wired for sound part 37: claus poulsen, lord cernunnos, ronzilla, left hand cuts off the right, bad suburban nightmare, the zero map

April 24, 2013 at 11:04 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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Claus Poulsen – Electric Lobby (tape, Matching Head, MH192)

Lord Cernunnos / Ronzilla – Death Cap Drones (tape, Triangle Tapes, TT#5)

Left Hand Cuts Off The Right / Bad Suburban Nightmare (tape, Armed Within Movement, AWM007)

The Zero Map – Distant Storms (tape, Armed Within Movement, AWM010)

Claus Poulsen - Electric LobbyDeath Cap DronesLef Hand-The Zero Map

A couple of readers have asked me how I’ve managed to keep the blog posts so regular whilst working full time and sharing baby-raising duties with my awesome wife.  To be honest, I’ve surprised myself.  The first thing to say is that I definitely don’t turn to my blog when I’m bored at work.  No, I’d never do that, obviously.  Never.  Secondly, on examination, I appear to have cut away everything extraneous.  I hang with Anne and Thomas the Baby whilst multitasking domesticities, I do my best to keep up with family and friends, I go to work and I think about music.  All the other silliness with which I filled my time has fallen away.  I am knackered, of course, but in a way it has been an invigorating few weeks of priority realignment.  It turns out that this blog, my contribution, is profoundly important to me.  So on with the show, eh?

The tapes pictured above are the last of the review material that arrived around the birth of my son.  Apologies to the artists and labels for the, I hope, understandable delay.

I raised an eyebrow at the discovery of a release by Claus Poulsen on Matching Head.  Now, my love of Lee Stokoe’s legendary label is well documented and its quality could only be doubted by the cloth-eared.  However, even I have to admit that it is a fringe concern and that his tape-only, black-and-white aesthetic is for the hardcore.  Readers of this blog will be more familiar with Claus from his ‘prestige’ projects for Striate Cortex (solo and as half of the duo Star Turbine with Sindre Bjerga) and the duo Small Things on Sundays with Henrik Bagner.  The last time they were mentioned here I was talking about vinyl, no less.  Would the rough kids over at Matching Head beat him up and nick his lunch money?

No.  I needn’t have worried.  Although similar in tone to some of his other work, the new context makes perfect sense and the tape hiss just adds another layer of varnish to the puzzle box.  The Electric Lobby in question is described by an unreliable narrator.  It is furnished with FAX style brooding electronics, which are in turn upholstered with carefully detailed noise textures and discretely lit with loops of what may be field recordings of various human endeavours.  It has an expansive, unreal air of not-quite-convincing artifice.  At one point an unintelligible voice makes an announcement to the suspiciously robotic guests.  It’s as if, just after you sat down next to a guy who looks exactly like Philip K. Dick, the whole hotel is replaced by white space and a slip of paper with one word on it: ‘HOTEL.’  Very good indeed.

Death Cap Drones is a split tape shared between Lord Cernunnos (Andrew Erickson) and Ronzilla (noise scene veteran Ron Rice) and was sent on spec by the charming Marc Roberts of analog evangelists Triangle Tapes (slogan: “Analog rules.  Keep it reel”).  It is a beautiful package: oversized ‘audiobook’ box with separate plastic holder inside to stop the cassette rattling about.  The J-card is a stylish silver-on-black design.  A lot of work for a mere fifty copies – I approve wholeheartedly of this show of commitment.

The Lord Cernunnos side is a series of tracks with a kind of At the Mountains of Madness feel – like excerpts from an audio account of exploring an ancient, ruined alien city, knee deep in snow and rubble, only to find some of the machinery is still warm and working to a forgotten purpose.  At one point a member of the expedition leans against the wall and inadvertently sets off a recording of a strange percussive pattern – like hollow bamboo logs being struck.  I like this very much, the ominous atmosphere of non-specific threat is successfully maintained throughout.  As if to prove it is bad voodoo, I was listening to it on my walkman on a packed commuter bus yesterday morning and no-one would sit next to me whilst it was playing (and, yes, I had washed before leaving the house – har, har – you smartarse).

The Ronzilla side comprises two ten minute tracks of pupils-as-pinholes peaking.  A low end throb jostles with teeth-loosening treble as you try and keep the shivers in check and convince yourself that the red light apparently shining behind the closed eyelids of your sleeping friend Chris is nothing to worry about.  Just the drug – deep breath, ride it out.  This is intense, fried (to use a current favourite word on this blog) and, I suspect, not for everyone but I’ve found myself compelled to return to it several times.  The sort of oddity you want to poke with a stick, just to see what happens.

Finally, we have two tapes from Adam Beckley’s label Armed Within Movement.  The packages are standard: tapes in cassette boxes with black-and-white illustrated J-cards, but no less pleasing for that.  The AWM collection has a satisfying shelf identity.

The music of Left Hand Cuts Off The Right, known to his mum as Robbie Judkins, reminds me of the cassette culture underground that I first came to know and love in the late 1990s (Rob Galpin’s ‘Sunny Days Out’ springs to mind, for example).  Tracks seem to be composed by accumulation of elements, or to coalesce around a sound or an idea – like an egg poaching in boiling water – and we are presented with a snapshot of where the process had got to when Robbie leant on the record button with his elbow.  As such, some of it feels a bit sketchy but it is never less than charming and repeat listens reveal it to be finely balanced, constructed with a chef’s understanding of its ingredients.  A whimsical reaction is hard to resist but doesn’t feel quite right so I’ll limit it to this: the track ‘Habibi’ sounds like an increasingly frantic colony of budgerigars attempting to perform a tune by hovering over a marimba and dropping nuts on it.

The side by Bad Suburban Nightmare, a solo project of Dan Hrekow, begins with ‘Drone Heartbreak’, a slow-picked, desert guitar meditation.  Its minimalism and discipline provide the grateful listener with a contemplative space, cocooned inside a soulful, emotionally resonant atmosphere.  The second of the two tracks, ‘Alchemy’, is genuinely strange: a series of distant explosions take their own sweet time to devastate the next valley over, or perhaps it is the first track again but heard underwater, Ben Braddock style, at the deep end of a swimming pool, or perhaps, given the title, this is what the chemical reactions might sound like if we had molecular microphones and could record lead transmuting into gold.  Mesmerising.

Finally we have Distant Storms by The Zero Map.  I notice that Uncle Mark over at radiofreemidwich’s sister blog Idwal Fisher was grumpily dismissive of this tape a few posts ago.  I can only assume that his faithful manservant had allowed Mark’s glass of Manzanilla to warm to room temperature and the resulting fury led to this lashing out.  ‘Rudderless’ indeed, I ask you!  Alas, it falls to me to set the record straight.  I am a fan of Chloe and Karl’s work and I remain so after hearing this because the fact of the matter is: it is good.

The side long ‘Champagne Awakening’ opens magisterial – all raspberry dawns over the Nile as drug-addled dignitaries take river cruises in opulent barges.  The atmosphere of decadent possibility is tainted when the Pharaoh takes one drink too many and has a vision of the mechanised future.  The air remains full of spices and aromatics but the scene is now, in her head, overwhelmed with searing noise and engine rhythms.  Out of this a tropical guitar emerges and ties it all up with a foot-on-the-monitor feedback conclusion.  Rock!

Side B features four tracks that slide into one another so I’ll treat them as a whole containing different movements.  We begin with some agitated, swirling, popping electronics accompanied with some plucked acoustic guitar and non-verbal vocalisations.  The plucking becomes more purposeful and is augmented with some filtered… what?  The other instrumentation is hard to place: horns, keys, violin?  I can’t tell, it’s hypnotic.  This builds into an improv raga fury over a spiralling, descending roar until we get to a passage of totally balls-out (sorry Chloe – you know what I mean) psychedelic noise.  A low-end engine rumble revs up into a fuzz whine over skittering electronics, sometimes spacey, sometimes subterranean.  There is a calm eye within the maelstrom which we see glimpses of occasionally as the storm tears holes in the clouds.  I imagine Chloe and Karl (and Peter Herring who features on two tracks) sitting there, cross legged, facing each other but with eyes closed, just willing all this into existence.  Cool, eh?

Matching Head

Triangle Tapes

Armed Within Movement

Claus Poulsen

Lord Cernunnos

Ronzilla

Left Hand Cuts Off The Right

Bad Suburban Nightmare

The Zero Map

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  1. Hi!!! I would like to add about the Claus Polsen tape on Matching Head is that it has (at least to me) a very submerged space rock feeling! … there is something very unique on throbbing bass vs. guitar piece on side A that kept me flying on a night walk one Friday coming back home on the crumbled / nastystreets of Juárez. And only for this I think that those rough kids on Matching Head will even share their ugly lunches with him! jajajajaja!


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