinvent the wheel here. There are plenty of bands playing songs that sound this crisp and structural. Sleepmakeswaves, however, have the uncanny ability to incorporate, in a jet-engine suck, all the great elements of the genre: the calming, droning ambient passages, hyper-complex dual guitar attacks, dread-filled bridges and of course the crescendo. The sell-all, guts-all-over-the-ground, soul-cleansing crescendo. This is where Sleepmakeswaves nail it. Hard. –Ryan Hall

Johan Johannsson

Jóhann Jóhannsson – Sicario

Jóhann Jóhannsson

Varèse Serabande
Street: 09.18
Jóhann Jóhannsson = Carter Burwell + Hans Zimmer + Swans

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s early solo and symphonic works always felt cinematic, as if they were scoring scenes of beauty and fragility that only existed in the composer’s mind. A move in his later career to actually scoring films made a lot of sense, as the ebullient melodies on The Theory of Everything Soundtrack demonstrated to us. Jóhannsson’s score for Denis Villeneuves border thrilller, Sicario, however is a totally different animal. To match the “brooding brutality” of the movie, Jóhannsson focused on matching massive percussive movements with electronically distorted and modified low-brass and low-strings, not totally out of the ballpark of composers like Hans Zimmers. But in this sense, though, the tension and brutalism are pushed into the red of anything else Jóhannsson has ever approached. Strings buzz like massive cicadas. Mournful strings and classical guitars punch holes in tension-filled passages. Listening to the soundtrack sans visuals is just as white-knuckle gripping. –Ryan Hall

Sarah Neufeld - The Ridge

Sarah Neufeld
The Ridge

Paper Bag Records
Street: 02.26
Sarah Neufeld = Circuit des Yeux + The Visit + Kate Bush

Sarah Neufeld is the violinist for the Arcade Fire, but you already knew that, right? Arcade Fire are a legacy band of a time when Canadian bands were touring with eight or nine members, usually with a massive kettledrum or timpani taking up the entire back seat. The swelling rosters of bands like Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene have developed a complex Wu-Tang–like pantheon of members and affiliates that have released records outside of the general collective. Of all the Arcade Fire extracurricular albums, Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld’s 2015 collaboration on Constellation Records has made some of the biggest critical waves. That record showcased an insane caliber of musicianship and interplay, allowing both musicians to follow each other into linear, progressively more intense lines.

The Ridge is an isolation and distillation of that virtuosic performance with Stetson that finds Neufeld alone with her violin and voice often accompanied by Gara on drums. The Ridge is an intense listen—Neufeld plays her violin with a bowed ferocity unhinged from collaborative restraints. The eponymous album opener is an example of that, an eight-minute exercise in held tension whose frequent climaxes come when Neufeld’s string-searing lines and wordless melodies are buoyed by Gara’s splashy, open-cymbal, syncopated pounding and a open-mawed drone, whose source could be a number of things—Neufeld’s processed violin, Stetson’s baritone sax and/or the rending of fabric of the universe. Neufeld’s voice often acts as compositional accompaniment, folding her wordless melodies and coos as another instrument in the mix or taking the driver’s seat in songs like the album’s first single, “We’ve Got a Lot,” where Neufeld’s upper-register voice is parsed out in percussive bursts until the melodic chorus. A comparison to Kate Bush’s breathy but commanding voice is an easy one, both making easy homes in majestic, baroque pop.

Not all returns are as easy as a violin-led pop number. The nine-minute “A Long Awaited Scar” starts with Neufeld’s unaccompanied violin fluttering with impossibly fast lines that dart around a sturdy, minimalist passage—the closest resemblance of recital-style classical music on this album. Right around the halfway point of this song, Gara puts these lines into the service of Valkyrie swoop from the rafters to deliver a full-kit pummeling until the sparsest cymbal hits are relegated to a distant distortion and a faint thud is heard underneath Neufeld’s omnipresent  bowing and her processed vocals. This creates a golden, sustained tone that hovers in the mid-section for the last few minutes of the song.

The Ridge, much like selected Wu-Tang solo-output, highlights the incredible talent outside the sum of the whole of a group that has disrupted the musical landscape of the past 10 years, but with a noticeable lack of truly inspired monikers and skits. Sarah Neufeld has created an ambitious, challenging and ultimately rewarding album that makes a solo-violin sound impossibly huge and cataclysmic.

BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa / Anla Courtis
Golden Circle Afternoon
Editions Mego
Street: 10.13.14
BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa / Anla Courtis = The Wanda Group + Skullflower + Rashad Becker

Written and recorded on a trip through Europe, this grouping of jarring noise/drone artists BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa and Buenos Aires–based guitarist Anla Courtis is some type of miasmic hell-ride into the Europe depicted in all those Hostel movies. I am saying that because my wife lumps this into all the “haunted house” music that I listen to. Golden Circle Afternoon is full of the type of squealing, squelching, contact-mic stabs of noise she is referring to. But listening beyond/past/through that offers some moments of pure brilliance on an otherwise straightforward noise record. The trio hits moments that rival Oneohtrix Point Never’s deconstructed synth styling during “Fish Is God” that is then blasted apart with some power-electronics blasts of noise. Courtis’ brain-melting guitar work is nearly undetectable, but his explorations into dynamic sonic landscapes have their mitts all over this record. –Ryan Hall

The Mattson 2
Um Yeah Arts
Street: 09.16
The Mattson 2 = Popol Vuh + Niagara Falls + Dungen

Jazz rock, amiright? The Mattson 2’s latest album provides enough latitude, enough shape-shifting musical identities and go-for-the-throat thrill to snatch the term back from the terribly stilted ghetto of quasi-jam/easy-listening bands for retired hippy dads and local band leaders who like to rip off their players. Comprising a drummer playing a mix of hard bop, decidedly Eastern rhythms and a guitarist with more pedals than a roving, pedestrian-powered bar, this duo moves effortlessly from raga-inspired, quadruple-time burners to sliding, looping ambient passages that turn on a dime. This is some inspired stuff. If you thought that jazz rock was only dumbed-down covers played at your friend’s wedding reception/corporate event, Mattson 2 will make you seriously reconsider the endless possibilities between those two worlds. –Ryan Hall




Street: 01.22

Metatag = Tangerine Dream + Oneohtrix Point Never + OuOu

Metatag’s tape cover bears a strong resemblance to Joy Division’s classic, Unknown Pleasures, if it were isolated and magnified a couple hundred times. Much like that image of a pulsar CP 1919 radio wave, Metatag plays under a microscope. Often restricted to a handful of repeating melodies undulating and ringing out and full of the warmest, most shimmering digital sounds created sans computer, Transmission also breaks wide open at times with a free-exchange between typical folk instrumentation (guitar, harpsichord) and the siren call of a deep, soulful drone. The who of this 60-plus minute tape is the mysterious Norwegian who goes by the symbol Ɵ, who put out an equally unpronounceable album last year full of dark-ambient soundscapes. This ever-ascending marble staircase of crystalline synths scratches all the itches that tape couldn’t. An album full of John Carpenter melody and repetition without any of the creeping darkness—this is beautiful stuff. –Ryan Hall
Black Books
Believe Recordings
Street: 10.01
Black Books = The Besnard Lakes + Band of Horses + Slowdive

Black Books write big songs confined to small places. There is an epic and anthemic quality to Black Book’s cloistered little pop songs: a driving, pulsing urge to express something too huge for words written in broad brush strokes of soaring choruses and the diffused light of atmospheric passages oozing out of guitars and synths that blend ambient colorings into vital, crunchy power chords. All of this is centered around Ross Gilfillan’s pronounced twang buried under a thick cotton sheet of reverb. Still, these songs don’t get all Kings of Leon fake histrionics. They hum, buzz gently and ring out as tiny mantras for everyday living. Black Books is your first fist pump of the day on your morning commute. –Ryan Hall

pas musique inside spectrum album cover

pas musique inside spectrum album coverPas Musique
Inside the Spectrum

Alrealon Musique
Street: 05.12
Pas Musique = Nommo Ogo + Scrambles of Earth + Sindre Bjerga

Inside the Spectrum is 10 collages of morphing, undulating beats, guitar drones, manipulated electronics and acoustic instrumentation that, when put through the blender that is Pas Musique, sound like some terrifying, old-god mating call. Inside the Spectrum takes its cues and inspiration from the final frontier, blending in sampled lectures from physics professors and television edutainment from the Space Age that was still trying to understand and explain all of this new technology. What saves this record from another “interesting” (intellectually engaging but emotionally flat) designation is Pas Musique’s bizarro take on classic house, often allowing a 4/4 beat to ride into infinity while seemingly unaffected by the fuck-all weirdness happening around it. At a BPM right around our natural heartbeat, it makes the incomprehensible seem familiar and easily digestible. This album, with 10 tracks at around four to five minutes each, covers an ungodly amount of musical ground without sacrificing listenability. –Ryan Hall