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

you animal! tapes from mothers of the third reich and burnt to perfection

March 3, 2013 at 8:49 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Mothers of the Third Reich – s/t

(C60 cassette, Swim Club, SWIM11, edition of 100 in hand made packaging)

Burnt to Perfection – Trippin Balls

(C65 cassette, Triangle Tapes, TT#1, edition of 50)

mottr tape on swim clubburnt to perfection - trippin balls

What with all the recent excitement here about *ahem* ‘new releases’ the review pile has been neglected.  This is a shame as over the last couple of months many of the earthy, knobbly objects presented at the kitchen door of Midwich Mansions have proved to be delicious musical truffles.  Whilst we wait for our baby to arrive (junior has now missed his or her launch date and thus will be fashionably late) I’ll try and dish up the tastiest for you.  First on the menu are two tapes of gonzo(ish) racket that have been languishing in the cupboard since January.  Mea culpa.

The Mothers of the Third Reich (hereafter MOTTR) offering contains excerpts from three gigs played in 2012 and totals about an hour.  The tape comes glued into an A4 sized page of odd plasticky material that has been (I’m guessing) spray painted through stencils and hand printed with the MOTTR logo.  A denim patch featuring the same logo is also included along with an insert featuring the details.  These are superimposed over an infamous photo of a blood-spattered guitar taken in the aftermath of one of the gigs documented.  Rock and roll!

It is tempting to to describe this as a balls-out free-rock blowout but that isn’t really a satisfactory reaction on closer and repeat listens.  There is a lot more than that going on.  It starts with subterranean rumbles, cavernous atmospherics and bursts of electrical skwee before a fee-fi-fo-fum plodding announces the arrival of something dragging itself towards the goat we’ve tethered under a tree as bait.  Violent clatter, howling and a stomping rhythm suggest another troll trying to break into a shipping container to get at the tasty car tyres stored inside.

Onto side two.  Picture members of a Chinese opera company, bitten and turned during a zombie apocalypse, stumbling down the stairs to a basement jazz club where they join the undead musicians there in an unholy improv session.  Cymbals crash, saxophones squawk and honk.  There are contemplative sections but dark, grimly fascinating, almost panic-inducing as whispered spoken word and detuned bursts of chaotic electronics puncture the reverie.  As if the object of contemplation was something like Fucking Hell by Jake and Dinos Chapman.  This is substantial stuff and I like it very much.

Visit Swim Club here.  Buy here.

Now just a brief account, as it is already sold out, of Trippin Balls by Burnt to Perfection.  A red cassette is squeaked into one of those puffy plastic cases that ZX Spectrum games used to be packaged in.  It is accompanied by a hand-stamped inlay and has the terrific psychedelic cover pictured above.  Sent to me in trade by the charming Marc Roberts of hardcore tape-only (“analog rules.  keep it reel”) label Triangle Tapes this features just over an hour of noise improv recorded under the influence of magic mushrooms.  As you might expect, given the circumstances of its production, there are long periods of indulgence but there is also plenty to recommend it too.  Let’s face it: if indulgence was a crime this blog wouldn’t exist, nor would much of what is reviewed here.  Lolz.  Anyway, this carries a satisfyingly fried atmosphere throughout.

A howling whistle, part Arctic wind whipping the tundra, part deflating balloon alerting us to its dismal fate, is replaced by a guttural augmented growl.  An incinerator roar, a machine rumble, forms the baseline and is whipped into an oily froth by squiggly electronics, pared back to bare tape hiss, then piped in again as the peaks and troughs of the mushroom buzz open and close the mental valves controlling the flow. Clatters echo, the deflating balloon becomes a swarm of agitated robot wasps, a giant grain silo is sluiced out and refilled with gravel.

Sadly, this is no longer available but why not check out the other stuff going on at Triangle Tapes?

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