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Archive for the ‘Electronic’ Category

Rhythm is a funny thing.  For the avid music listener, then, I’d wager a fair sum that the way rhythms are internalized has a lot to deal with the way one experiences time.  And perhaps, even more so than a similar melody, or musical key, or instrumental timbre or anything else, it’s rhythm that can rightfully claim to be the preexisting undercurrent of raw musical material from which individual songs and artists only occasionally borrow, like drilling down through dry topsoil, through shale and limestone and dead rivers, only to hit, eventually – inevitably – on a current of time that speeds the whole world along with it.

That’s why, I suppose, these songs, which on their surface have nothing to do with one another, may actually be the same song in some meaningful sense.  At least, once you’ve caught that rhythm, you don’t hear it with your ears or see its sound waves with your mind’s eye – it works you from within, like your chest is a warm antenna pulling in signals from the center of the earth:

Gnarls Barkley, “Open Book”

Aphex Twin, “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball” (see especially the section from 3:04 onward)

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So, everybody loves mixtapes, right?  I will assume that your silence indicates agreement.  Anybody who’s spent any time agonizing over just the right track to follow this other one, or trying to match tempos between songs, or create a mix that serves as a meditation on the theme of ‘the pterodactyl’ surely knows that making a just-so mix is nothing to sneeze at (Just-So Mix ain’t nuttin’ to fuck wit’, etc.).  Or, maybe you just fell asleep watching High Fidelity one time, and so you’ve still got a pretty good idea about how sackless losers the world over get themselves exercised over the most ridiculous things.

All this got me to thinking, though: What if, instead of making a mix of songs, one instead tried to put together a mix of albums?  Sure, it wouldn’t be a physical product any longer, but o! just think of the mood-setting (not to mention time-wasting) possibilities!

So, don’t call it a mixtape.  Instead, think of this as Spinal Tapdance’s inaugural entry into a feature that I hope to make a somewhat regular occurrence: the Listening Arc!  Note that this is a much different beast than the Listening Ark, into which one piles ones Beatles and Mountain Goats albums, two by two.

The idea behind the Listening Arc is essentially the same as that behind a traditional mixtape: To arrange different musics side by side in a fashion that nevertheless makes sense, whether sonically, aesthetically, lyrically, emotionally, or whatever else you like.  Another way is to think of it as the musical equivalent of Six Degrees of Francis Bacon (it’s a joke, asshole).  That is, given a starting record and an ending record that may be vastly dissimilar, how do we arrange a movement from one to the other than never seems abrupt or without rationale?

I thus present Spinal Tapdance’s Listening Arc #1, in which, if you so choose to listen along (assuming you have or can, ahem, acquire, the albums involved), I shall attempt to get you from a lush, naturalistic album of shoegaze-y black metal preciousness to a cold, burnt-out hulk of a sullenly industrial soundtrack to an amnesiac’s wandering throughout an urban wasteland in five albums.  Neat, huh?
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1. Alcest, Écailles De Lune (2010)


Our dude Neige is perhaps one of the busier Frenchmen since Napoleon, having been involved in a myriad of frankly awesome black metal acts, from Peste Noire to Lantlôs to Amesoeurs.  Alcest is perhaps his highest profile project, and on this, his second full-length, he continues down the path of somewhat post-rockish, definitely shoegaze-inspired metal that’s notionally descended from black metal, but has dropped essentially all the aesthetic and lyrical concerns which first animated the lurching zombie corpus of said genre.  Importantly for this listening arc, though the album is intensely melodic, it’s not ever so much about the melodies as it is about the melodicism.  People who can’t stand this kind of stuff use that point to suggest the lack of riffs, or balls, or some such nonsense, but this album is entirely about mood.  And that mood, it ought to be said, is warm and lush and awesome.

2. Eluvium, Copia (2007)


When it comes to my favorite Eluvium album, it’s typically down to this one or the previous one, Talk Amongst The Trees.  That latter album, however, isn’t quite right to transition between Alcest and the next album in our arc, so Copia gets the nod this time.  This is essentially an indie drone album, but flirts with classical music’s minimalists, with great heaping spoonfuls of pathos.  This ought to appeal to fans of Stars of the Lid, Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and any number of other like-minded musicians and composers.  It follows Alcest’s record wonderfully, though, because Copia is all about heart-expanding, chest-bursting warmth.  Yes, this is drone, but achingly beautiful, forward-moving, and occasionally crushingly suspended drone.  And just like Alcest, it’s never so much about specific melodies, but rather about the meditative beauty that is sustained and occasionally punctuated with dramatic chord and key changes.  An album for daydreaming, if ever there was one.

3. Tim Hecker, Harmony In Ultraviolet (2006)


The ambient/drone/noise washes of Tim Hecker’s best album are a transitional match from Eluvium not because of their tone or mood, but rather because of their structure.  The two men seem to conceive of their albums in whole arcs, where pieces are proportioned and arranged in very particular ways, to lead the listener from one place to another (just like this listening arc itself).  Where Eluvium is all about the warm, full-throated clean drone, however, Tim Hecker is all about creating light and contrast with different strands of static.  This album may well be a noise album for people who don’t like noise, because despite the fact that the music’s constituent elements are primarily harsh and atonal, they are arranged in dramatic and, to be honest, perfectly lovely ways.

4. Sleep Research Facility, Deep Frieze (2007)


While Tim Hecker’s static washes combined to produce an array of color and texture, Sleep Research Facility’s genius album Deep Frieze is all shades of white and grey and howling, arctic winds.  Nominally a dark ambient/drone album, few records are as evocative of their subject matter as this; each song is titled after a different set of geographical coordinates in Antarctica (e.g., “82ºS 62ºE”).  This is a dark, cold, spooky record, but it is also full of haunting beauty and, in spite of all its noise and bluster (which never aims to overpower the listener, for the record), suggests silence and vast distance more than anything else.  The best thing to do when listening to this album is to read H.P. Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness.  Maybe keep the light on, though.

5. Blut Aus Nord, Thematic Emanation of Archetypal Multiplicity EP (2005)


And now, an utterly disconsolate endpoint.  Take a look at that cover art.  That is exactly what the album sounds like.  A monochrome landscape of urban blight, bloated and sodden with a rain that can neither cleanse nor kill that which sickens it.  The beauty and warmth which had lingered, though in gradually decreasing quantity, through Eluvium, Tim Hecker, and Sleep Research Facility, are now completely absent.  This brief little mini-album is a soul-sucking black hole of slow, twisted, not-quite-metal industrial plodding, shot through with swaths of dark ambient creaking and croaking and half-glimpsed faces fleeing through jagged alleyways where the wind blows and the sky is darker than the night which never ends and you cannot wake up and you will not leave.

All of which is to say, it’s pretty fucking great.  It’s also not a particularly cheerful way to conclude this listening arc, but I think you’ll find, if you’ve played each of these albums through in order, that you got from Alcest’s Eden-esque naturalism to Blut Aus Nord’s light-draining pit of nihilism without ever being jarred too noticeably.  If you ever felt like you heard the gears cranking, though, or saw the oily, sinewy outline of the strings being pulled, let me know where I’ve erred.  Listening is always more of a collective act than we generally think it to be.  Or, at least it should be.
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This concludes my first stab at a Listening Arc.  If you’ve got suggestions for a theme for a future arc, please do let me know, as I’d like to make this a regular feature at Spinal Tapdance.  You could also think of it as a challenge, trying to find two records so disparate in sound, theme, age, or whatever, that connecting them seems nigh on impossible.  I may end up failing, but hopefully in interesting ways.

Cheers!
– DHOK / ST

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In praise of some of this year’s releases that have featured prominently around Spinal Tapdance HQ lately, and in avoidance of some of the actual work I ought to be doing, I present a quick rundown of, as the title says, some of the new(ish) shit I’ve been spinning.

Beware the mad monk

Slough Feg, The Animal Spirits – Officially out today [ed.: Tuesday], I believe (along with enough other new metal releases to choke a horse, or at least force it into an equestrian approximation of headbanging), this is a nonstop grin-fest of everything wonderful and energetic about classic heavy metal.  Mike Scalzi’s vocals are as potent as ever, and the songs are both carefully honed and gloriously meandering.  Put it in yr ears and smile, smile, smile.

Color-by-numbers skeleton

Intronaut, Valley Of Smoke – For whatever reason, I’ve missed all the previous releases from this band.  This new album, though, really shook me by the shoulders and slapped me around a bit.  Excellent songwriting, beautiful textures, great clear bass lines and tasteful jazz-inflected drumming have kept this spinning over and over around here.  The instrumental title track may be the best thing here, though that’s not to downplay the judicious use of both harsh and clean harmonized vocals throughout.  Definitely recommended.

Climb it

Horseback, The Invisible Mountain – Tough to describe, but equally tough to ignore once it has sunk its claws in your flesh, this hypnotic album is something like an Americana act discovering krautrock and throwing in the menacing undertones of black metal.  Oh, plus the entire second side is a lilting ambient piece, the trip down the other side of the mountain after the first side’s arduous ascent.  A curious piece of work, but kudos to Relapse for picking this up for wider distribution.

It's good to remember how much you missed them

Autopsy, The Tomb Within – Brilliantly atavistic, mud-sodden death metal for murdering zombies.  It’s only five tunes, but all the death and doom you could hope for is alive and (un)well.  Welcome back, you perverts.

Brilliant artwork

Cough, Ritual Abuse – I haven’t got my grubby hands on the new Electric Wizard yet, but this new Stateside entry in the grand tradition of nihilistic sludge metal goes down just fine, all ragged edges and shaking hands.  Also playing of late has been Cough’s tremendous split with The Wounded Kings (reviewed at this very site by yours truly last week), out in November.  I’m pretty sure both sides of the split are streaming somewhere out there in computer-land, so get yourself to Google and soak in the doom.

Like 'Walden', but heavy metal

Celestiial, Where Life Springs Eternal – One of the most atmospheric albums I’ve heard this year.  Exceedingly nature-touched, overdriven-to-the-point-of-ambient ‘funeral doom’, though that genre description is hopelessly inadequate to describe the equally soothing and crushing sounds at work within.  Reminds one of neo-folk, without actually forcing one to listen to neo-folk.

It's a dead polar bear. Weep for this world.

Antony & The Johnsons, Swanlights – Antony Hegarty simply will not rest until he has made each and every one of us weep bittersweet tears.  This is fragile, strong, desperate, haunting music.  His duet with Björk is especially stunning, but the variety of songwriting styles on display throughout the album is most impressive.

Move your body

Gilles Peterson, Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura: Remixed – Last year’s original issue of the Havana Cultura recordings were already excellent enough, but here Gilles has enlisted the help of some top-notch remixers and reinterpreters to put a more club-friendly (without the horrific connotations that phrase can entail) spin on this broad pool of Cuban musics past and present.  Funky, soulful, and always a lot of fun.  It can’t all be heavy metal all the time, friends.  Gilles is there for you in your time of need.

Exhaustive, though not exhausting

Bob Dylan, The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 – A massive two-disc set of early demos of future Dylan classics, plus something like fifteen previously unheard songs.  This is a treasure chest to be explored, and in which to lose yourself.  The man is clearly not a ‘record once and move on’ kind of studio musician, as the strikingly alternate versions of some of these tunes illustrates.  Perhaps the most jarring alternate on here is the demo version of “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” which is slowed way down, and led by piano only.

Hallucinatory shoegaze metal

Sailors With Wax Wings, Sailors With Wax Wings – Debut album from this side project of R. Loren from Texan weirdos Pyramids.  Features a shit-ton of guest vocalists and musicians, but succeeds largely because it doesn’t seem bogged down by that fact.  The album still presents itself as a coherent aesthetic whole, featuring a gorgeous variety of textures and moods.  Best heard as a piece, straight through, with mind set a-wandering.

Mind-bogglingly fantastic, dastardly metal art

Akercocke, Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone – Okay, so this is clearly not a new album.  In fact, it’s from way back in the Stone Ages of 2005.  But SONOFABITCH this album is so good.  You should play it all the time.  Each and every day.  Also, if the gentlemen of Akercocke would see fit to give us another album one of these days, why, that would be just swell.

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Random bit of old news that I’m still bumming hard about:

Soooooo good

Beatrik went and broke themselves up a while back.  Dude also broke up his more straight-ahead black metal act Tenebrae In Perpetuum, which is also too bad, but man, Beatrik was where it was at.  If you haven’t listened to Beatrik’s second album Requiem Of December yet, well my goodness, you just really ought to do so.  All the best bits of depressive black metal, proper black/doom (like Nortt, see), and the great organ textures of Skepticism, topped off with fabulously excruciating vocals…  A really tasty treat, is what I’m trying to say to you.

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So, what’s been keeping you lot auditorially-occupied of late?  Don’t be shy.

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One can hardly crack open any corner of the internet lately without being subjected to the annual rite of Wistfully Realizing That Summer Is Nearly Over.  That fact, coupled with the release this week of Iron Maiden’s latest album The Final Frontier (itself a potential wistfulness-fest in its own right), which seems to have been one of the more high-profile and highly anticipated metal releases of the year, has left me with that vague twinge.

You know, that “Ah, shit, 2010, it was nice to know you, but I guess you’re off to stay at that farm upstate where you’ll have all the room to run and play that we couldn’t offer you here at home” sort of twinge.

So, as a bit of a patch on this collective maudlin tendency, I thought I’d tally up some of the albums which are still slated to be released in this humble Year Of Our Narcissism 2010 for which I’m most excited.  This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive (or even particularly informative) list; this is just the stuff that I’m keeping tabs on, all sweaty palmed and fidgeting in my seat.
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– Blind Guardian, At The Edge Of Time.  The full-page ad I keep seeing in the magazines has a quote describing this as something like “ethnic and pure.”  Sounds a bit dodgy, but I’m just hoping “ethnic” is a poorly-chosen synonym for “folk-ish.”  A Twist In The Myth was a little dull for my tastes, so here’s hoping they spice things up.

– Venetian Snares, My So-Called Life.  Not metal, sure, but Aaron Funk has consistently put out some of the most intense electronic music of the past decade or so.  Plus, Detrimentalist was the fucking shit.

– Christian Mistress, Agony & Opium.  Classic NWOBHM tunes fronted by a Björk-esque singer?  Hell yeah.  Bring it on, 20 Buck Spin.

– Infernaeon, Genesis To Nemesis. Their debut from a few years back was more than a little shaky, but I’m hopeful for this one.  Sure, this is unlikely to be the second coming of Nocturnus’ The Key, but hell, there’s a lot more room in death metal for keyboard experimentation than in black metal.

– Cephalic Carnage, Misled By Certainty.  Cephalic Carnage have always seemed like the quintessential Relapse band to me.  I know they didn’t pioneer the stuff, but their widdly death/grind/tech/whatever whirlwind tends to satisfy like lemonade on a sweltering summer’s day.

– Black Anvil, Triumvirate.  Pretty psyched for this, and you should be, too, if you’re looking for an updated take on Darkthrone’s mid-period crust-covered Celtic Frost-isms.

– Unearthly Trance, V.  The upward trajectory of this band has been astonishing over their past four albums.  Electrocution was a pitch-perfect distillation of what it seems like they’d been working toward all-along, so who knows where they’re going next?

– Melechesh, The Epigenesis.  Melechesh have lately been everything Absu quit being a while back.

– Drudkh, Handful Of Stars.  Drudkh’s form has changed deceptively little over the years, leading some to interpret that as stagnation.  Listen carefully to the last few records, though, and you’ll hear the results of slight tinkering to an entirely unique sound.  The prominence of bass on Microcosmos alone should have signaled that no matter how hateful the forests these Ukrainians haunt, they’re deadly serious.

– Salome, [Title Still Unknown].  Profound Lore has been dropping some tasty hint-morsels lately about this album.  Vocalist Kat added the third prong to Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s triple vocal attack on lats year’s Agorapocalypse, but hearing her vocals attached to scathingly crippled sludge is another thing altogether.

– Torche, Songs For Singles.  Rumor is, the record’s too short, and maybe also too awesome.  Blown off as pop metal by plenty of those who don’t realize that Torche combine some of the best attributes of pop and metal, meaning maybe the epithet’s actually a back-handed compliment.

– Enslaved, Axioma Ethica Odini.  The title seems like a Latinized version of “The Ethical Axioms of Odin.”  Presumably that gives just as little clue to the musical contents as the Latin version, though.  This is one of my most feverishly anticipated records, though; Enslaved have been completely unstoppable to this point.

– Krieg, The Isolationist.  Okay, so I really dug The Black House, but thought Blue Miasma was uninspired and dull.  Adding Leviathan’s Wrest to the band (on bass) is more than sufficient to pique my interest, though.

– Cradle Of Filth, Darkly Darkly Venus Aversa.  Wow.  This may actually be a worse album title than the new Enslaved.  Plus, it’s Cradle Of Filth, so any credibility I may have had is likely a shredded mass of bloody pulp by now.  But you know?  I still kind of dig Cradle Of Filth, and Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder was light years better than most of their recent tripe.  So, y’know: Fuck off.

– Therion, Sitra Ahra.  Here’s to hoping that bringing things back to a single-disc release can bring slightly more focus than recent efforts.  Sure, Sirius B / Lemuria worked well in tandem, but given how good just the right amount of Therion is, too much Therion is a headache-inducing proposition.

– October Tide, A Thin Shell.  More gloominess, please.

– Sailors With Wax Wings, Sailors With Wax Wings.  Pyramids side-project with tons of unexpected participants and collaborators from throughout the metal world?  Excellent.

– Kylesa, Spiral ShadowStatic Tensions was one of my favorites from last year, so I’m pretty psyched that they’ve already got a new album coming out late October.

– Vulture Industries, The Malefactor’s Bloody Register.  Slightly off-the-wall black metal from a who’s-who of mainstream underground (it’s a fine, confusing line) Norwegian black metal.  Not for the ‘true’, likely, but true for the rest.

– Virus, The Agent That Shapes The Desert.  I did a little plug for this upcoming album a little while back.  I’m hoping the band can get enough pre-order support from all you good folks out there in Awesome Metal Appreciation Land to make this a 2010 release.  Fingers crossed, then…

– Aborym, Psychogrotesque.  Completely fucking no joke, a few days ago I was posting on Twitter about how I was hoping to see some new music from Aborym someday soon.  Lo and behold, maybe the very next day or so comes through the news item that they’ve got a new album coming out this year.  Shit!  Generator trimmed back on some of the detrimental excess of With No Human Intervention and cranked out some seriously deranged black/industrial anthems.  That title’s a bit shit, but still my soul hungers for the bleakness.

These last few are already out in Europe, to be fair, but I’d really love to see them picked up by a U.S. distributor rather than paying import prices:

– Ondskapt, Arisen From The Ashes.  Last one was a beast.  Make this one beast-ier?

– Kvelertak, Kvelertak.  Everything I’ve read about this band has made me want to drink some beers and crank the record.  And yet, if I am forced to pay import prices for it, I will have no money with which to drink some beers.  An existential conundrum if ever there was one.

– Winterfylleth, The Mercian Sphere.  Their debut full-length The Ghost of Heritage was quite impressive, but had a few too-ragged edges.  Here’s to hoping they’ve smoothed out in all the right places.  Still, these guys and Wodensthrone are making an awfully compelling case for an English black metal renaissance.
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So, as you can see, friends, it looks like there’s still plenty to be looking forward to this year.  And that’s just counting the ones that I’m actively looking forward to; who knows how much metallic gold remains to be mined with everything I’m sure I’ve forgotten or overlooked?  Embarrass me with the breadth and exquisite sheen of your “Most Looked Forward To’s”

Oh, and I know I can’t include them here, but Devin Townsend has been hinting that the last two albums of the…quadrilogy (?) will both be released in March.  So, sorry, Ghost and Deconstruction, but I can’t put you on 2010’s list, even though I am milliseconds away from pissing myself with glee as I type.

Plus, I keep hearing random whispers about expecting a new Pig Destroyer one of these days, but nothing definite yet.  I mean, I keep prowling all over the damn yard, looking for something new with which to terrify my phantom limb.

My bones quake with the sickness.

The world is a frightful place, and hope the only salve.  Heavy metal for the common good.

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That's right, folks: rifles, not skyscrapers.

1) The debut album by Blood Revolt, entitled Indoctrine and out now on Profound Lore Records, is an absolute fucking FACE-MELTER.  The barrage of equal parts black and death metal (thanks to the instrumental prowess/degradation of former members of Canadian outfits Revenge and Axis Of Advance) is profoundly (har har) disorienting, but in a manner that always seems intentional.  The vocals of Alan Averill (of Irish pagan/black metallers Primordial) are a real treat, displaying not quite the same epic, soaring melodicisms of Primordial, but a broader range of spoken word, faster lyrical phrasing, and an all-around more aggressive vocal approach.

I suspect that I’ll be writing up an actual review of this album once it’s been given time to sink its gnarled teeth a bit further into my skin.  The real comment that I wanted to make here, however, is just to note how much of a pleasure it is to listen to an album whose pacing has been very thoughtfully constructed.  What I mean is, this album’s eight tracks seem to have been very intentionally arranged so that even when played on CD, the first four and latter four tracks play like sides A and B of an LP.  It’s a very nice symmetry which only works to enhance the nicely understated ‘concept album’ nature, as well as giving the listener the smallest of chances to catch his or her breath in between these slabs of furious metal onslaught.  This is definitely not to be missed.

Order it here, and learn more here.
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2) A little while back, I was whinging on and on about nostalgia, and about never having the opportunity any longer to be well and truly surprised by music (e.g., the time I bought my first Dream Theater or Swans album, never having heard of either).  Well, just a few days ago I was shopping at Reckless Records down in the loop, and happened to spot two (2!) brand new albums up on their ‘New Releases’ wall that I had not even the slightest inkling were being released.

One of these was a brand new album from David Tibet’s wonderfully cryptic and singular Current 93, entitled Baalstorm, Sing Omega.  So recent are these purchases, in fact, that I haven’t even listened to it yet.  I really just wanted to register my glee at having found this brand new full-length statement, fully formed and ready for the embrace of my earnest dollars.

The newest from everyone's favorite Coptic scholar and apocalyptic folkster

The second is the debut (and eponymous) album from a project called The Blood Of Heroes, which features Justin Broadrick (of Godflesh/Jesu/&c./&c.) on guitar, Bill Laswell (of, well, a fuckload of stuff) on bass, electronic artists Submerged and Enduser on, well, electronics, along with other electronic, live drums, and vocal collaborators.  I’ve only spun the thing once so far, but it’s a pretty interesting fusion of some of latter-day Godflesh’s dub-inflected experimentation, some of Jesu’s yearning melodies, with a bit of noise rock, not-quite-dancehall-but-close vocals, and a tasteful dollop of the slightly-less frenetic side of the breakcore/IDM/drum ‘n bass/whatever scene.

Toward a dark electro / post-industrial / metal synthetics.

I mean, clearly this is not exactly the same thing, since I already know (more or less) what Current 93 sounds like, and although The Blood Of Heroes is a new project, knowing a fair bit about several of the contributors gave me a pretty good sense of what the overall vibe might be.  Still, point is: Surprises are still possible in this here world of ours.

Or, maybe the moral is: If you don’t try and pay attention to every goddamned thing in the world of music, you’ll stumble across these gems, these bolts from the blue, more often.

3) On that same trip to Reckless, I came across a used copy of Summoning’s Dol Guldur in the clearance bin for $0.99.  Nothing much to add there, other than ‘Fuck yeah!’  These Austrian synth-obsessed symphonic/black metallers are equally obsessed with JRR Tolkien, so I’m just downright pleased as punch to have gotten so much Middle-Earth bang for my Regular Earth buck.

Sounds even better for $1

4) Overwrought expressions of grief always end up being more insulting, so I will just say that I offer my condolences to the family, friends, and band mates of Makh Daniels, vocalist of the promising band Early Graves.  Daniels was killed in a car accident earlier today while on tour.  The music world should mourn the loss of a very talented musician, but of course that all pales next to the real, human loss of those who knew him.

Ave atque vale.

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Hello, Internet.  I hope you are well today.

Next up on my quick run-through of a favorite artist’s discography is Autechre.  Before diving in, though, it must be said that I have two pretty hefty bones to pick with these two English dudes.  Bone the first: how in the fuck do you pronounce that name?  This is an issue that I’m much more accustomed to dealing with when it comes to metal bands with either foreign language or made-up language names evoking various degrees of unpronouncibility (apparently not a word, but you know what I mean) or apoplectic, saliva-flecked rage in the pronunciation (Anaal Nathrakh, for example, or Nazxul – pretty sure there’s no way to say those names without sounding dangerously close to the edge of mental breakdown).  But c’mon, guys – you’re English.  I know it’s a bastard mongrel language, but I should at least have a general sense of how to get down to chewing on your name with my sound-forming muscles.  Last time I did a bit of Google-imploring, the closest I was able to approximate is that it’s pronounced something like ‘awe-TEK-er’.  Thankfully, one of the benefits of not having too many close friends into the exact same music as me is that there don’t arise too many opportunities for me to embarrass myself by tripping over an obviously incorrect pronunciation.  Anyway, bone the second, which is really no fault of these dudes (Sean Booth and Rob Brown, by the way, for those of you playing along at home), is the stupid fucking ridiculous genre-designation ‘IDM’.  Stands for ‘intelligent dance music’, which is just a hopelessly pretentious label, and not particularly helpful, especially when Autechre gets to that stage where they started fucking beats so mercilessly as to make any attempt at dancing a surefire way to self-induce a seizure.

(Seriously.  Check out this [admittedly bad-ass] music video, and try to dance along a little bit:

Good fucking luck.)

Anyway, point is, I think IDM is a completely obnoxious term, and although it serves as a somewhat useful signifier for a range of avant-garde and off-kilter electronic acts from the early 1990s onwards (Aphex Twin, Black Dog Productions, The Orb [kind of], Plaid, Boards of Canada, µ-Ziq, or basically anyone early on the Warp records roster, &c., &c.), I hate it, and wish that, as a term, it would jump off a fucking cliff and die.  So there.

Now that I’ve got that off the ol’ chest, on with the music.

Incunabula
(1993):

Despite the fact that it sounds relatively conventional when compared to their later aural peregrinations, Incunabula arrived as a startlingly fully-formed whole.  “Kalpol Intro” is one of the most brilliant introductory tracks ever written, and its haunting washes of static perfectly set up the rest of an album which is both ethereal and robotic, cerebral and warm.  More or less straightforward rhythms propel these alien soundscapes, which, more often than not, are the structural support upon which are laid beautifully simple melodies (a trend picked up somewhat later by Boards of Canada).  “Bike” and “Eggshell” are particularly favorites, but this album works wonderfully as a piece, and comes absolutely as close as any album I’ve ever heard (perhaps barring Aphex Twin’s landmark Selected Ambient Works, ’87-’92) to serving as the perfect soundtrack to a slow-motion dance party for underwater robots.  Seriously.  Listen with your eyes.

Amber (1994):

Released just a year after their debut album, Amber is very much like a slightly spookier twin of Incunabula.  The rhythms remain mostly straightforward, but the synth washes and melodies occasionally suggest a greater undercurrent of anxiety or menace; see especially the opener “Foil,” or “Silverside.”  The comparatively briefer track “Nine” is a lovely piece of ambient suspension, featuring the type of taut string-sounding synths that will crop up later in Autechre’s discography, albeit in more and more chopped and processed versions.  Check out the seemingly effortless melodic and rhythmic interplay on display throughout the stunning “Further.”  This album also features Autechre’s least computerized album cover, by far.  Some might see this record as too much of a holding pattern from the debut, but I think it’s just as likely to see it as a refinement of the themes and moods of Incunabula; neither album, however, gave much hint of the sea change to be found in their third, and defiantly best, album, Tri Repetae.

Tri Repetae ++ (1995):

As suggested above, Tri Repetae is my absolute favorite Autechre album, and probably the one that would serve as the best introduction to the group for a virgin listener.  Basically, the way I envision it, this album is something like a fulcrum for the rest of Autechre’s recorded output, in that it balances the warmth and mostly straightforward rhythmic tendencies of the first two records with the experimentation and more clinical sound of much of the group’s later work.  This album still functions well as a whole, but whereas Incunabula and Amber felt very much texturally and sonically unified throughout their playing time, I have the very distinct feeling on Tri Repetae that each individual track creates its own sonic and textural world; the snarling bass flares of “Dael,” for example, introduce themselves right up front, but then Booth and Brown patiently introduce other elements in such a way that when all the layers of the song have been added, it presents an aural environment to just sit and get lost in.  Check out, for example, the way that the main synth melody in “Clipper” is mixed in and out of the foreground in such a way that the melody plays almost like a hymn to the Doppler effect.  “Leteral” is another strikingly brilliant sound-world; the initial rhythmic pattern sounds to me like pistons throbbing in a great steam-shrouded factory, but it is quickly joined by an understated organ and some gentle synth overtones which move that great factory into the clouds.  Obviously, I could go on and on about this record, describing for you exactly how the constituent parts of each song combine to produce a collision of density and space, harmony and industrial rhythm, and so forth.  Instead, why don’t you just go listen to this right fucking now and see/hear/feel for yourself.  Play it fucking loud, please, and don’t make me ask twice.  Oh, and if you do run out to the store and pick this up post haste (as you should), make sure to get the double-disc version Tri Repetae ++, in which the ‘++’ represents the two EPs (Anvil Vapre and Garbage, btw) collected on the second disc.  Special notice should be given to the completely heavenly closing track from disc two, “Vletrmx21.”  If robots could weep…

Chiastic Slide (1997):

Here, basically, is where shit gets a little weird.  Opening track “Cipater” starts off not too dissimilar to the rough industrial-style beats of some of Tri Repetae and tosses on top a fairly charming half-melody, but then about halfway through, breaks down into what is probably the closest Autechre will get to producing a dub track.  I think, based on some of what I’ve read elsewhere, that this album doesn’t rank super highly on the list of most Autechre fans, but it seems like a pretty self-evident progression from Tri Repetae, just pushed a bit further over the experimental edge.  Most tracks still maintain a pretty straightforward meter (check out “Tewe” for the electronic equivalent of a jazz drummer playing crazy fills with a set of brushes), although the overall tone of the album is cooler, and somehow slightly more distant.  Somewhat difficult to explain, I guess; think about it maybe like an android learning to make music by imitating the glorious moods and juxtapositions of the preceding album (especially gorgeous tracks like “Eutow” or “Leterel”) – the pieces are there, but stitched together in a slightly, well, altered fashion.  It bears pointing out, though, that the marimba-esque melody of “Cichli” is one of Autechre’s best, as far as I’m concerned.  “Hub” is probably the track rocking the most “other-ness” on here, and hints at greater bouts of rhythmic abstraction to come in the group’s future.  Another interesting tidbit: Check out the gut-punch rhythm of “Calbruc,” and then compare it to the main beat of Björk’s track “Innocence,” from her Volta record.

LP5 (1998):

Whoa.  LP5 brings to full flower some of the experimental tendencies on offer in the previous two albums, and cranks the wackiness up the 11.  Lead-off track “Acroyear2” kicks off at high-speed, something that previous Autechre productions hadn’t much done, and ends up locking into a groove that sounds like a simultaneously smooth and foreign drum and bass tune (actually, toss in some heavier drums, and this could actually pass for breakcore – it’s this era of Autechre that Aaron Funk A.K.A. Venetian Snares seems to have had in mind when putting together his excellent Huge Cylinder Chrome Box Unfolding album a few years down the road from this monster of an album).  Aside from Tri Repetae, this album is the other that I would direct newer Autechre listeners to, because it definitely amped up the spindly, melodic, yet still freaked-out tendencies of their sound, while still staying at least somewhat close to recognizable beats and rhythms, without straying into the extreme abstraction of the next couple of full-lengths.  This entire album is just remarkable to soak up, but a personal favorite is “Fold4, Wrap5,” which drops some seriously pretty tinkly bits over a constantly shifting tempo of gentle drumpad beats.  Autechre had always stood apart as innovators, but if Tri Repetae saw them exploring the outer reaches of our solar system, LP5 sees them taking a stab at modifying the gravitational constant of the universe.  Stunning, stunning genius.

EP7 (1999):

Kinda beats me why this one is technically classified an EP, since my version gives a running time of just about an hour.  Either way, most of this sounds like potential outtakes from LP5, but without the slightly derogatory connotation that sometimes attaches to such a comment.  “Ccec” comes maybe the closest Autechre comes to featuring a real live vocal sample, though it’s snipped and sequenced well past even Prefuse 73 standards, until it’s just another percussive element.  The tracks featured here continue to move away from the thicker and heavier beats of Tri Repetae and Chiastic Slide, and feature more of the hectically played taut-string synth melodies (I still can’t really come up with a better way to describe the sounds – occasionally it will sound like some sort of harp from the future, but not quite like any of that ridiculous nonsense Spock played in that hippie/cult episode of the original Star Trek…).  More tasty electro goodness, then, and who’s complaining?

Confield
(2001):

It is perfectly conceivable that certain listeners would have been able to follow Autechre to this point in their career, but might feel, with Confield, that they had lost the plot, jumped the shark, or whatever.  This is, frankly, a really fucking peculiar record.  Most of the sounds contained within it are not unprecedented for Autechre, but there is a real starkness and great distance in most of these songs.  I happen to think it’s still a tremendous album (and in large part, precisely because of that stark quality), but it’s understandable that those of us out there who would still like, y’know, something like actual songs from their abstract electronic artists might be a bit disappointed.  These are, nevertheless, some unconventionally beautiful and unique sound creations.  You can almost start dancing to “Cfern,” for example, but try it for too long, and you’ll likely trip all over yourself.  “Parhelic Triangle” sounds like a static-producing machine folding in on itself over and over again.  Closing track “Lentic Catachresis” is another headfuck, starting off like a cast-off Tri Repetae skeleton track with bursts of organ fractals shot through it.  The machines are talking to you, and they are trying to say, “We love you.”

Draft 7.30 (2003):

The random-beat-generating-software would seem to be in full effect by this point (though I’m sure more astute followers of Autechre history would be happy to tell me precisely when and where such software made its entree – I suspect it may have been somewhere between 1998 and 2000, but whatevs).  Besides featuring probably the best Autechre cover art (I know the totally nondescript Warp-style no-information-whatsoever covers are part of an aesthetic, but seriously: BORING), Draft 7.30 takes great pleasure in keeping the listener at arm’s length, with little semblance of traditional song structure, recognizable rhythm (or at least any rhythm that lasts longer than a half-measure at a time), or even their trademark quirky melodic underpinning.  These are generally cold, occasionally harsh soundscapes, which are fascinating, but can be quite off-putting if you’re not quite prepared for them.  “IV Vv IV Vv VIII” is particularly sparse and hostile, perhaps akin to striking a punching bag filled with mercury over and over again with a set of rusting golf clubs.  “61e.CR” lulls the listener in with a fairly straightforward 4/4 rhythm which actually stays fairly constant throughout the track, though the quieter bits toward the end introduce some softer percussion which seems to tug at the meter, while the album’s centerpiece, the 11-plus-minute “Surripere,” comes in with a warm, glitchy ambient texture not too far from much of Kompakt’s stable before it gradually pulls itself apart with harsher swaths of noise and deconstructed beats.  It’s not really accurate to claim that this album is any more experimental than some of Autechre’s others, but for whatever reason, the mood created by Draft 7.30 seems much more clinical and detached than a lot of the rest of their canon; whether that adds to or detracts from the album’s appeal is up to you, humble listener.

Untilted (2005):

Man, I straight-up HATE this album’s cover.  I mean, seriously.  Let your eyes soak it in – looks like either an uncool white suburbanite’s attempt at graffiti art, or like your slightly slow cousin’s elementary-school-computer-rendered portrait of Optimus Prime.  Bums me right the fuck out, pretty much beyond all reason.  Doesn’t help all that much that this might be among my least favorite Autechre albums, but at least the music is still about twelve thousand times better than that congealed-dog-vomit of an album cover.  Now, when I say it’s one of my least favorites, what I really mean is that this album will still robotically rock your face off, but just to a slightly lesser degree than certain other Autechre albums.  The extremely taut rhythms of “Ipacial Section” are a particular highlight, as is the laid-back funk of “Iera.”  “Fermium” veers almost a little too close to Aphex Twin (circa Richard D. James Album, I’d say) for comfort, but pretty much the rest of the album is unmistakably Autechre.  One of the biggest problems with the record is that several of the tracks seem to have a playing time which exceeds the amount of interesting ideas, such that a track starts off with a great juddering rhythm or spastic melodic bit, but then either grinds the same section on ad nauseum, or dissipates into a vague ambient/static haze.  This actually works pretty well on the massive, nearly 16-minute closer “Sublimit,” which seriously bounces all over the fucking place, even rocking some vaguely house/disco-esque tones around the 4:00 minute mark, but too many of the other songs overstay their welcome.  The machines are still talking to you, then, but now they are trying to say, “Hey, dude, mind if we keep crashing on your couch for another month?”

Quaristice (2008):

Three years between Untilted and Quaristice is the longest Autechre has taken between albums thus far in their career, and this record definitely sounds like they took a step back and did some reevaluation.  The most immediately obvious characteristic of this album is that it contains a whopping 20 (!) tracks, only two of which actually exceed the five-minute mark in running time.  Given my complaints about Untilted, one would think that this strategy would play like a godsend, but in fact, there are some drawbacks here as well.  The great thing about this record is the sheer number of tracks, and the amount of stylistic diversity on offer; beatless, ambient opener “Altibzz” flows right into “The Plc,” which rocks some woozy, wobbly effects over a distant bass thud and the clang of soft steel-toe drums, coming across like an orthogonal reading of dubstep trends.  In many ways, this album is reminiscent of Aphex Twin’s Drukqs album, in that there’s such a wide range of things going on throughout that it’s a whole lot of fun to listen to, but doesn’t end up being nearly as memorable as earlier, slightly more cohesive records.  These songs play a lot more like sketches, introducing a few ideas and running with them for a few minutes, before careening off into a completely separate stylistic direction.  It is occasionally frustrating, but just as often thrilling, to hear Booth and Brown rooting around through so many sounds, moods, and textures.  I am particularly fond of the nocturnal “Tankakern,” the “Rettic AC”-esque (from Chiastic Slide) static washes of “Fol3,” and the utterly disorienting “Lo.”  There are great moments scattered throughout, but as I’ve suggested, they take a bit more patience to find.  I also think that closing with the two lengthiest tracks, both of which are completely beatless dark ambient tunes, was a bit much, and winds things down on an anticlimactic note.

Oversteps (2010):

Released in February of this year, I’m still working on giving Autechre’s newest album the attention it deserves.  In some ways, the band seems to have resolved the complaints I had about Untilted and Quaristice, in that Oversteps features the non-trivial number of 14 full productions, each with shorter running times than the occasionally bloated songs on Untilted, but each song feels much more like an actual song than the shorter mood pieces of Quaristice.  To my ears, Oversteps hearkens back to the “album-ness” of earlier work like LP5 or Tri Repetae much more than any of Autechre’s other more recent albums.  In fact, I think I would compare this album most frequently to LP5, because even though the actual textures are markedly different, both albums tend to focus a bit more on exploring various synth tones and textures, rather than the abstract and random beats and rhythms of the albums from, oh, let’s say Confield through Untilted.  The chopped strings and harpsichord-esque “Known(1)” is an early highlight on this album, as are the delicate “krYlon” and the dark, thumping “D-Sho Qub.”  Apart from the slightly brighter, less abstract textures, one of the most pleasant aspects of this newest album is the rediscovered sense of “almost rhythm,” by which I mean the ability to put together a rhythmic structure which seems fairly conventional and foot-tappable, but then to twist and prod it ever so slightly to throw the listener’s expectations subtly off course.  When the beats eventually come in on the opening track “R Ess,” for example, just try to follow along.  Your brain thinks that it has got a handle on the subdued, shuffling beat, but it refuses to conform to standard meter.  Here, at last, the machines are speaking to you once more, and they are saying, “Come join us inside this black hole.”  Oversteps makes your cosmic progress toward the oblivion of the event horizon a warm and comforting (yet still peculiar and alien) journey.

Until next time, then, friends, keep a warm fire burning in your cold, robot hearts.
-d

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