As Glenn Mercer’s second solo album, one might expect Incidental Hum to be a continuation of 2007’s Wheels in Motion, but instead, Mercer has stripped away all vocalization and dimmed the sonic-lights. In Incidental Hum we have something more akin to Natural Snow Buildings’ The Centauri Agent incorporating island-like percussion, and a tasteful pinch of what made The Feelies ’80s rock darlings. Though some songs tend toward redundancy, Mercer attempts a wide exploration of sound: we hear touches of surf rock (“Hermosa”), Spaghetti Western stylings (“Yuma”) and even something of a Dances with Wolves B-side (“Twenty Nine Palms”)—flutes and all. Besides the drone-like synths that appear on nearly every song, there doesn’t seem to be a noticeable uniting narrative—making Incidental Hum seem more compilation than album. Yet with gems like “Cheyenne,” “Winslow,” and a cover of Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun,” Incidental Hum deserves a few casual spins. –Z. Smith
Whited Sepulchre Records
Braeyden Jae = Brian Eno + Merzbow
Fog Mirror, by local ambient musician Braeyden Jae (aka Braden McKenna)—released both digitally and on shimmering white vinyl—is an experience for the senses. Attempt, if you will, listening to this album with eyes closed, through a set of headphones, in a dark room, and tell me what glimmering scenes and fantastic thoughts crowd in and through your mind. Without the use of the other senses, your mind will begin to grapple at anything it can. Luckily, Fog Mirror is an album rich in scene and imagination, filled with the cosmic dust from which dreams are made.
The cover art above, by local artist Andrew Alba, cues the audience in on this particular and beautifully peculiar world. In a white rectangle stirs a scrawled creature, looking something like a Basquiat rendition of Shakespeare’s Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With eyebrows thick, chin covered in scraggly hair and a healthy dose of makeup touching its eyes, this creature speaks in equal parts to wonder, fancy and mischief. The white rectangle sits over a warmly serene pink background, giving one an impression of serenity and glamour.
“Vanishing Procession” marks the beginning of the album—an ethereal glimmer dances behind a crisp static growl and the occasional crinkling. Much of the album comprises slight variations on these sound types. “Obscured and Waiting” contains a more emotionally attuned sound. Featuring the same shine and static as previous tracks but with the addition of a patiently vamping piano, it ultimately provides the listener with a feeling of contemplation, perhaps on bittersweet detachment. “Two Mirrors Looking” expands upon those bittersweet notions to include, with subtle chugging in the background, a sense of motion and recovery—picking up the salvageable pieces. The final track, “fogged placer,” is a 12-minute departure from the ethereal into a world of saw-driven, industrial action. It is forceful, yet not out of place.
However dreamlike it may seem, Fog Mirror is the work of a careful and attentive artist: Each sound moves to construct and fulfill the whole in fitting ways, and there seems little place for pomp or vanity. It is a world for the listener to be and forget in, a world of perpetual dusk, a world seen through eyes touched by Puck’s mystic
flower. –Z. Smith
Father/Daughter Records & Miscreant Records
PWR BTTM = Midtown + Glen Meadmore
PWR BTTM’s latest release is something as sensual and raw as the title Ugly Cherries might suggest. Working within the queercore genre, Ben Hopkins (vocals, guitar) and Liv Bruce (drums, vocals) provide you, your boyfriend and your boyfriend’s boyfriend with an exciting blend of ’90s-punk-inspired/indie-pop-fueled tunes that end up sounding similar to Weezer’s Blue Album and Pinkerton—covered, of course, in Urban Decay’s Catfight lipstick. Yet, Ugly Cherries isn’t without its surprises. Both Hopkins and Bruce flex their musical muscles, from soaring vocals and exceptional stick-work to touches of ’70s stadium rock and surf rock. Lyrically, PWR BTTM are writing near punk-standard themes: breakups (“C U Around”), relationship near-misses (“West Texas”), future/ideal romances (“I Wanna Boi”), social anxieties (“Nu 1”), and meditations on seemingly insignificant events (“Dairy Queen”). Ultimately, Ugly Cherries is a “gay-mazing” (“House in Virginia”), sonically-diverse and boisterous half-hour ride—worthy of the most elite playlist. –Z. Smith
Nothing to Gain
Charlatan = Avenged Sevenfold + Pierce the Veil
Charlatan’s Nothing to Gain is a veritable punch to the throat—it hits fast and hard, leaving one in a state of shock while gasping for air. If you ever find yourself missing the good ol’ work of Chiodos—you know, back when they were swallowing the best of screamo and metal, sloshing the mixture around in their bellies, then hucking the concoction up to make a couple of really solid albums—then Nothing to Gain is the EP for you.
Despite only consisting of six songs, this EP manages to listen more like an album: There is a fine continuity between songs, the tonal shifts are gradual and pleasing and there is enough versatility in the sound, musicianship and vocalization to keep one’s ears precisely tuned in. The production value is high enough to validate even the most experimental moments, and the overall song structure allows the best and catchiest parts to latch on, no matter the level of one’s support, apathy or disdain. One of my favorites is “Bone Dance,” a theatric melding of Danny Elfman’s The Nightmare Before Christmas Soundtrack and the aforementioned references. It contains a certain pomp, playfulness and dusky hue. “Parasite,” which is filled with deep, gurgling vocals and virally catchy choruses, is also the closest Charlatan comes to a Rammstein-esque industrial sound. “Bundle of Queers” is arguably their most straight forward rock song, with every second more surprising than the last—and though I’m not dying to make a PC argument here, the frequent and rather aggressive use of the word “faggot” was a little much for me.
In listening to Nothing to Gain, one gets the distinct impression of a band that truly enjoys doing what they do, are acutely aware of how to make consumable yet stimulating music and don’t terribly mind the sweat and beers that just so happen to come with the life of intrepid metal musicians. Though Charlatan’s sound isn’t necessarily dated, it is at the very least nuanced, with more than a spoonful of nostalgia for the sweet sounds of Warped Tour circa 2009—but hey, it was a good year, so who can blame them? –Z. Smith
Secretly Canadian / Rough Trade
ANOHNI = Harry Belafonte + Randy Newman + Major Lazer
HOPELESSNESS, the premiere release from ANOHNI (formerly known as Antony Hegarty of Antony and The Johnsons), is an electro-protest album befitting our times. With her force-of-nature voice and musical collaborators, Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke, ANOHNI has taken some of society’s most problematic issues and paraded them through our ears for thorough consumption and thoughtful consideration.
The cover art above, with a background of brooding grey, depicts ANOHNI in a white T-shirt with long, black, scraggly hair and a cut-out face overlapping hers—perhaps addressing the “masks” that society often forces upon transgender individuals; ANOHNI herself is transgender. This image, ANOHNI’s face, with its beautiful yet unsettling appearance, calls into question the purpose of gender limitations as imposed by society. The artist’s name and album’s title are scrawled in a bold and somewhat rune-like script—speaking to a kind of nonviolent yet fierce and unwavering statement of existence and purpose. The cover, as a whole, compels one toward an unsettled melancholy, hopelessly hopeful—really quite in line with the tone of the album.
HOPELESSNESS opens with the single “Drone Bomb Me.” With a chorus of synths, percussive water-droplet sounds, spatial atmospheric noise and ANOHNI’s incredible range working together, the song explores the issue of drone bombing with the speaker pleading the drone, which has taken so much from them already, to blow their “crystal guts” out of their body. “Watch Me”—definitely my favorite—uses an ’80s prom vibe (read, “Forever Young” by Alphaville) as a means to address the sensual and predatory relationship between the government’s citizen surveillance and the surveyed. ANOHNI croons, “Daddy, I know you love me, because you are always watching me.” Church organs paint the moody and reverent atmosphere of “I Don’t Love You Anymore”—one of the album’s few tracks that isn’t obviously political. It is a slow-burning song that, inexplicably, seems to hold a level of guilt instead of power, as if reluctantly speaking those final though necessary words. It eventually builds into an emotive ecstasy, both vocally and musically, finding that sweet spot between finality and freedom. “Obama” is a minimalist song that speaks to the failings of our beloved POTUS. With no tonal variation to the vamping vocals and droning synths that politely crackle in the background, the song is as wearing as it is bleak—it is the listener’s test, the line that few will cross. Similar to some Postal Service instrumentals, “Crisis” plays out in bittersweet despondency. It is a natural bookend to the album in that it presents the drone’s (or drone controller’s) side of “Drone Bomb Me”—an unmanageable desire to kill intermingled with regret for said desire. The album closes with “Marrow,” which features a light piano, some running synth blips, and ANOHNI exploring the upper parts of her range. For an album that is based around this boisterous presence, pushing back at society’s boundaries and the governmental establishment wherever it can, “Marrow” is something of an underwhelming finale.
If one listens to HOPELESSNESS and its lyrical content through the lens of a protest album that addresses our societal failings, then the poetic beauty is lost, and the songs instead become several blatantly transparent damnations and character perspective monologues—beautiful in its own right, I suppose. If we ignore the political topics, tones and phrases—thereby losing an intrinsic part of the album—we are left with beautifully ambiguous, strikingly poetic language—filled with wonder and intrigue to the last. As ANOHNI’s first “solo” venture, HOPELESSNESS has apparent flaws, but by taking such bold risks sonically and lyrically, it succeeds often and with undeniable style. –Z. Smith
New Visions in Electronic Music
Hoops = Big City Orchestra + Michael Stearns
Masterpieces by local experimental musician Hoops is an elegant and monstrously captivating affair. Released by homegrown label, New Visions in Electronic Music, both digitally and on cassette, Masterpieces allows one to choose their own aesthetic experience. I chose the alluring cassette—with its minimalist clear casing, sharpie scribbled plastic insert, and white liner notes in devious black script. The first side of the album, “Part 1: For piano, tape and phonograph,” is marked by an incredibly loud hissing sound (presumably from the tape and phonograph) which goes on to create a complex and complementary motion beneath the piano. The sounds of the piano present a dual personality. On one hand, the higher octave keys are played in a riff-based, though nursery-like style—delicate, slow, and questioning. On the other hand, the lower octave keys are mashed down in heavy gothic-reminiscent chords—creating a fearsome and strict backbone for the treble end. “Part 1…” is later shaped by low percussive murmurs (similar to blips from an ultrasound), and eventually breaks down into a feedback-laden undulating beat.
The album’s second side, “Part 2: For 23 strings, tape and phonograph,” has a more homologous tone. The individual instruments are harder to pick out, marked only in between the ringing swells and lulls of sound. “Part 2…,” though certainly more brash in its content, isn’t without an ethereal, meditative quality. When the boisterous feedback, hiss and crackle of the tape and phonograph, and sinuously vamping strings bleed together, one is put into a sublime place, where gongs are echoing and heady incense is creating lace-like patterns in the air. And though “Part 2…” seemingly aims to defy beauty, it does so in undeniably beautiful ways. If you are looking for an album that is at once haunting and entrancing, look no further, for Hoops has created it—take it home, turn off the lights, light a candle and zone out. Or, if sitting at home isn’t quite the accompanying experience you are looking for, I suggest putting Masterpieces into your car’s tape-deck (your car does have a tape-deck, right?) and touring some poorly lit streets at night—carving paths in the darkness to an exquisite soundtrack. –Z. Smith
Ghosts in Pocket
Ghosts in Pocket = Phoenix + Eyes Lips Eyes
The name Ghosts in Pocket seems to suggest a haunting nostalgia which is willingly carried, perhaps for fear of losing that which was once so dear—or worse, losing those things to someone else. Barberton is pleasingly packed (lyrically and sonically) with such heart-aching notions—and each song seems ready-made to soundtrack scenes like driving down a rain-blown highway, walking the halls of your high school, post-graduation, or watching an ex-lover drunkenly stumble into another’s arms. Musically, Barberton could be aptly described as a mixture between The Killers’ Day & Age (“Barberton”) and Death Cab for Cutie’s Codes and Keys (“Separated by Ice”), and though not exactly unheard of, the sound is inviting and enlivening—and certainly a step forward from 2013’s Shadow Box. My only complaint is that this EP isn’t an LP, but it succeeds where many EPs fail. It exists in inexhaustible playability—insatiably satisfying. –Z. Smith
Monol!th / God Walk
Monol!th / God Walk = Jonn Serrie + Silent Servant
Released digitally and on cassette by local newcomer label, Gym, Monol!th / God Walk is as cinematic as it is peculiar. Ranging greatly in sound, instrumentation and general urgency, the usefulness of the split album is to neatly juxtapose two groups of equal ability, find solidarity in a common goal and combine two different fan-bases—goals this split album no doubt accomplishes, yet not without putting the listener through a rather elaborate listening experience. With each side running very near the 30-minute mark, this split is damn near close enough to warrant an individual album release each.
Yet all formatting concerns aside, the whole has a natural evolution about it: On one side Monol!th provides tidy, elegant, space travel–reminiscent sounds—think Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—and God Walk embrace a more gritty programming and synonymously dirty percussive tone. The Monol!th side opens up with a rush of deep saw synth, that ebbs and flows with calculated running blips dancing over the hum—an arrangement that inseparably reminds one of certain Daft Punk tracks. The tracks go on to include some daring bass flanges—wiggling wiggling wiggling—and proceeds to heavily border on sounds we may or may not have heard from Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. I found the attention to detail and subtly on the Monol!th side vastly impressive: each sound is handled with enough production know-how to keep the moving parts distinguishable from each other.
The God Walk side takes a more scattered approach, though in a warmly welcomed way. God Walk opens with a grandly expansive synth that devolves into background noise as heavily modulated voices begin to croon and brood over the track—touching here, again, on something bordering Daft Punk. With more straightforward aggression and affinity for percussion, God Walk take us on a journey through African wood lead numbers, tracks backed by hard hitting hip-hop beats and raindrop oriented sounds, and eventually land us in a place where atmospheric jungle sounds meet trance and deep house music—the perfect mixture of everything we knew and didn’t know we needed. Monol!th / God Walk has a wide-eyed wonder about it, as if meeting the uncharted ridge for the first time: This wonder is not lost on a willing and patient audience. –Z. Smith
Industry: Live Electronics
Hel Audio/Diabolical Records
Various Artists = Green Velvet + Gravy.Tron + Stars of the Lid
Industry: Live Electronics—sequel to 2014’s Industry—brings together 18 artists, representing newcomers and veterans alike, as a means of documenting the SLC electronic and experimental scenes. Hel Audio and Diabolical Records collaborated to produce this live album—with Diabolical providing the venue, and Hel Audio handling recording and distribution. My attention was immediately piqued by the prospect of a live electronic album, an unequaled documentation unfolding before my ears, but since the album was “recorded straight from the mixing board,” the live antics, audience and atmospheric sounds we’ve come to love from live albums like Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! by The Rolling Stones and Blink 182’s The Mark, Tom & Travis Show are lost, save for a couple numbers. The choice to value sound quality over organic presentation is one that I feel obligated to question in a live album.
The above criticism aside, when the Hel Audio gang gets together, dark, grooving, idiosyncratic sounds are born, and I’m for it. Industry: Live Electronics opens with “Reptilian Software” by RS2090—a fairly polite song concerned, mainly, with maintaining a level of comfort in its glitches, throbbing beat and space-warp sounds; it does not peak, nor does it feel obligated to. Tracerpop’s “Transit”—working much within the same sonic spectrum as its predecessor—perfectly encapsulates a dancy, hat-and snare-driven pulsation. “Ride,” by UTA Trax, has a slightly unhinged sound rocking—think a creaking rocking chair—over a hypnotic, fun and fast-paced chord progression. The succession of Big Club’s “Bandana On,” Angel Magic’s “Not in Love II” and Witch1990’s “Hong Kong Acclamation” represent my favorite section of the compilation—a little noisy, a little experimental, wholly captivating. The album closes with “Untitled” by Braeyden Jae, which represents, rather neatly, his particular brand of wind and ambient washes—it also contains the harshest noise on the album.
And let me clue you in on some Wizard of Oz / Dark Side of the Moon secrets here: Try listening to this album while watching 1940s The Devil Bat, starring the eternal Bela Lugosi; Ed Wood’s 1959, infamous classic, Night of the Ghouls; or 1961’s The Beast of Yucca Flats on mute. You’re bound to see something peculiar.
Industry: Live Electronics may be a bit too much fun for a neo-goth dance party, but hell!
It couldn’t hurt to try—I think I might –Z. Smith
Stakes is Low
Paribus Records & Toy Moon
Protovulcan = Zombie Zombie + The Orange Alabaster Mushroom
Nancy Reagan and I certainly do not condone drug use: “Just Say No.” But IF you and your friends had a sheet of acid and some time to kill, you might put Protovulcan’s Stakes is Low on repeat, stare at your glow-in-the-dark ceiling stars, and ride that trip hard. Musically, the album is a compilation of mind-frying surf-punk/acid-rock instrumentals consisting of Deric Criss’s powerfully prodding drumming and Will MacLean’s decadently distorted key-work—but ultimately a compilation lacking in any significant (and thoroughly desired) sonic variation. If there are any stand-out tracks, the playful “Making Eyes,” the fuzz-laden Dracula-styled “What’s Your Flavour,” and The Doors reminiscent “Busting Out at the Starry Roadhouse” would have to be them, yet it doesn’t seem a step-too-far to imagine this album as a jam from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem coming to physical fruition—in all of its suggestive glory. –Z. Smith