Reclaiming Modernity


A Column

Jasss/Felicia Atkinson/Wilted Woman/Kara-Lis Coverdale/Teresa Winter/Maxwell Stirling/Shinichi Atobe

“In short, the true courage is to admit that the light at the end of the tunnel is most likely the headlights of another train approaching us from the opposite direction” – Slavoj Žižek

This courage of hopelessness defined a year that began badly, then got worse. As Ali Smith states in the first line of ‘Autumn’ (Penguin): “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times”. Must I count the ways? With my generation entering our own metaphorical autumn, the death of Mark Fisher symbolised not only the extinguishing of the light at the end of that tunnel, but also the derailment of the train. Inevitably, his passing hauntologically informed the unfolding year: the ghost of ideology past; the ghost of ideology present; the ghost of ideology future; reality as surreality; the stalking horses of parliamentary pantomime, hunting disadvantage in packs. Shock doctrines mocked, media moguls warped public perceptions, minority railed against minority, whilst division cheered from the benches, hiding in plain sight.

“And I’m up while the dawn is breaking/Even though my heart is aching/I should be drinking a toast to absent friends/Instead of these comedians” – Elvis Costello 

With academia seemingly under attack, it was left to the comedians to gather the commentariat slack. It’s amazing what you can get away with in the name of satire, until you’re eventually decommissioned, quietly. Stewart Lee and Frankie Boyle lead the line here in the UK, as the case for Doug Stanhope for president of the USA grew in stature, tweet by tweet. The threat of book burnings superseded library closures, plans to eradicate the past in a bid to stop us learning from history’s mistakes unfolded in Whitehall. Henry VIII powers lay in wait, the post-war statute book trembling in their shadow, a Queen before the gallows. The language of oppression chiselled away at the bust of the national consciousness, the constant drip-drip of a tap desperately in need of a new philosophical washer. Swathes of a demographic once united through Two Tone now found themselves estranged by Brexit. As Comrade Corbyn tightened his grip on power, the elite merely sharpened their pens, polishing their ceremonial swords. The unacceptable face of freedom. We will never allow you to govern.

2017 will go down in whatever purports to be history in whatever is left of the future as the year of ‘knowing someone in this life that loves with a passion called hate’ (Paul Weller). Those who once considered themselves the enemy within, now turn on the enemy without. 2017: The Year Homelessness Broke. With only the cult of the individual to keep us warm at night, a mere six degrees of separation between us and the concrete beneath the beach, we grope for our devices the moment we regain consciousness, to reconnect to the matrix, in this age of dislocation. There is no atonement in a landscape shaped by injustice. We are complicit in our estrangement from ourselves, our families, our history, our culture, our future. Condemned to repeat, to collude, at best unknowingly, at worse complicity. The fine art of sufficing for a generation born of rebellion, raised on unqualified success, ascended to hierarchal heaven, to gaze down, ultimately alone.

As is traditional at this time of the year, it has become a populist pastime to construct lists. The age of the internet has elevated individual opinion to whatever platform it can ill afford. The cult of the music journalist nothing but a quaint footnote in the dyslexic body of critical mass. That pile of moulding magazines in the attic of cultural oblivion. The relativity of subjectivity, a conceit that cannot exist, neither theoretically, or in practice. The notion that an assessment based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes or opinions, can exist or possess specified characteristics only in comparison to something else, is by no means absolute. There is, therefore, no universal truth, only a patchwork quilt of relative truths. There have been times, back in the past, where I would have scoured these co-called lists, searching for failings on the part of my own assessment processes, vacuums of disconnectedness in my personal hall of records. In our failings we become losers, as losers we live outside of margins. These days, the exhaustive nature of listdom renders the assessment process ever-more unapproachable. Who do we talk to when a body’s in trouble?

Accepting, then, that there is no ‘album of the year’ is a fiercely liberating process. Forgiving the sin of elitism through original singularity is akin to emancipation. To me, every record I’m listening to at that moment in time is by definition the greatest record ever made. Music is the very art of being here now. Transcending judgemental perspectives instilled in us by arbiters of taste, elevating engagement beyond consumption. Upwards, towards atomic oneness: a universe of untold possibility. In the past, we’ve produced our own lists. I’m not going to lie to you, or deny our history. We’ve even emulated dead heroes with Festive Fifties. This year, instead, we’ve merely posted the artwork to our favourite albums, as of 17/12/17. Some of these records we’ve written about in the preceding twelve columns of 2017, some of them we may well feature in future columns of 2018. No names, no pack drill. If you’re intrigued, do your homework. Reinvest a little of that old magical mystery into the anodyne process of year-end assessment.

Meanwhile, back at the plot, these are records I have fallen in love with whilst conducting my own limited assessment of other people’s lists, plus a few that got overlooked from the piles that litter the killing floor of the tMx bunker. As I’ve opined above, there are very few in the way of authoritative voices out there in the post-everything ether, thus I’ve collated this anything-but-concise anti-list using mainly my ears and my sociological imagination, from labels I love, and distributors I trust:

Jasss – ‘Weightless’ (iDeal Recordings): “I wanted to love someone . . . I wanted to love someone more than I love you”. So begins ‘Every Single Fish In The Pond’, the opening cut from Silvia Jiménez Alvarez (aka Jasss) debut long player for iDeal Recordings. As soon as I heard those words, I was gripped. They encapsulated exactly where both my head and my heart were at, the precise moment I first heard them. That connection launched a voyage of discovery into Jasss’ universe of dark jazz, African and South American rhythms, punk and hardcore attitude, industrial bleakness, dub space and experimental electronic topography. ‘Weightless’ is filmic in scope, an abstract wide-screen sonic epic of oscillating frequencies warped at the analogue altar of Santiago de Compostela. A record that resonates through the engulfing darkness of my winter solitude. ‘Weightless’ takes back control of the power of electronics from the bedroom fascists to instil beauty and rhythmic dexterity through femininity.

Félicia Atkinson – ‘Hand In Hand’ (Shelter Press): Seemingly impenetrable on first listen, the whispering intimacy of ‘Hand In Hand’ took me some time to fully embrace. I read the reams of plaudits with interest, hugely impressed, but didn’t fully succumb until very late in the year. For a while, the more I listened, the further away true love wandered away into the distance. Fascinated by the tones and the drones, the meandering and the bubbling, I persisted, but still the spoken words kept me at arm’s length, deep into the night. Eventually, the damn broke, early one evening, at the heart of winter, snow piled outside my door, my heart slighted, faltering, in need of both spiritual and ethereal sustenance, I finally found the courage to pledge my love to Felicia Atkinson. Once committed, the intimacy that at first scared me quickly became the connectivity that ensnared me. There has been no other record in 2018 that I have worked so hard to love.

Wilted Woman – ‘Home Listener’ (Alien Jams): Operating somewhere in the glitch-ridden middle ground between Beatrice Dillon and Karen Gwyer, Berlin-based Wilted Woman (aka Eel Burn) synthesises sinister bleeps and weirdly graceful tones that capture both the sweat of the dance floor and the relative comfort of the living room on this 5-track EP. Acidic analogue squiggles dart in and out of the staggering rhythms in a seance of apparitional manifestation, reimagining parity between mind and body. Arpeggiating particles accelerate on an elliptical orbit, returning in ovular fashion. ‘Bubbling Again’ is at the centre of this universe, epitomising the playfulness at the heart of ‘Home Listener’.

Kara-Lis Coverdale – ‘Grafts’ (Boomkat Editions): ‘Grafts’ is one of those records, one that invades your heart from first listen, and then forces the rest of your being to pay attention at gunpoint. Delivered in 3-short movements over twenty-three minutes, Kara-Lis Coverdale has captured the breadth of her art in bottomless depth in one sitting with this release. In tune with much of the 70s Italian experimentalism I’ve been immersed in for much of this year, ‘Grafts’ transcends such antecedents to soar above almost everything I’ve heard in 2017. There’s a wonderful immediacy here, a sense of deja-vu that envelopes from the first note: short enough in the moment to repeat ad finitum, long enough at its deepest point to imagine that it could continue into eternity without protest. Each movement is subtly different, building towards a crescendo of understated majesty that inspires both reflection and subsequent resolution. Sometimes it may indeed seem like everything in life is prone to let us down, but at the seismic centre of ‘Grafts’, an embryonic, strangely fetal embrace assures us that this music will never break its bond of attachment with the listener.

Teresa Winter – ‘Untitled Death’ (The Death Of Rave): From the mushrooms that adorn the sleeve of Teresa Winter’s vinyl debut for The Death Of Rave, to the broken electronica at its core, ‘Untitled Death’ is a portable psilocybin festival heading Wales-ward for Devil’s Bridge, sometime back at the dawn of the 80s. Imagine a psychedelic reinvention of Kluster, high on euphoric recall, beguiling yet knowing in its shapeshifting elasticity. Over the course of 6-pieces in the space of 32-minutes, Winter warms the frozen ventricles of any given broken heart, defrosting the imagination, reigniting the intrigue, refuelling the impetus for continued sonic exploration. The latest addition to my here and now, ‘Untitled Death’ forges a path of possibility that has remained overgrown since the cessation of psychoactive substance ingestion. As a pre-teen, the auricular sorcery of Page and Plant could achieve such mind-expansion alone, it’s reassuring to rediscover these pathways once again through the auditory hallucinations of Teresa Winter.

Maxwell Stirling – ‘Hollywood Medieval’ (The Death Of Rave): Son of erstwhile post-punk iconoclast and leader of Ludus, Linder Sterling, Maxwell maintains the familial tradition of challenging convention with his debut vinyl outing, ‘Hollywood Medieval’. Composed in response to his tenure working as a nursery nurse in support of his studies at UCLA in the early 2010s, the record delves into the contradictions posed by the extremes of wealth and poverty at the heart of LA’s fiscal elite through synthesiser abuse. Sterling pushes the envelopes of every constituent particle in seven flavours during a packed thirty-six minutes. Fault lines open up like San Andreas at the high end of the Richter Scale to reconfigure in unrecognisable alignments. ‘Hollywood Medieval’ is the kind of record I could imagine Mark Fisher writing about at length. From the visual stimulus of Linder’s artwork to the sophisticated compositional art at the epicentre of the music, Maxwell Stirling has created a work of great value that will echo outward into a future, far beyond this place in time.

Shinichi Atobe – ‘From The Heart, It’s A Start, A Work Of Art’ (DDS): Complied from three retooled undercarriages nearly two decades old, plus four new explorations freshly minted in a sympathetic guise, ‘From The Heart, It’s a Start, A Work Of Art’ is precisely that. From the sublime minimalism of ‘Regret’ to the metronomic static crackle of ‘First Plate 3′, this seven track EP ranks amongst Atobe’s finest work. House music all night long.

And finally, trakMARX will continue to exist moving forwards into 2018, despite a million reservations. There may be server transfers sometime early in the new year, which may affect transmission temporarily at some stage. We will keep you posted in this regard via the Facebook page (link in masthead). Thanks for reading in 2017, wishing each and every one of you everything you hope for in the coming year!

Jean Encoule - December 28th, 2017

Age Of Dislocation

Wohnstadt Carl-Legien_c_Landesdenkmalamt Berlin_Foto_Wolfgang_Bittner_DL_PPT_0

A Column

Graziano Mandozzi/Pauline Anna Strom/Alexandra Atnif/Musique Ambiante Francaise Vol. 1/Roberto Aglieri/Sandro Mussida/Equiknoxx/Sounds Of Sisso/Nihiloxica

As integrated societies fragment, both internal and external forces drive communities and families apart, smashed beneath the perpetual wheels of industry. In this virtual panopticon, the spectacle intensifies, through the pedantic drizzle of symbolic violence, arcing from the mainframe, like sparks falling from an angle grinder. An accumulation of situations ordinarily avoided by previous generations have become unavoidable in the halogen-headlight-glare of the obligatory Audi A4 estate self-preservation culture of 21st century western obsession. Torn asunder, the frayed familial ties that once bound us now flutter like ribbons tied to the branches of sacred trees, rustling in the idiot winds of trade disagreements and infidelity. The dissolution of my marriage was one such statistic in this sorry catalogue of social dysfunction. As always, in these sordid tales of adult betrayal, it’s the children who ultimately suffer.

And, so it came to pass, back in the winter of 2003/2004, driven from my family home, into a caravan, to nurse a liver that had ceased to expel toxins, I began the long walk towards recovery, and, away from the extended family I had grown to love so dearly since 1979. One of the great tragedies of said divorce was the loss of my relationship with my nephew, George. In the first picture I have of me taken with George, I’m 18-years old, wearing my faded blue Fiorucci sweatshirt, emblazoned with an iron-on-stencil that came free with initial copies of the Au Pairs’ ‘Playing With Another Sex’. My hair is blonde, grown-out spikes, crimped and hair-spayed to attention. George is a babe in arms, we were framed by the back doorway of his parent’s house, on the cusp of a shared lifetime of mutual musical wonderment.

Across the next 25-years, we developed a relationship resolutely founded on musical curiosity. I mentored George through wave after wave of musical shenanigans, comings and goings, as genre tides rose and genre tides fell, the eternal sea: through punk; post-punk; reggae; ska; folk; world music; hip-hop; acid house; jungle;; Americana; Britpop; black metal; doom metal; et al. George had an insatiable appetite for new sounds, and I’d compile cassettes for him endlessly, recommendation after recommendation. During these years, trips to Wiltshire, and later, Devon, would always include jamming sessions and performances for the rest of the family, and, before long, George far-exceeded my meagre talents as a guitarist. In those days, I was known as Uncle Punk, and my fretboard abilities as a humble strummer were rapidly eclipsed by George’s nimble fretwork. I can still recall the glee with which he first played me his take on Davey Graham’s ‘Anji’, a tune I still can’t play to this day.

As is often the case, it took death to reconcile us. The passing of my ex-mother-in-law this November brought the extended family back together once more for her funeral. As I arrived in the church, I spied George at the front, the first time we’d set eyes on each other in nigh-on 14-years. The surge of emotion was overpowering, a hug brought me to tears, a quarter of a century’s mutual love and admiration reconnected instantly. At the wake, we scrambled to fit 14-year’s worth of news into a couple of hours of conversation, the bond between us seemingly intact. I was simply thrilled to be reminded of the countless cassettes I’d compiled, and the resonance they held in George’s memories. This palate of impeccable taste I’d influenced, possibly even shaped, this cultural exchange. The magic of the peer to peer relationship; the exchange of sacral information; the reciprocity of connectivity; this passion for sound. We recalled individual songs, collective themes, scenes and dreams, each one of them powerful enough to change the world forever at the time, or so it seemed back then.

I was flawed when George told me that he’d been reading trakMARX throughout our estrangement. I’d genuinely never considered that angle for a moment. He even suggested it was time to resurrect ‘Cowboy Mouth’, the precursor of tMx, a hard copy zine that lasted one whole issue, indebted to Dave Henderson’s ‘Happenstance’. It was the first time I’d thought of ‘No Depression’-era in two decades: momentarily, I became disorientated, drowning in the history of my own musical journey, as long-forgotten obsessions flashed before my watery eyes. We’ve been communicating regularly since the funeral, and George has invited me and my daughters down to Exeter in the spring. George has played in many bands over the years of our estrangement, including stints in a major doom metal band that saw him tread the boards to audiences exceeding anything I achieved in my time. He’s got a functional home studio set-up, and we’ve agreed to work together on some material I’ve had lying round for a couple of years, and some stuff George has been working on. In this age of dislocation, stories of reconnection and families overcoming dysfunction are stories of hope: an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes. Both this month’s column and its selections are dedicated to the musical imagination of George Birch:

Graziano Mandozzi – ‘Masada’ (Holywax):

Mandozzi’s epic score to Hans Kresnik’s 1977 ballet, ‘Masada’, operates in similar soundtrack-boundary-annihilation territory to that of Bernard Parmegiani’s ‘Rock’ (Transversales Disques), explored in detail in last month’s column. The experience of ground being broken by the interpretive tools of jazz action, Milesian bad-ass-funk, experimental electronica and the liberal sprinkling of psychedelic shapeshiftery renders this intriguing disc from Geneva-based psych monkeys, Holywax Records, as a grail worthy of the label’s moniker. Remastered and tinkered to the sonic peak of perfection by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios in London, ‘Masada’ is a journey into sound that will leave you exhausted but satiated.

Pauline Anna Strom – ‘Trans-Millenia Music’ (ReRVNG):

ReRVNG, the paramilitary reissue-wing of NYC-based RVNG, has spent the past 6-years establishing a reputation of some repute in the discipline of shedding light into darkened corners. With a catalogue blessed by luminaries such as Harald Grosskopf, Craig Leon, K. Leimer, Ariel Kalma, and Anna Homler, the addition of this carefully curated compilation from San Fransican ambient legend, Pauline Anna Strom, is cause for some celeberation. Blind from birth, following complications relating to the premature nature of her entry into this world, Strom’s acute sensitivity to sound invigorated her with an incredible ability to create her own universe aurally, from her own home, between 1982 and 1988, using a Tascam 4-track recorder and a modest arsenal of analogue synthesizers. Immensely spiritual and deeply zen, immersion within the boundless confines of Strom’s universe is literally akin to the art of being here now. The connectivity of universal atomic bonds link the listener to the epitome of existence itself, providing an experiential reciprocal exchange that emphasises our commonality as sentient beings. Healer, spirit guide, Reiki master and composer, Strom’s belated canonisation is long overdue, and ‘Trans-Millenia Music’ stretches our flimsy concepts of time and space beyond the relative towards the cosmic. Magnificently packaged, pressed onto two sides of shimmering orange sunburst wax, this incredible release is not only one of the highlights of the year, but possibly of the decade thus far as a whole.

Alexandra Atnif – ‘Rhythmic Brutalism Vol. 1/Vol. 2′ (EM Records):

Following a string of limited self-released cassettes stretching back to 2015, Romanian sound artist Alexandra Atnif collates her back catalogue with this two-volume collection on Japanese label, Em Records. Inspired by the brutalist architecture that informs the urban landscape of her native lands, Atnif’s unapologetic approach to sound constructs imposing edifices to the former glories of the Communist experiment. Through the power of relatively accessible analogue technology, she has crafted a monolithic niche within the contemporary electronic music milieu. The sound of rust oxidising in the damp atmosphere of the mist of the tears of the proletariat. The sound of concrete infested with pyrites, silica and mica, constantly mutating in the harsh environment of sub-zero temperatures. The sound of oligarchs screaming digitally as they are torn limb from limb by the righteous masses. The crackles of their subsequent pyres oscillate through the mix in distorted collapse, as failed ideology burns in front of our ears. Informed on the one hand by the school of radical experimentalism of the 1970s: Throbbing Gristle, Nocturnal Emissions, Cabaret Voltaire, and on the other by more recent adherents of the discipline: Autechre, Prurient, Vatican Shadow, Atnif demonstrates the art of progression through both time and space across this brace of indispensable volumes.

V/A – ‘Musique Ambiante Francaise Vol. 1′ (Tigersushi):

Triple-vinyl compilation on Paris-based Tigersushi captures the zeitgeist at the heart of the French beatless community. Purpose built around Apollo Noir’s ‘Inspiring Images & Visual Power. Chosen With Love & Dedication’ and Glass’ ‘Heart’, the original concept of a split-45 eventually evolved into the 18-track, 2-hour-13-minute opus you read about here. In an amazing display of synchronicity, these 18-initially disparate sources coalesce in wondrous amalgamation, both consolidating and affiliating individual contributors in a synthesis far greater than the project’s curators could ever have imagined at the outset. Doffing berets in the general direction of antecedent Pierres, Schaeffer and Henry, volume two is reportedly already in the pipeline, suggesting in some senses a glorious accident turned brilliant mistake.

Roberto Aglieri – ‘Ragapadani’ (Archeo Recordings):

Florence-based Archeo Recordings delivers its second mandatory double-wax-bundle of the year, following sharply on the heels of Paolo Modugno’s ‘Brise D’Automne’. Again, the format is familiar: a double album, one disc on coloured wax (this time silver marble, as opposed to gold for Modugno), a second on black vinyl, in an edition of 100-copies. Forming an orderly queue behind the likes of Franco Battiato, Giusto Pio, Roberto Musci,Telaio Magnetico, Zeit, Lino Capra Vaccina, Claudio Rocchi, N.A.D.M.A., and Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, Aglieri is the latest in the long line of Italian composers to have their work disentombed from the 20th century and resurrected in the collective consciousness of the contemporary imagination. Originally released back in 1987, ‘Ragapadani’ does not come with a biography of its creator over-laden with detail. A flautist with a penchant for musical therapy, Aglieri espoused the healing properties of sound in taking the listener to hitherto undiscovered realms of acceptance through arpeggiation. This is music that demands to be inhabited, not simply heard. I would urge you to move beyond cliched new-age/hippy slights in approaching ‘Ragapadani’. Go in with an open mind and leave with a new perspective.

Sandro Mussida – ‘Ventuno Costellazioni Invisibili’ (Metrica):

Composed for violin, flute, clarinet, electric guitar, piano, percussion, and computers, and staffed by an ensemble consisting of Enrico Gabrielli, Yoko Morimyo, Susanne Satz, Alessandra Novaga, Giulio Patara, Sebastiano De Gennaro, Giovanni Isgrò, ‘Ventuno Costellazioni Invisibili’ sees London-based Italian Mussida expand the lineage of tradition in terms of Italian progressive instrumentalism outlined in the Aglieri review above. Experimenting with pitch, tone, speed and triangulation, Mussida approaches the art of classical deconstruction with elegance and restraint. Beautifully realised and sumptuously packaged, every aspect of this release symbolises Mussida’s unshakeable belief in the resonance of his creative process. Sonorous yet sparse, orotund yet minimalist, Mussida stands shoulder to shoulder with fellow countryman Giulio Aldinucci in keeping the home fires of constant redefinition across the spectrum of experimental Italian composition burning brightly.

Equiknoxx – ‘Cólon Man’ (DDS):

Following their hugely acclaimed compilation of earlier work, ‘Bird Sound Power’ (DDS, 2016), Jamaica’s Equiknoxx Music (Gavin Blair aka Gavsborg and Jordan Chung aka Time Cow) finally drop their long-player-proper in the form of ‘Cólon Man’ (DDS). The record’s title eludes to a Jamaican folk song, ‘Colon Man-A-Come’, celebrating the return to the island from Cólon of one of the 100,000 or so Jamaicans who built the Panama Canal. He left the island as a humble labourer, but returns with a certain swagger, a brass watch chain, and a zoot suit: “One, two, three, four, Colon man a-come (x 3)/Wid him brass chain a-lick him belly pam pam pam/Ask him what the time is him look upon the sun (x 3)/Wid him brass chain a-lick him belly pam pam pam/Zoot suit, eye glass, ‘Merican a come (x 3)/Wid him brass chain a-lick him belly pam pam pam/So fast him leave the island so quickly him come back (x 3)/Wid him brass chain a-lick him belly pam pam pam”. Recorded between December 2016 and June 2017, ‘Colón Man’ is a eminently more focussed and vivid affair than its predecessor. Melody is used sparingly in an abstract manner, reconfiguring original sources, spliced through effect and desk, evolving beyond parameter into something unrecognisable. Addis Pablo’s melodica, synth hooks, acidic grinds, doorbells, birdcalls, tin cans, chorales, bleeps, gongs, pinball machines, all are superimposed over mutated dancehall riddims as progressive as anything to emanate from Jamaica in years.

V/A – ‘Sounds Of Sisso’ (Nyege Nyege Tapes):

“For the past 15-years the Tanzanian megalopolis of Dar Es Salaam has had one of the most exciting underground electronic music scenes in East Africa. A constellation of micro-scenes from Mchiriku, Sebene and Segere all the way to its latest mutation of Singeli that finally after years of lurking in the underground has exploded into the mainstream and taken over Bongo Flava as the music of choice amongst Tanzania’s youth. Born in the sprawling working class neighborhoods of Tandale and Manzese, Singeli’s signature sound consists of fast paced frantic loops interlocking with each other, with influences from Zanzibars Tarab music all the way to South African afro-house coupled with MCs who often spit satirical lyrics about the challenges facing Tanzania’s youth, from police corruption to the complications of dating girls when you are broke. If there is one studio that stands out amongst the hundreds that dot Dar es Salaam’s musical landscape it is Sisso Records. Centered around producers; Bwax, Sisso, Bampa Pana and Yung Keyz Morento and Mc’s Dogo Niga and Makavelli, they were early pioneers of the Singeli sound. Whilst some Singeli artists have begun fusing their music with more traditional Tanzanian hip hop, Sisso have remained uncompromising in their sound: always raw, fast, with a punk DIY aesthetic that can at times verge on Noise and Gabber, to produce a spell binding music that is like no other Sound System culture in the region” – Nyege Nyege Tapes

Man, this shit is raw. I’ve only just unearthed this scene, and hastily snagged myself a copy of Boomkat’s 300-copy double-vinyl-coloured-wax repressing of this original Nyege Nyege Tapes cassette release. Alongside the Equiknoxx jam above, and the Nihiloxica tape below, ‘Sounds Of Sisso’ is a filling of quality in a sandwich of innovation. I won’t even attempt to qualify beyond the quote above from horse’s mouth, I simply do not yet possess either the understanding or the prerequisite vocabulary to do justice to this gargantuan release, beyond express both my total fascination and eternal gratitude to Nyege Nyege Tapes and the artists of Sisso for shining a sun’s worth of illumination onto the repressive darkness of my English winter.

Nihiloxica – ‘S/T’ (Nyege Nyege Tapes):

Again, there are no words presently, the last seven days have been a new voyage of discovery inspired by Nyege Nyege Tapes, and in my current incarnation as total novice, I am loathed to attempt anything other than quotation: “After leaving us reeling with the electrifying Sounds of Sisso compilation, Nyege Nyege Tapes introduce a scintillating and darker take on traditional Bugandan drumming with Nihiloxica’s debut battery of percussion and stark synth work. Revolving around seven percussionists plus one kit drum and a synth, their eponymous debut is a deeply grounded but sparking session recorded in single takes at Boutiq Studios in Kampala, Uganda, between 26-29th August, 2017.”

Jean Encoule - December 10th, 2017


Virosa Ebriosa (album)


Fragments: The end of a set at one venue, a near miss at another, a sense that something missed was significant as condensation and sweat hangs heavy in the post performance air. A shimmering chimera rendered accessible through the recorded medium. The antiseptic digital format does not undermine the visceral energies contained within its virtual folds; Virosa Ebriosa is suitably strong and addictive even when consumed within the most ascetic environment.

‘You’re One’ bursts in, coruscates, accelerating through a notional set of friction heavy gears that cause it to skitter and bounce, plain sailing rendered kinetic through its reflexive serrations. Literate lyrics hint at the outsider perspective and juxtaposed belonging, a syncopated scratch that balms the savage itch. A torpedo descent to the bottom of Davy Jones locker switches perspective, driven by bass dexterity ‘Pyrate Bad’ cracks open a barrel of fun.

Waters run deep. The greenback river of Jordan is polluted by the pure light of actuality. ‘Ghostwriter’ coalesces into a venomous scarification of artificiality before fading into the tar melting two lane blacktop burn of ‘Bombshell’, a standout track that supports malefic vocals upon a sleek, portentous superstructure. The themes are heavy but the delivery is made with accomplished light hands.

After ‘The Ballad Of Lucifer’ rattles through like a night train carrying forbidden pets, ‘Hate Parades’ dares to skank. Strafing and evocative by degree, the number scours its groove, adorned by sumptuous lead and rich harmony. A sensual travelogue is unfolding; epitomised by ‘Hate Parade’, a spinning madrigal of bittersweet umami that traces the journey from conflagration to dying ember. ‘Lipstick Graffiti’ emerges as a broadcast from the last wasteland, twitching and convulsing in the crepuscular half light to recount pulp fictions with magnificent malevolence.

‘Russell (The Soundcheck Song)’ and ‘Sounds Like A Douche’ return fun to the top of the high octane agenda, paint blistering lead combining with the latter’s entrancing melodic savagery to frame an exultant release. Intent and execution rule here, with ‘My Lady Castlemaine’ writhing like an uroboros impaled upon its own fangs. With vocal prowess unrestrained, ‘Rage’ brings in the home straight; a furious casting built upon a rock solid gallows, before the episodic ‘Valkyrie Eyes’ delivers its Ouija board lexicon, immolating the heretical spellings within a house of flames. Kinesis and allure are juxtaposed.

Finally, the ramalama punkarama of ‘Train Of Stars’ loops around the outer rim of the non-stop pogo-a-gogo, a demented Sputnik that arcs toward the killing floor. Soaking its entry point with the same sweet condensation and sweat that hung in the air weeks ago now. This is mischief with ideas – experience it.



Dick Porter - November 13th, 2017

Are ‘Friends’ Eclectic?


A Column

Haram/Belus/Sanguine Relic/Hell/N.A.D.M.A./Laura Cannell/Bill Mackay and Ryley Walker/Bernard Parmegiani/Dmitry Evgrafov/Invenciones: La Otra Vanguardia Musical En Latinoamerica 1976-1988

“Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx’s investigations. It is not the ‘belief’ in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a ‘sacred’ book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders. It is the conviction, moreover, that all attempts to surpass or ‘improve’ it have led and must lead to over-simplification, triviality and eclecticism” – György Lukács

Eclecticism is defined as a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or concepts. When I founded trakMARX, back in 2001, I was a practicing exhibition electrician. These days, I’m more of an eclectic exhibitionist. In 2001, we still bought records in shops; had a functional hard-copy music press; believed punk rock was a generational signifier worthy of continued relevance; and used mobile phones that required the wearing of a holster. Things change. Life is fluid. As some of you are doubtless aware, back in 2001, life for me was especially fluid, to the tune of around 280-units of alcohol a week. As I said, things change.

If you signed up to this zine sometime back in a distant decade when things almost mattered, you may well have been appalled at the outrageously not-really-punk-rock theories, styles or concepts we have foisted upon you in the ensuing years. You possibly ceased reading some time ago, when we stopped posting so many pictures of Debbie Harry, or parades of dusty old record sleeves. This is my truth: forty years after the fact, I’m still energised by music as an art form, and I find that irrascible punk rock (nee: counterculture) attitude in just about anything. Come with me then, as we dig through the virtual crates, to sample the giddy delights of an eclectic Marxist approach to consuming music in the twenty first century.

Haram – ‘When You Have Won, You Have Lost’ (LVEUM): One of a handful of punk rock combos to effectively engage with me in the past 12-months, NYC’s Haram follow their well-received demo and essential seven inch on Toxic State with a virulent 10-track LP on La Vida Es Un Mus in the UK/Europe (Toxic State is the US). Band-leader and front-man, Nadar, is of Lebanese origin, and his coruscating vocals are delivered entirely in Arabic, over tub-thumping drums and splenetic guitars, reminiscent (to these ears) of the work of East Bay Ray. It’s by no means all 1-2-3-4-rammalama, either: ‘The Voice Of The Hari’meen’, ‘What Is This Life?’ and ‘Road To Liberation’ quell the pace and stem the fury with intelligent use of spoken word, effective sampling, and a variable rhythmic approach that nods in the general direction of UK comrades, Bad Breeding. It’s all over in 21-radical-minutes, but it seems way longer than that in-situ, and that’s a mark of the quality of Haram’s art. In a year when dad’s, grandads and uncle punks all over what passes for mass media in 2017 remind you incessantly that its 40-years ago today since Malcolm taught the band to play, if I read one more essay claiming ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ was the only punk rock album ever made, I will hunt the authors down, and force them to listen to ‘When You Have Won, You Have Lost’, over and over again, until their ears bleed.

Belus – ‘Apophenia’ (Vendetta): Five years after their debut self-released cassette, Belus finally drop their debut long player. This New York horde have been keeping their powder dry, and ‘Apophenia’ is one hell of an opening statement. The band have grown further in stature since my entry point, their split with Anicon (2014), and this record finds them fully defining their sound betwixt the twin pillars of blackened doom and black metal. Drummer Jacques Johnson varies the attack with some decidedly unmetallic approaches, particularly on the angular standout, ‘Monolith’. Elsewhere Matt Newton (vocals/gtr) and Lesley Wolf (vocals/bass) trade gnarly licks, shifting shapes in the gloom, refusniks on the run from the genre police. Carefully constructed over the course of the last three years with assistance from the band’s engineer, Nolan Voss, ‘Apophenia’ kicks over the statues in its bid to establish a unique identity, an objective it achieves with room to spare.

Sanguine Relic – ‘Bitter Reflection In Luminous Shadows’ (Skjold): Originally released in stunningly limited numbers on Perverse Homage, this vinyl pressing on Skjold follows the label’s earlier vinyl pressing of the band’s ‘Vampiric Will’ (Defiled Light) cassette, back in 2015. Sanguine Relic are conspiratorially regarded as one of the most authentic US raw BM hordes in existence presently. Their tapes and vinyl pressings change hands on Discogs for frankly ridiculous amounts. Peruse the band’s below-the-line comments on their individual release listings on Discogs for a flavour of the discourse revolving around inclusivity/exclusivity in underground black metal. Kvltists karmically deride ‘flippers’ for their questionable ethics; Perverse Homage appear almost totalitarian in their approach to fulfilment (one copy per person; working in conjunction with the FBI counter-flipper team; trained team of handwriting experts; postcode recognition software). This begs the question: is it ok if I like your band? Obviously, as a relative fossil, I find all this parochialism faintly amusing, but remembering the protective instincts I once had as a younger man for bands I considered to be my personal property, I do appreciate the conundrum. The fine art of selling out is seemingly played out to the Nth degree in the 21st century. I’d imagine in certain dark circles the act of playing a gig could be viewed as heresy. Sonically, I’ve been developing an appreciative ear for the art of Sanguine Relic over the course of the last few months, but it has been fairly arduous work, I’m not going to lie to you. In terms of fidelity, they make Black Cilice sound like Black Veil Brides. One imagines the recording process to involve the careful etching of the songs onto a rusting chrome C60 with a 2B pencil, before some kind of primitive overdubbing, involving the use of condenser mics and broken boomboxes, allows the band to build their cacophony of dread by candlelight. Beneath the murk of the kind production values normally associated with underground noise bands (i.e. – makes ‘Raw Power’ sound over-produced), Sanguine Relic are actually way more melodic than my words may imply. The songwriting is impeccable throughout, punkish in its delivery, crammed with menacing riffs, decorated sparsely with fluid tremolo’d melody, punctuated by harrowing high-pitched screaming. Sanguine Relic are engaged in a relative spiritual war; struggling to cleanse their minds, their hearts and their spirits, striving to break the chains that shackle them to their futile existences.

Hell – ‘Full Length’ (Lower Your Head/Sentient Ruin): Salem, Oregon’s Hell have been quietly ruling the extreme doom underground since 2009. Over the course of a trilogy of long players and a host of splits, they’ve established a reputation as vile purveyors of blackened woe. Multiple issues across both cassette and vinyl formats have built a fertile catalogue, culminating in this cassette release, on the band’s own Lower Your Head, in conjunction with Sentient Ruin. M.S.W. and guest vocalist A.L.N. return to the fore once again with ‘Full Length’, collating various pieces assembled over the past three years. The album includes 2015’s ‘Sub Odin’/’Inscriptus’ seven inch; ‘Victus’ (previously released as a bonus track in 2014); alongside four brand new songs. Opener ‘Helmzmen’ sets the tone, with its blend of ultra-distorted/clean guitar interplay, interspersed with sickening rasps and spoken word samples. This is despotic doom, carved in heavy oak with a bloodied dagger. Precision music that crushes the breath from your lily livered lungs in spasms of humble consecration. Hell are equal opportunity oppressors, and you enter their subterranean world at your own peril. Their back catalogue has always been intriguing, if not a tad uneven, veering from ultra-doom to experimental doom opera, but ‘Full Length’ establishes a new paradigm of refined heaviness.

N.A.D.M.A. – ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ (Die Schachtel): Originally released back in 1973 on RCA Records, ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ is one of those records: one where the reality of the repress actually surpasses the myth of constructed memory. Long regarded as one of the most sought-after artefacts of the Italian avant-garde, ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ expands your mind, your spirit and your consciousness. As ecstatic as it is eclectic, it swerves joyously from free jazz liberation to modal folk traditionalism, and back again. Considering the staggering brilliance of the Die Schachtel roster, to suggest that this is one of the finest records in the label’s catalogue will give you some idea of the importance of this release. Steeped in mystery, the finer details of this recording are as scarce as the accolades draped across the original release back in 1973. We have the connoisseurs and historians of the Italian avant-garde to thank for any awareness in this regard. ‘Uno Zingaro Di Atlante Con Un Fiore A New York’ cuts through time like an insect crawling up the walls, to plug us into the zeitgeist of a truly egalitarian movement, one that defined the possibility of radical sound so effectively that it still sounds like nothing else to this day. Such is the mark of innovation.

Laura Cannell – ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ (Brawl Records): Violinist Laura Cannell’s fourth solo release follows her acclaimed albums: ‘Quick Sparrows Over the Black Earth’ (2014); ‘Beneath Swooping Talons’ (2015); ‘Simultaneous Flight Movement’ (2016). ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ captures the East Anglian fiddler over 11-improvisations recorded live in the semi-ruined church of Covehithe, perched atop the fast-eroding cliffs of the Suffolk coast. The material here was inspired by an art installation involving sound, light and a live stallion. Cannell explores daydreams, memories and perspectives, of both the horse, and the humans seeking to harness its power and strength for their own needs. Cannell’s fiddle and overbow fiddle conjure age-old visions of half-light and torch light; flitting shadows; the rhythmic cadence of hooves on sodden turf. There’s always been a medieval bent to Cannell’s work, and ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ duly echoes with the natural reverb of sanctity, befitting of the space in which it was recorded. I have cherished every one of Cannell’s albums thus far, but until now I have had nothing tangible to hold in my hands. ‘Hunter Huntress Hawker’ rectifies this with a limited cassette pressing, available through her Bandcamp page below. For the uninitiated, it’s a good place to begin your investigations. Highly recommended.

Bill Mackay and Ryley Walker – ‘SpiderBeetleBee’ (Drag City Records): I met Ryley Walker earlier this year, at a show in Wolverhampton, within spitting distance of the Molineux. He was charming, effusive and engaging, full of the veritable joys of being a respected travelling musician, abroad in a foreign land, posing for photographs with my companion and I. He talked briefly about the follow-up to ‘Golden Sings That Have Been Sung’ (Dead Oceans), set for release early next year, but conspicously failed to mention this second full-length outing with compadre-in-strings, Bill Mackay. The show that night was a revelation, bringing Walker’s songs to life off of the vinyl, breathing connectivity into my listening experiences moving forwards. It may have only been a slight meeting, but it brought his music alive to me, a shared moment that will forever connect me to the man and his songs. ‘SpiderBeetleBee’, then, is the successor to ‘Land Of Plenty’ (Whistler Records, 2015), a second rambling dual acoustic conversation in dialects as varied as you’d expect from such well-travelled men. Together, the duo swerve from Nick Drake-ist whimsey to Jim O’Rourke-ian gravitas with wit and verve, making their own path as they walk it. More than just ‘Land Of Plenty’ (revisited), ‘SpiderBeetleBee’ is a companion piece that compliments its predecessor perfectly. Ideal for long winter nights huddled round a one-bar fire in a tenement slum, wishing for all the world that it didn’t have to be this way, that you could be somewhere else, anywhere but here.

Bernard Parmegiani – ‘Rock (Original Soundtrack)’ (Transversales Disques): Recorded in 1982 as the soundtrack to Michel Treguero’s film, ‘Rock’ was created using a TR-808 drum-machine, a Synthi AKS, a Farfisa organ, and a Clavinet. Recorded entirely in Parmegiani’s home studio, ‘Rock’ uncannily laid the foundations for future records, such as Robert Aiki Aubery Lowe‘s ‘Two Orb Reel’ (More Than Human), reviewed in these pages a mere couple of columns ago. Splice ‘Rock’ with Jean Hoyoux‘s ‘Planètes’ (Cortizona), et voila! A member of the Groupe De Recherches Musicales, an electroacoustic composer in his own right, and a contemporary of Pierre Schaeffer, Luc Ferrari, François Bayle et al., Parmegiani’s reputation spent years languishing in the shadows cast by the success of his fellow musicians; decades of grubbing about in the margins. Paris-based label, Transversales Disques, are now set to challenge such isolationist narratives with their inaugural release of ‘Rock’. Ironically, Parmegiani began his creative life as a mime artist, before forging a career defined by the potential of recorded sound, largely in the arena of film and television. Bearing little resemblance to the bulk of Parmegiani’s work as a composer, ‘Rock’ instead owes more to the likes of Carpenter, de Roubaix and the Berlin School of 80s electronica. I originally stumbled across ‘Rock’ as a spiritual companion record to Pierre Mariétan‘s ‘Rose Des Vents’ (Mana Records), a vaguely contemporaneous Parisienne experimental sound artefact from 1981: the fine defined lines of the artwork, the similar yellow hue of the record’s sleeve, connectivity at play in an obsessive mind. ‘Rock’ unfolds over 19-short vignettes of effervescence: radical, modular, droning, pulsating, analogue dysfunction. Tonally captivating, nothing hangs around long enough to outstay its welcome. There’s something utterly fascinating about this record, it possesses that certain je ne sais quoi that’s also present in spades on ‘Rose De Vents’. An utterly essential purchase.

Dmitry Evgrafov – ‘Comprehension Of Light’ (130701): In a teeming genre pool as fertile as that of neo-classical electronica, it takes something extraordinary to overshadow relative veterans such as Max Richter or Jóhann Jóhannsson, but with ‘Comprehension Of Light’, that’s precisely what this inexplicably talented neophyte Moskvich pianist has achieved, in one fell swoop. If Richter is imagined as an electronic composer flirting with classicism, and Jóhannsson as a classical composer flirting with electronica, then Evgrafov must then be framed as a true hybrid, on a journey of expansion, undertaken within, not without. ‘Comprehension Of Light’ is thus defined as an inventory of self by the artist; a stock take of ethical and moral concerns; an internal audit, if you will. A vast swathe of emotional intelligence that serves as a juxtaposition to his previous piano-dominated lyricism: for an album composed by a pianist, the piano only makes four notable appearances throughout. Instead we are enveloped by a cosmos of resonating drones, punctuated by ecstatic string-led chamber interludes that rise from their sombre killing floor to soar like eagles atop the heady mix. I’ve been spinning this head-to-head with Godspeed You! Black Emperor‘s ‘Luciferian Towers’ for the past few weeks, and despite my eternal love for GY!BE, I have to say Dmitry is edging ahead. When I was younger, adults used to tell me that I’d know when I’d finally grown up, because I’d start listening to classical music. ‘Comprehension Of Light’ turns that maxim on its head, inside out, and upside down.

V/A – ‘Invenciones: La Otra Vanguardia Musical En Latinoamerica 1976-1988′ (Munster): Featuring Manongo Mujica, Banda Dispersa De La Madre Selva, Miguel Flores, Amauta, Autoperro, Malalche, Decibel, Jorge Reyes, Grupo Um, Carlos Da Silveira, Musikautomatika, Quum, Vía Láctea, and Miguel Noya.

Thoroughly enticing compilation on the ever-reliable Munster Records, collating Latin America’s embracing of the DIY ethic. The sound of South America exploding through punk rock, and out the other side. History has applied cult status to many of the artists featured here, and as with the febrile movements in similar timeframes I’ve recently been exploring in both Italy and France, there is much here that connects intuitively to the bulk of the extraordinary exploration that’s filled these pages in 2017. The counterculture of the 60s, like the atom, has continued to expand ever since its detonation, and it could be argued that punk temporarily became an inadvertent straightjacket; that instead of liberating a staid and lumbering aristocracy of dinosaurs, as the myth insists, it instead merely halted the tide of progression temporarily, before misappropriating all its best ideas in the name of post-punk.

To conclude, those who cite ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ as the only punk rock LP ever made, will doubtless bore you senseless with their justification of ‘Metal Box’ as the epitome of experimentalism. It’s a bitter P/i/L to swallow, but some people just seem to revel in being cheated.

Jean Encoule - November 10th, 2017

What Is Anything Anymore, Anyway?


A Column

Black Cilice, Candelabrum, Aine O’Dwyer, Yellow Eyes, Sanguine Eagle, Giulio Aldinucci (interview), Godspeed You! Black Emperor

“Happiness was never important. The problem is that we don’t know what we really want. What makes us happy is not to get what we want. But to dream about it. Happiness is for opportunists. So I think that the only life of deep satisfaction is a life of eternal struggle, especially struggle with oneself. If you want to remain happy, just remain stupid. Authentic masters are never happy; happiness is a category of slaves” – Slavoj Žižek

According to Austrian-born existentialist and humanist Jean Améry (1912-1978), cultural alienation comes fitted as standard, in terms of the ageing process. As we age, he argues, we are unavoidably faced with numerous physical, social and psychological changes in our day-to-day lives. In addition, we are inundated by a youth-oriented culture, one that promotes novelty ideas, one that continually challenges our perceptions of what we define as society itself. As we grow older, so the argument progresses, we move relentlessly toward becoming nothing: uncoordinated, unfit, unfruitful, un-young, and unwelcome. For those of us who have lived underground for much of our cultural existences, any given Saturday night in the comfort of our own homes in the company of mainstream television can be a traumatic experience. Seemingly, the battle to remain even vaguely culturally relevant has become a war. The alleged curtailing of our ability to understand new developments in the arts, or in a changing society’s values, can instil feelings of inadequacy. If we are not careful, we can lose touch with the wider world, increasingly inhabiting a world of our own, confined to our pasts, strangers to the new epoch. As Žižek rightly attests: la lucha continúa!

Picking up that Iberian baton, Portuguese one-man, uber-undergrowth, lo-fi, raw Black Metal army, Black Cilice, has been emitting transcendental transmissions from a secret cave location situated somewhere on said peninsula for the best part of the last decade. Dozens of demos, tapes, sevens, splits, compilations and four full-length outings later, ‘Banished From Time’ (Iron Bonehead) stands as his most cohesive statement to date. Breaking with established behaviour patterns subtly, in terms of both artwork and sonic palate, the album builds on what has come before, to win new friends and influence the kind of people who wouldn’t normally pay attention to undergrowth black metal. The album’s immediate predecessor, ‘Mysteries’ (Iron Bonehead), was lauded by some on its initial release as Black Cilice’s breakout record, whilst being simultaneously dismissed by trve kvltists as his sellout record. Whatever your position on that score, the production values of ‘Mysteries’ were so dense that it was almost impossible, even for the seasoned ear, to differentiate betwixt guitars and vocals, with any vaguely discernible riffs being interred firmly in the subterranean quagmire of the mix.

This time out, however, those issues have been addressed accordingly, thus ‘Banished From Time’ benefits greatly from a newfound clarity. Don’t get me wrong, this is still resolutely un-engineered material cloaked as hex induction that will doubtless continue to trouble fans of high-fidelity production values, undergrowth or overgrowth, but on ‘Banished From Time’ Black Cilice has somehow reimagined the quintessential beating blackened heart at the core of the genre in compelling fashion. This triumphant release succeeds in straddling the gaping divide between traditional and contemporary Black Metal effortlessly, retaining that singular European connectivity to the Norwegian elders in a way that much contemporary global black metal fails to realise, capturing that air of mystery missing on ‘Mysteries’. Instrumentation and vocals remain submerged beneath a black sea of reverb, but the presence of an audible bass drum brings a bottom end to proceedings that has been lacking on earlier Black Cilice recordings. The songwriting continues to develop, the aforementioned vocal howls and shrieks are largely recognisable, whilst there are few more visceral guitar tones operating elsewhere in the entire genre pool. In attempting to banish himself from time, Black Cilice has instead created a timeless artefact of shamanic Black Metal artistry that will do his burgeoning reputation no harm whatsoever. You’ve got to admire a man who conforms incrementally on his own terms by refusing to conform.

Originally released back in 2016 in stunningly limited numbers, this two-track-twelve-inch re-release from Black Cilice alter-ego (citation needed!), Candelabrum, is strikingly different to the artist’s previous recordings, belatedly collated elsewhere on ‘The Gathering’ (Altare): “Candelabrum music deals with the world of the dead, a dimension out of most people’s eyes, but present in the life of many. The vastness and the utter darkness of such a dimension is so incredibly violent that any kind of representation through my music is just a pale dream in comparison” – Candelabrum

Where previously Candelabrum forged atmospheric instrumental pieces at funerary pace, ‘Necrotelepathy’ features a brace of compositions shaped by high pitched vocals, resonant guitars, shimmering keyboards and insistent drumming. Part I, ‘Distant Voices In The Darkest Night’, had me from the get-go, there’s something instantly engaging about this song that will pierce the dark heart of lovers of mournful melancholia the world over. Within one listen, I was genuinely considering purchasing a copy on Discogs there and then, exorbitantly priced at the time at sixty of our English Pounds. Thankfully, I resisted that temptation, to be eventually rewarded for my parsimony by Altare several months later with this timely reissue. Part II, ‘Prayers For The Damnation Of Man’, meanwhile, is somewhat heavier than Part I, but retains the spectral qualities of all true devotional music. As a companion record to Black Cilice’s ‘Banished From Time’, ‘Necrotelepathy’ offers relative contemplative relief. Alongside the equally mediative material collected on the aforementioned ‘The Gathering’, Candelabrum shine a light in the abyss that becomes ever-brighter the more your eyes become accustomed to the dark.

Originally scheduled for a March 2017 release, subsequently issued six-months-later due to paternity leave on the part of MIE head-honcho, Henry, Irish polymath, multi-instrumentalist and former United Bible Studies member Aine O’Dwyer’s eighth release is of an altogether more beguiling darkness than the black metal visitations examined above. Recorded between 2013-2015 in the shaft of the Brunel Tunnel, ‘Gallarais’ (MIE) could lay literal claim to being authentically more underground than Black Cilice or Candelabrum. The shaft itself is apparently 50ft deep, with an acoustic delay of around 3/4-seconds, and the record exploits this natural ambience to haunting effect. Further to this inbuilt echo, a square window in the ceiling of the shaft allowed the seepage of incidental noise: from tube trains 14ft-below; planes hundreds-of-feet above; and the mechanical noise of water pumps situated in the vicinity. O’Dwyer herself described this manmade cavern of industrialisation as her “mystic cave of transmigrational sound”. O’Dwyer had previously launched an earlier release, ‘Anything Bright Or Startling’, in the tunnel back in 2013, to mark its 150th-anniversary, simultaneously commemorating the deaths of six Victorian construction workers killed during the original installation. Following reflection on said launch led her to approach the tunnel’s director, Robert Hulse, and she was duly granted permission to carry out her ‘investigations’ over the next two-years.

‘Gallarais’ (the record’s title translates from the Gaelic as ‘church of the foreigner’, a funerary chapel in the shape of an upturned boat cited on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry) sets out to recreate the ‘abstract heritage’ of the fine art of ‘keening’, Irish professional mourners employed by families of the recently deceased for their incredible improvisational vocalisation. O’Dwyer sees the record as an imagined reenactment of a keening ceremony, using site-specific found-sounds, drones, feedback and additional instrumentation as dirge. Opening with the gorgeously delicate harp work of ‘Underlight’, and gradually hardening towards the extended choral keening of the closing ‘Hounds Of Hades’, ‘Gallarais’ stakes its claim to uniqueness through 8-accompanying pieces that experiment with, and extrapolate, individual aspects of O’Dwyer’s approach. Following the organ-based density of ‘Music For Church Cleaners’ (MIE), ‘Locusts’ and ‘Gegenschein’ (Penultimate Press), ‘Gallarais’ offers up sparse esoteric ambience that connects the shadows of the departed to the mourning energy of their families, playing the role of audio Kubler Ross model. After living with these recordings intimately for the past six-months, I can attest that their stature only grows with the passage of time. Tagann rudaí maithe dóibh siúd atá ag fanacht.

‘Immersion Trench Reverie’ (Gilead Media) is the seventh release (forth long-player) from Brooklyn’s psychedelic black metal horde, Yellow Eyes, one that further refines and expands their intricate art. When I began trakMARX, back in 2001, I was resolutely of the opinion that a band’s debut LP was invariably its finest hour, and that trajectories mostly continued on a downward spiral after that fact. Sixteen years later, much has changed, if not everything, and its thanks to bands such as Yellow Eyes that that perspective has been reversed, allowing me to fully appreciate the concept of progression, and the reality that the exact opposite of this maxim is true outside of the confines of punk rock orthodoxy.

Yellow Eyes’s previous record, ‘Sick With Bloom’, was equally revered here in these pages back in 2015, and has continued to resonate wildly in my collection throughout the ensuing two-years. I’m not going to mince my words here, I’m somewhat of a Yellow Eyes devotee. For me, they take me back to my pre-punk teens, to the sense of wonderment that gargantuan dinosaurs Led Zeppelin used to instil in my then-impressionistic mind. The emotional involvement of listening to Yellow Eyes, for me, has become ritualistic over the years I have been following the group’s development. If this suggests that I am heading for my second childishness and mere oblivion, then turn up the treble, pipes and whistles, I’m coming home.

Sam Skarstad, guitar, Will Skarstad, guitar and vocals (Ustalost, Sanguine Eagle, Vilkacis), M. Rekevics, drums (Fell Voices, Vanum, Vilkacis, Vorde) and Alex DeMaria, bass (Anicon, Obaku), returned to the their Connecticut recording cabin earlier this year to record ‘Immersion Trench Reverie’, directly to tape, as is their wont. Having recently returned from a trip to Siberia, the brothers Skarstad came loaded with field recordings capturing the sonic essence of Russian winter, and it’s these field recordings that shape the record’s animating principles. Teeming with melancholic melodiousness, the twin guitars of Sam and Will duel freely in a manner that would doubtless cause a nation of banjos to hang their fretboards in shame. With M.Rekevics drums higher in the mix, a new sense of space emanates from the speakers. Yellow Eyes core elements may have once been forged in the smithies of Asgard, but they are now resolutely adapted for use here in Midgard.

The record flows like the Yenisei across the Siberian plains. The journey is one blessed by a highly defined sense of melodic continuity. Contrasts between refrain and dissonance, tempo and temperance, and luminescence and shadow, create both tension and relief. ‘Blue As Blue’ and ‘Shrillness In The Heated Grass’ feature the close harmonies of a Siberian women’s choir, bringing a sacral component to an already atmospheric ambience. Elsewhere, bells chime, gravel is trampled underfoot, doors creak, locks engage, dogs bark, and Eastern winds howl around the edges of the finest set of songs Yellow Eyes have created thus far. With an ever-growing roster of side-projects orbiting around the Sibir Records/House Of First Light milieu, there’s every chance that the purity of ‘Immersion Trench Reverie’ will be further enhanced again in 2019. In the meantime, hold this one close to your chest, and play it extensively, with the lights out: ‘Immersion Trench Reverie’ is released on October 20th on CD, digital and LP, via Gilead Media, and on cassette, via Sibir Records.

One of those aforementioned satellite-hordes is Sanguine Eagle, who also count Yellow Eye’s Will Skarstad amongst their ranks. Sanguine Eagle regard their particular brand of dark art as devotional music, exalting an unfolding magickal current they describe as ‘storm mysticism': “The practitioner becomes a personification of the storm itself as he experiences the long and painful process of becoming severed from the dream or banal realities. Embodying its rapturous ability to devastate as well as bring remarkable resurgences of life, the storm is a perfect exemplification of the mercurial power that can be harnessed from knowledge of nature’s mysteries, wielded of course by one who knows, wills, dares and keeps silent. Knowledge of this frightening totality is so volatile it presents as much risk and danger as it does progress. While led through these vestigial mysteries, existence will persist as a subservient entity and all of perception becomes his temple. As the spirit goes through this harrowing castigation, one finally gazes upon the fruits of strength contained at the zenith-heart of the storm”.

With two cassette releases available digitally through the band’s Bandcamp page, ‘Individuation’ (House Of First Light/Psychic Violence) and a split release with Oppression (House Of First Light/Productions Haineuses), Sanguine Eagle are establishing a reputation for pushing black metal in an ever-further down the left hand path. The stand out track from ‘Individuation’, ‘The First Storm’, is a psalm of epic proportions, and the ideal place to experience ‘storm mysticism’

Giulio Aldinucci‘s ‘Borders And Ruins’ (Karlrecords) is a record born of it’s time. A symphony of subliminal beauty forged as sacred sound. A collection of hymns to the dispossessed, the dispersed and the divided, the lost and the wandering, playing out in a gothic cathedral of union already falling into disrepair. Descriptors ultimately fail to do justice to the complexities of Aldinucci’s art, but I hear it as dark ambient, acting as the juxtapositional foil to much of the black metal espoused above. ‘Borders And Ruins’ towers as a stain glass reflection of the instability of borders; borders as weapons of discrimination; leaking chaos and cultural ruin on both sides; impacting detrimentally on the relationship between people and territory.

trakMARX – How would you describe your music to someone who had never heard it before?

GA – It is very difficult for me to try to describe verbally something that I try to push beyond words. When someone asks me, I usually just give a few basic cardinal points to orient (like ‘electroacoustic’, ‘soundscape’, ‘experimental music . . .), and a link to my Bandcamp page:

trakMARX – Considering your involvement in making music for theatre, film, and as creative art itself, which discipline do you consider to be your main passion?

GA – My greatest passion is definitely music, and I consider myself both a composer and a curious researcher/listener. I have loved visual art since I was a teenager; I fell in love with art-house cinema and contemporary art very early; my passion for Italian Mannerism came a bit later, during the university years when I also started to appreciate theater and ballet. Sometimes I think that if I had not become a composer, I would have tried to become a film director. A few years ago, I also started to learn the basics of photography (in which I find many analogies with the work and the research on the soundscape) and I am getting more and more directly involved with this art.

trakMARX – ‘Borders And Ruins’ is your first LP for Karlrecords, and seemingly your first vinyl release. How did you get involved with the label, and is vinyl important to you as a medium?

GA – The LP’s story began with a demo submission to Karlercords: the label really enjoyed the album from the first listen, and we soon started talking about a vinyl release. I do not have a univocal preference about a specific format: I buy a lot of vinyl and CDs, sometimes cassettes, and I recently added to my music listening equipment a hi-quality music file player. In my opinion, the ‘best’ format always depends on the type of music, and I think the perfect medium for ‘Borders and Ruins’ is undoubtedly vinyl.

trakMARX – The vinyl edition of the album is a joy to behold, the silk screen print is truly beautiful, whilst the red vinyl adds that extra something – how important to you is it to present a complete package as an artefact, and what’s the significance of the points of the compass on each of the record’s labels?

GA – Thank you! It was a real pleasure to work with a label that curates every single detail of a release like Karlrecords perfectly does: the whole process, from discussing with Joe Gilmore about the artwork, to the choice about the sticker color, was very interesting and constructive. Everybody nowadays can buy or stream digital and, in my opinion, the physical format should be a piece of art by itself that shows how much care and love was put into the music, not only a ‘music container’. The inverted points of the compass on each of the record’s labels remind us how relative the description of geography can be, and consequently that no country or continent is the centre.

trakMARX – Italy is blessed with a stunning lineage of precedents in the field of experimental music, how important to you is the work of the likes of Giusto Pio, Lino Capra Vaccina and Claudio Rocchi?

GA – As a musician based in Italy, I really feel that my country has a strong tradition of experimental music: there is a constant worthwhile exchange between contemporary musicians, and it is not so uncommon to meet someone who worked together with important composers of the past. I think the strong point of Italian experimental music is its variety, its pluralism . . . that it is also one of the most positive aspect of my country.

trakMARX – In these times of mass migration, xenophobia and fear are being employed by neoliberal administrations all over Europe to lock down opposition to austerity and challenges to elite minorities, what does ‘Borders And Ruins’ offer in terms of political commentary in this regard?

GA – ‘Borders And Ruins’ was born while traveling around Europe: I’m always fascinated by (natural and political) border areas, where the boundary between different cultures becomes ‘porous’. When I think about this, I’m mindful of a statement by George Siemens that defines learning and knowledge as grounded on difference of opinion. The album was also born from a reflection on the instability of borders, seen as an extreme attempt to discriminate and rationalize that turns into a source of chaos and cultural ruins on both side, and their impact on the relationship between people and territory. The more I was working on the music and field recordings material, the more I was feeling the need of underlining the human presence element. I see this album as an opportunity to observe the nature and to ponder if the human being is at the centre of our society or not: everything seems to revolve around profit and statistics to prove how profitable something or someone is (from Facebook likes to the stock market), but emotions are not easy to convert into money or numbers. Very briefly, my album is an invitation to the knowledge, to go beyond our physical and psychological borders; the alternative will produce just ruins.

trakMARX – Could you tell us a little about what you mean by the term ‘sonic diary’?

GA – Since I started making field recordings, I named the files with a brief description of the soundscape, name of the place, and date. When travelling I use mostly a small recorder, in order not to be noticed, often my only travel diary is made by those files alone. I can easily say that my whole field recordings archive, with hundreds of hours of sounds, is my diary . . . a sonic diary of which every second can be modified and re-invented in endless different ways.

trakMARX – ‘Borders And Ruins’ is, we believe, the second episode in the PERIKLAS series – how many further instalments have you planned?

GA – At the moment, I’m fully concentrating on new compositions that are a direct evolution of ‘Borders and Ruins’, nobody has listened to them yet!

trakMARX – And, finally, how does it feel to have your music described as ‘an ambient masterpiece of sublime beauty and sacral majesty’?

GA – I feel extremely honored, it is the highest praise for my music, a kind of ‘reward’ for all the energy I spent working everyday on this album.

Returning to our keynote theme this month by way of conclusion, the ageing process not only informs individuals, it also informs groups, and consequently, the art they make collectively. In the case of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, this leads less to the kind of distortion and confusion cited above, but conversely to an ever-expanding clarity that in some quarters has been mistakenly labelled ‘conformist’. This concept itself is somewhat perplexing, given that GY!BE have made an anti-career out of resolutely refusing to conform for nigh on twenty years now. Ironic then, that in the same issue that Britt Brown mourned the death of the negative review in an article entitled ‘Collateral Damage’, another Wire scribe alluded to ‘Luciferian Towers’ (Constellation Records) as having all the artistic merit of a late-period Beatles pastiche. Granted, this was not a deconstruction worthy of the lauded Robert Christagu, but it was illustrative of the “dialectic between artist and appraiser” that seemingly “functions very differently in the 21st century”. It could be suggested, therefore, that ‘Luciferian Towers’ is illustrative of the dialectic between the radical left and the commentariat right, one that functions very differently in the 21st century.

To this writer, GY!BE represent a rainbow bridge to the (admittedly) naive idealism of the radical punk rock left of the late-70s/early-80s, which has (nevertheless) served as the core economy on which I have built a (fairly) robust ideological perspective, and in that respect they are peerless. With ‘Luciferian Towers’, GY!BE have set aside their sixth long player to exhibit their most rounded, composed and considered music to date. Gone are the apocalyptic samples of yore, the middle-eastern motifs of ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’, the guttural drones of ‘Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress’, and the at-times over-bearingly metallic nature of the group’s post-hiatus guitar arsenal, revealing instead a consistent pastoral sensitivity not normally associated with the collective. The addition of free jazz sensibilities, spaghetti western melody, mariachi horns, orchestral dissonance and reflective glances back over the collective shoulder to the lonesome twang at the core of the group’s 1997 debut LP further enhances the sense of absolute maturation at the heart of this record. Whilst it could be argued on some levels that GY!BE have spent the best part of two decades perfecting the crescendo they achieved with aplomb on ‘Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven’ (Constellation Records), over eight movements here they universally reignite every touch paper they’ve ever lit in a firework display of emotion that triumphantly signifies change, growth and, ultimately, love, in its purest form. Admittedly, the filth and the fury are notably absent on ‘Luciferian Towers’, but in step with the world-over, circa now, the left are reconfiguring narratives. As George Monboit suggests at the outset of his indispensable new tome, ‘Out Of The Wreckage’ (Verso), “you cannot take away someone’s story without giving them a new one”. Whilst GY!BE may well be evolving away from the modus operandi of their radical past, they are developing a new story, and learning how to tell it. As Monboit asserts, “a new era has begun, loaded with hazard if we fail to respond, charged with promise if we seize the moment”. We need artists with vision at the vanguard of such a future, not lying on the sidewalk outside the Dakota building, shot full of holes.

Jean Encoule - October 1st, 2017