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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Hecker’

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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Pyramids with Nadja, Pyramids with Nadja (2009)

Peace like a river

Released fairly late last-year on the frequently-excellent Hydra Head Records, this album is a collaborative effort that I never would have predicted, but which makes a good deal of sense now that it’s happened.  Most of the reviews that I’ve read of this album have come to the material with a lot of background in Nadja, but basically none in Pyramids; my experience is essentially the opposite.

To put it bluntly, I’ve always found Nadja to be rather alienating.  I feel like I really started to hear a lot about them around the time Body Cage came out, and I remember enjoying that album a fair amount, but the sheer volume of material this experimental drone/shoegaze duo have released since then is astounding.  Seems like a churlish thing to complain about, but they’re one of those bands that I can’t help but think is in desperate need of an editor.  You know the ones I’m talking about: Hellveto, Xasthur, Striborg, I’m looking at you.  I really enjoy all of those bands, in fact, but the overwhelming quantity of their music makes the task of differentiating them based on their quality a challenge that I typically don’t care enough to confront.

Pyramids, on the other hand, are a young band, with just their 2008 self-titled album released thus far.  That album, which included a second disc of remixed tracks from the impressive likes of Blut Aus Nord (a key touchstone, as I’ll explain in a bit), Justin Broadrick, and James Plotkin, among others, was absolutely astounding.  The most astonishing thing about their ghostly, unsettling, and otherwordly sound was just how fully formed it seemed, particularly for a debut album.

Incorporating bits of post-rock, ambient, electronic musics, and black metal into their swirling vision, the best way I’ve come up with for describing the sound of Pyramids is as basically the polar opposite of Blut Aus Nord’s excellent MoRT album.  That is, where MoRT took the accumulated traditions of black metal and shoved them through a pitch-black prism, Pyramids’ debut album takes those same traditions, grafts onto it a heap of other inspirations, and refracts the whole mess through a prism of shimmering light.

This collaboration with Nadja, then, stretches out their given format (most of the songs on the debut album only hit around the three-minute mark or so), and encases their weirdnesses in swaths of ambience, warm, shoegaze-y drones, and slowly shifting, highly textured feedback patterns.  The track “Another War,” in fact, was more reminiscent of post-rock scions A Silver Mt. Zion than anything in the world of metal; specifically, the echoing vocals and distant, treated piano recall A Silver Mt. Zion’s Pretty Little Lightning Paw EP, with that quintessential Pyramids drum treatment running in the background.  The album, as a whole, continuously flirts with all varieties of the ambient/post-rock/found sound scene, at times even dipping into glorious washes of noise more akin to Tim Hecker’s recent work (particularly Harmony in Ultraviolet).

“Sound of Ice and Grass” gets pretty metal, as these things go, bringing in some Sunn O)))-esque droning riffs about midway through, but these molten lava riffs are overlaid with jangly drone-leads on top, sounding very much inspired by (but not quite like) Blut Aus Nord.  As far as collaborative records go, this one is quite impressive for combining aspects of both bands into a whole which comes across as generally new, rather than sounding like “Oh, this track is a Nadja-penned track, and that one over there’s the Pyramids’ shtick,” etc (*cough* Kingdom of Sorrow *cough*).

Most impressive, to my ears, about what (I imagine) Pyramids brought to the show is a sense of some of heavy metal’s classic signifiers turned around and deconstructed.  For example, where there are drums on this record (even when they are programmed drums blast-beating away), they rarely function as drums, by which I mean providing a rhythmic backbone for whatever else is going on.  Instead, the drums, as was the case on Pyramids’ debut, are presented as simply another textural element in the overall sound-collage.

The closing track, “An Angel Was Heard to Cry over the City of Rome,” is probably the standout here.  It is both uplifting and weighty, in the best Jesu tradition.  But actually, more than Jesu (which is a bit of a too-easy comparison here), this song recalls “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth” from Enslaved’s Below the Lights album, in the way the listener’s focus is glued to the ongoing tension between the driving pulsations of harsh noise and blastbeats, on the one hand, and a soaring, searingly melodic guitar figure on the other hand.

If it were up to me, these folks could ride out that blissful groove for hours, but the song ends at just a shade over the ten-minute mark, meaning that it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and leaves the listener craving more of this very unique, highly textured collaboration.  I suppose it seems doubtful that we’ll see another full-length collaboration between these two groups, but the evidence on offer here suggests that there must have been some real lightning bursts of cooperative songwriting the first go-around.

It ought to go without saying that open-minded metalheads only need apply, but anyone with more than a passing interest in the various avant-garde strains of electronic, ambient, and post-rock musics would certainly find a lot in which to revel.  Plug in and drone out.

Overall rating: 84%.  The best part is, you can’t really tell if this is a drone-ier Pyramids, or a janglier Nadja.

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