This music is pretty much exactly what I’d imagine those looking forward to this collaboration were hoping for, which is pretty great, and rare. Walker’s dynamic, near-operatic vocals layer wonderfully over Stephen O’Malley, Greg Anderson and Tos Nieuwenhuizen’s guitars. This isn’t necessarily what I’ve been in the mood for lately, musically, but I’m glad to have heard it and that it exists. Walker’s delivery of the line “No, never enough” in opening track “Brando” makes the entire record worth a listen. –T.H.
Minutes of Sleep
Scissor & Thread
Francis Harris = Smallpeople + Biosphere
Francis Harris is referred to as a house music producer in several articles. This might seem strange to someone hearing Minutes of Sleep from the beginning for the first time, but those composition/production inclinations begin to show—mostly in the rhythm programming—about four tracks into the album. Both this record and Harris’ previous release, Leland, were created after the loss of a parent, one of the most tragic things imaginable. Minutes of Sleep was written in tribute to Harris’ mother. Despite the experience leading up to its recording, the music—while downtempo in several places—is warm and alive, not resigned or hopeless. The presence of tape hiss, vocals, and organic instruments, juxtaposed with drum machine rhythms and synth chords, is very welcome. “Hems,” “Dangerdream” and the title track are my favorites, as they eschew the House rhythms found in the album’s middle and tend more toward atmosphere, which I’m in the mood for right now. –T.H.
Andy D Presents the Weekend
Andy D = Scissor Scissors + Chromeo
The cover art for War Cries is some of the worst I have seen in a while. I was hoping that the music would be enjoyable enough to create some sort of balance, but it was not for me at all. Of course, not everybody is going to enjoy everything—I just don’t particularly enjoy writing entirely negative reviews. I have heard plenty of albums that sound like dance music that may have been made by/for people who hate dance music, or would rather joke on something than own up to it—which is insulting to the music and audience. To give War Cries the benefit of the doubt, at least Andy D sounds like he’s enjoying himself and puts effort into the album’s production. The record was Kickstarter-funded, and contributors are thanked in the liner notes. I am glad that there is a supportive audience for War Cries. Hopefully, they’re enjoying the work they helped finance. –T.H.
Oxygen contains four variations on the track from Swans’ most recent release, To Be Kind. An “edit” that, of the versions here, is closest to that on the record—with a few surprises—is an early skeleton of the song, with Michael Gira and an acoustic guitar. He’s documented early song ideas this way for a long time, releasing the last several sets that became Angels of Light/Swans albums. There is also an acoustic version similar to the song sketch, but more realized. The EP also features a live version—for anyone who’s seen the band live, it’s a given that no recording can truly represent the feeling of seeing this band perform—something singular, beautiful, brutal and astounding in its emotional range. Also, having dedicated full LP sides to one song, Swans is not a singles kind of band. This collection of variations is best heard as a document of a song’s evolution. In this case, beginning in a room, just a person and a guitar—then being presented to the world. –T.H.
The Blue Eyes Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
JG Thirlwell = Mike Patton soundtracks + Angelo Badalamenti + Bruno Nicolai
JG Thirlwell has worked under many pseudonyms and project titles—Foetus being the most frequently used and well known. The Blue Eyes, released last year under Thirlwell’s given name, was accompanied by SOAK—under the Foetus moniker. The man is prolific, having also worked with Zola Jesus on a collection of reworked compositions. Those who may be unfamiliar with Thirlwell’s name have heard his work if they’ve ever watched The Venture Brothers. He is equally adept at creating soundscapes, delving into manic sonic experimentation and sweeping near-operatic romanticism, to composing more straightforward scores. The Blue Eyes is a dark affair, heavy on noir swells, plucked strings, drawn noise, and bass whispers. It sets and maintains a mood. I haven’t seen the film, but enjoyed the score. “Hanging Curse,” “Closet Eyes” and “VW” are recommended for a sense of the album’s overall feel. –T.H.
Scarred For Life
Moira Scar = Psychic TV + Naked City + Einstürzende Neubauten
Moira Scar is an Oakland, Cal., trio fond of wordplay—"De/Monster/A-Tiff" is the title of the opening track on Scarred for Life. That first track is a good guide for the direction the album will be taking. It starts ugly, and stays that way. It’s safe to assume that this is the point. Fans of Throbbing Gristle or those who take comfort in the uncomfortable should seek this record out. Not for everyone, but there is certainly a place for this music — art-damaged, freak/leftfield circles, especially. Each member plays multiple instruments, contributing to a cacophony much greater than one would assume a trio might be capable of making. If this is the case with their live presentation as well, which includes masks, bizarre headwear, and assorted props, Moira Scar must put on quite a show.
VISTAAS = Pierre Schaeffer + Oneohtrix Point Never
Sunkhronos is a sample-heavy, cut-up work. This record has the feel of a found cassette in sections—the rare type where ferric tape hiss actually adds to the musicality. I would refer to it as musique concrète more readily than, say, a beat tape. However, there are some interesting rhythmic elements, as on “Putrefacere,” though they are not percussive. The sound is warm, and the production is clever. I could do without a few speech samples—which tend to bother me in most of the sample-based cases in which they appear—but even so, a few of the shorter ones add favorably to the music. I look forward to hearing more from VISTAAS. –T.H.
The ’81 Demos
Blackest Ever Black
Weekend = Young Marble Giants + Slowdive + Gareth Williams and Mary Currie
Weekend (who existed long before The Weeknd) were an early-’80s UK trio formed in the aftermath of frontwoman Alison Statton’s previous band Young Marble Giants. The demos presented here are more sparse in sound and instrumentation than the tracks that later appeared on 1982’s La Varieté, the only album released by the band. This is a short set of songs, but it’s rather beautiful, and without any moments wasted. Weekend is usually referred to as “post-punk” in the press. Seeing as that is a fairly broad reference, it applies, but the band’s sound is more post-punk in the way that Gareth Williams’ solo work is than, say, PiL. Mid-tempo, often atmospheric, yet playful pieces pair comfortably with delivered vocals that never strain. Every song is good, and there are only four in the set. –T.H.
The Haxan Cloak
The Haxan Cloak = Demdike Stare + Carpenter/Howarth scores + Raime
Throughout Excavation, Bobby Krlic makes incredible use of his background in sound design. There is a great deal to be heard on this record, all of it perfectly-rendered and treated in a manner that creates a seemingly tangible environment. The music may register on the darker end of the spectrum, likely due to the use of detailed low end—and overall sense of depth, but I don’t necessarily feel weighted down while listening. It’s a fascinating, impressively-crafted record, and already one of my favorites of this year. Disembodied vocals and various instruments are shaped to whatever end Krlic has deemed appropriate or necessary for each piece. "Dieu" moves at a grainy near-stutter with strings, sampled voice, and a chopped rhythm accompanied by buzzing bass. "The Mirror Reflecting (Part 2)" and "The Drop" are fantastic reference points. The latter featuring a beautiful synth melody line and closing the album without any more needing to be said. –T.H.
Dub Thompson = Pere Ubu + The Outsiders
Dub Thompson are a teenage duo with a somewhat bland name and a sound that ranges between the bands listed above or, as in “No Time,” a group like Trail of Dead bastardizing an English Beat cover. 9 Songs is a pretty decent record that I probably would not have sought out had it not been assigned for review. Its blown-out, low-end heavy brand of grit-pop may not be anything new — but the execution is skillfully and confidently rendered. The title track and “Pterodactyls,” because dinosaurs, are recommended as reference tracks. If you like those two, you’ll likely enjoy 9 Songs in its entirety. –T.H.