Tag Archives: andrew white

[Review: Rambutan + Parashi, ‘Lesser Halogens’]

Here we have two of Albany’s finest, Rambutan and Parashi, teaming up for their first collaborative release via Frankfurt-based Sicsic Tapes. The title of the tape, Lesser Halogens, evokes images of half-dead blackened lamps barely illuminating the decaying space surrounding them. The tape builds on this theme conjuring up a bleak world shrouded in darkness, dim lights flickering over foreign objects and alien faces. Gone are the warm friendly tones found on Rambutan’s more recent releases, like his split with Tidal on Aguirre or his Typhoon Shapes cassette on cae-sur-a. Instead we are presented with a cold electronic hum that underpins most of the tracks with searing squelches of electronics cutting through the noise to rupture any sign of stillness.

The A-side keeps things dark slow-moving, allowing you to relish the noise as it envelops you. On “Halogen 1” large sluggish masses of distortion roll in over the underlying din. Giant sonic shapes drift over otherwise vacant landscapes, eventually slamming into each other. Sounds moan and contort as they crash together, their echoes calling attention to the vast expanses they roam.

“Halogen 2” opts for electronics that swarm around in a chattering and buzzing manner. This is the sound of chlorine being heated slowly so it reacts with whatever else is in the tube. Piercing noises emerge from the drone as the track gains energy. By the end the chlorine eats through its container and the escaped gas spills out chewing through the organic material around it with an increasing intensity.

Things slow down on “Halogen 3,” which drops to a slow eerie crawl. Digital ghosts float through a cold sterile world entirely alienated from any human presence. Electricity pulses in its quiet atmosphere, cracking and hissing as it moves through its circuitry.

The B-side picks up some, with each of its two tracks containing something of a beat. “Halogens 4” has a listless pulse buried behind an atmosphere full of dread, and couldn’t sound more like your heart as you hide in some cramped space waiting for some inevitable doom. The slow thump fills the space echoing louder than you would like, a turncoat calling out to the terror that is slowly sliding toward you.

The highlight of the album is the last track “Halogen 5,” also the cassette’s longest track, clocking in at 15 minutes. It is also the most upbeat and it rushes to an amazing climax that finishes off the tape in perfect fashion. At first though, the track starts with almost nothing. A synth, or a sample, and then silence. From there a cry calls out to you from somewhere off in the distance. Bursts of static gradually surround you. Slowly rhythm is added and you can even hear something like drums. Finally, a slow but steady rise in the tempo. Midway through the track the drone turns into a blur with a stream of incomprehensible things rushing past you. A myriad of small samples flit by for you to try to pick through. The drums begin to pound at a pace you could dance to, if it didn’t sound like you were in the middle of a war zone. Synths scream out to you, heightening the tension. Then, abruptly, at its peak, it fades away to nothing. All the energy is spent, the burst at the end destroys itself.

Rambutan, who runs the Tape Drift label, and Parashi, who runs the Skell LLC label, do an amazing job at dragging you into such a desolate world and holding you there captivated by the dark atmosphere while not letting you get tired of what could serve as bland source material in less capable hands. One hopes that this is the first of many collaborative recordings between these two Albany mainstays.

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 by Andrew White


[Review: Location Ensemble, ‘S/T’]

The Location Ensemble is a motley 9-piece guitar ensemble whose membership reads like a who’s who of experimental Albany-area musicians. It currently includes Thomas Lail and Patrick Weklar from soundBarn, Tape Drift owner Eric Hardiman, Ray Hare from Century Plants, other Albany Sonic Arts Collective regulars Holland Hopson and Matt Weston, an Albany rock club owner Howard Glassman, Tara Fracalossi, and Jason Martin. The group came together in 2010 when soundBarn joined with other ASAC members to perform Rhys Chatham’s “Guitar Trio,” which has been expanded since it was composed in the late ‘70s to allow for six to ten guitars.

This self titled CD out on Tape Drift is the debut release of the group and captures their performance from last year in Saratoga Springs where they performed original compositions by three members of the band.

Thomas Lail’s “Untitled (All the Times She Loves Me),” is a gamelan-influenced take on alternative tunings used originally by Sonic Youth. Inspired by a live performance of Sonic Youth’s “I Love Her All The Time,” Lail took the multiple tunings found in the Sonic Youth song and split them between members of the ensemble creating two distinct tuning groups with one half of the ensemble using one tuning and the other half using another.The effect creates a haunting and dissonant sound that is still somehow ephemeral–at least as ephemeral as eight guitars can  be over the course of 18 minutes–with different parts shimmering for brief moments only to disappear as the piece moves through its three distinct segments.

Eric Hardiman’s composition, “Diversion #3,” takes an almost Krautrock approach in that it is propelled by an internally forceful minimalism. While “Diversion #3” lacks that steady motorik beat of a lot of Krautrock, the piece chugs right along driving you forward with it as it incrementally speeds up. The piece lurches around, speeding up as if everything was frantically trying to move at once then suddenly locking up, only to do it all over again. The performance is tightly fused together but always on the verge of overwhelming itself and having everything be torn apart.

Drummer Matt Weston, the unsung hero in this guitar ensemble, shines here, pummeling his way through the song, dragging the guitarists along with him faster and faster in this big insane machine. His drum patterns are very physical in nature contorting the listener to the music, the repetition pulling them along.

While “Diversion #3” has a manic machine-type cohesiveness, Holland Hopson’s “Six Chords Every Rock Guitarist Should Know” has a much looser feeling almost to the point where the piece seems to be in danger of decaying right in front of you. It is, in a way, a call and response piece with Hopson playing a phrase and the rest of the group playing it back in turn. This creates a dizzying sound that spirals up with sheets of sound whipping around, building up and then falling apart.

Throughout all of this, one wonders what was lost of the performance in the recording. With seven or eight guitars fighting for space in a mix you can’t help but feel that the recording must fall short at times trying to capture those moments where all those instruments coalesce into something much larger. For those who have yet to catch one of the all too rare performances by the group this recording will have to do, and–make no mistake–it does it well. Each piece is great and the album as a whole is a fascinating listen for the three different takes on the sonics of mass guitar. But for the full impact of these pieces, one can’t help but think that this recording is nothing more than a tease for the live experience. Fortunately, the ensemble will be opening for Disappears (Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth and Brian Case of The Ponys) and Lotus Plaza (Lockett Pundt of Deerhunter) on April 18th at Valentine’s Music Hall in Albany.

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Review by Andrew White


[Review: Cruudeuces, ‘Various Skin Figurines’]

Clarinets can be one of the evilest sounding instruments, emitting warped sounds, squeaks, and squawks of a tortured variety. Cruudeuces, the project of Ghetto Naturalist Series label owner Nathaniel Brennan, capitalizes on these coerced sounds from the clarinet on his newest release Various Skin Figurines. Brought to us by Albany-based label Skell Records LLC–run by Mike Griffin, who also makes his own rather tortured sounds under the Parashi moniker—Various Skin Figurines is unconventional music with an organic edge, making it highly introspective on the human condition in ways one does not always encounter with noise.

Starting with the B side, “Every Dot That Passes” is an exhibition of the gut wrenchingly visceral sounds that Brennan is able to call forth from his clarinet. The track has the feel of a methodically slow ritual sacrifice where something–or someone–is dismembered while you are forced to watch. Brennan creates an atmosphere that hangs ominously overhead like an oppressive crimson sky, with drums sounding in the distance only to impress upon you the passing of each grating moment but never helping to speed up the process.

 [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cyLjgZNTPg%5D

Brennan’s clarinet wails for a hair-raising fifteen minutes with uncanny voicing that sits uncomfortably in the mind of the listener, coming too close to sounding like something living for it to be easily ignored. Those relentless piercing cries put the listener on edge for the entire duration of the track without ever letting up, even for a moment. By the end the listener is left to beg for some sort of climax to relieve the insurmountable tension that has built up over the course of the track, a vain plea that is left unfulfilled as a climax never arrives.

While the B side is a study on the inward depths of one’s self, one’s limits as a human being, the A side, “Philadelphia Thieves,” takes things in the opposite direction outward into space, allowing the listener more room to contemplate their existence. The clarinet is not featured so prominently in this track (if it is used at all it is treated beyond recognition) with Brennan looking to electronics instead. With them he creates a distinct sense of place that is worlds away from the other side of the cassette. Brennan uses electronics to build an alien static that drifts by as the listener floats through the vast expanses of empty space while an enormous churning low end spills out from massive cosmic objects filling the mind with a sense of dread.

Listening to the track is like coming face to face with the electromagnetic Galaxy Being from The Outer Limits. The electromagnetic radiation emitted by the extraterrestrial squiggling and hissing throughout the track fills you with a sense of fascination from meeting a creature from an unknown world. The bass serves as a ever present reminder that you are very small in a infinitely large universe filled with things that you will never understand or control; a troubling idea to many.

Complex and at many times through provoking, Various Skin Figurines is a fascinating listen for the ideas it conveys and the places it creates. It is a great release for Cruudeuces to start the year off with.

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Review by Andrew White


[2011 in Review: soundBarn, ‘Valentine’]

While soundBarn is the experimental guitar project of Thomas Lail and Patrick Weklar, the name soundBarn also refers to a performance space–run by Lail and his artist/gallerist wife Tara Fracalossi located in Valatie, NY–which often hosts performances by the Albany Sonic Arts Collective. Furthermore, soundBarn exists as a press entity and recently published a series of poetry chapbooks including one from Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth.

The connection between the music of soundBarn and Sonic Youth is apparent on the duo’s 2011 CD Valentine whereby–true to Sonic Youth ideals–the duo utilizes prepared guitars to create sprawling tracks loaded with feedback-laced mayhem.

Yet, for a recording of some guys simply making noise with their guitars, there are moments throughout Valentine that defy what one expects. What is particularly striking about the recording is how, as the sound unfolds, the listener is able to find a wide range of moods and emotions to be enveloped in. There are points where the screeching noise drops down to delicate-sounding spots, where it then builds back up to a cacophonous clatter, or eerily shifts into a horror film score-like atmosphere. In other words, this diversity and unpredictability makes this one of those longer tracks that you are able to keep on repeat, letting the sound circle you while the shifting moods in the track color the experiences around you.

Surprisingly, Valentine, released by Tape Drift—the label of fellow Albany Sonic Arts Collective member Eric Hardiman–is the duo’s first release in the twenty years of their making music together. The single track that comprises the release was recorded live at the soundBarn venue around Valentine’s day (hence the name) with only minimal editing prior to its release.

Valentine is a great release and hopefully it will not take the duo another twenty years to release something else. Fortunately, the duo performs regularly in the Albany area, and at the soundBarn venue, including an upcoming fundraiser for a local gallery and ASAC venue the Upstate Artists Guild.

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Review by Andrew White


[2011 in Review: Mold Omen ‘Blacktop’]

Mold Omen, 'Blacktop' (cae-sur-a)

One of many interesting developments in music this year was the emergence of outsider dance music, a genre that saw noise artists move toward beat driven music and offering a new take on it. From the mutant house of 100% Silk to the techno of Diamond Catalogue, much of it was interesting, if not really good.

While definitely not a release to lump in with outsider beats, Mold Omen’s Blacktop sets out on a somewhat parallel path. The opening track on the Baltimore duo’s cassette, “The Driver/The Mechanic,” demonstrates that although there are no real beats to speak of here, there are elements of beat-driven music along with heavy doses of noise. Interestingly, these two elements are set against each other creating a sharp contrast whereby any remnant of rhythm is threatened to become overwhelmed by noise. This makes for a thrilling listen asThe Driver/The Mechanic” drags you along to the finish line. The term ‘drag’ is key here for describing this track; the undercurrent-like rhythm pulls you with it only to plunge you into a sea of noise.

The next two tracks make a sharp break with the noise of the first; pulling back to explore a more drone-like territory with machine-like whines, delayed tones, and heavy emphasis on atmosphere.The listener will remain captivated when listening to this cassette by all the different pieces, sounds, and textures that emerge. These diverse elements create an engaging release that rewards the listener for close listening.

Fans of this cassette’s label, Cae-sur-a, have come to expect nothing less from this Rochester-based imprint.

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Review by Andrew White