Imagine you’re dirt broke in the caboose of a cargo train in the 1800’s heading down South. Its pitch black and there’s nothing to grab onto, let alone see. All you hear is the alien echoes of a distant city you once called your home. That’s a little bit what it’s like to listen to Blood Dirt Compilation Volume II. This compilation was curated by Casey Ruland and produced by Owl Records/Blood Dirt Cassettes in Oneonta, NY, which is a small city located in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Although Blood Dirt has contributors from all over the globe, the music conjures a more rural setting, much like the Oneonta that existed before the Delaware and Hudson railroads reached it back in the 1800s, which then lead to the small town becoming modernized and one of the largest locomotive roundhouses in the world.
Throughout the entire album, I found the listening experience to be completely metaphysical. Each song plays off one another and spurs a poignant and exotic narrative from beginning to end. Blood Dirt captures the spirit of a brave yet despondent traveler hiking through mines and caverns, receiving visits from extraterrestrials, cohorting with rivals and making friends. A short snippet from their Bandcamp page expresses what the compilation wanted to accomplish: “Done with the intent to finish, and start again.” That’s what I did several times while listening to this album. I let it soak in, then I started it over, and felt something different each time. Because of the wide variety of artists on the compilation (some of the artists have crossed over from Blood Dirt Compilation Volume I) there is a lot to absorb and reflect upon, like a good piece of dark chocolate (80% or higher).
The journey begins with “Pumice” by GMC. Train sirens reverberate over each other, and each one grows louder and more atonal until a folk guitar plucks its way into the foreground. The sirens then squeak, as if signaling that we are now on our way. When the guitar came in, I felt like I was thrown into a Southern dream in the 1800’s, being entertained by a new imaginary friend. “Pumice” serves as the leading thread for the album. There are a few other tracks that connect with “Pumice,” like “kekikakikakekikake” by Bees/// and “Imaginary Cowboys Stretched Down Imaginary Lines (Painburn dub)” by Oneonta duo Buildings and Mountains, who was featured on Blood Dirt Compilation Volume One. Bees///, a group out of Binghamton, gives us a discordant harpsichord melody that drifts in and out of the background and foreground, resembling a broken windup toy. Further along the way, a rattling cymbal crash propels the song, interspersed by occasional “Ha-haas!” Buildings and Mountains provides the longest song of the album with “Imaginary Cowboys.” This song comes about halfway through the album, and I feel like we are being connected back to “Pumice.” It opens with the sound of running water over a quiet banjo twang. Hovering between these noises is a rotating warning bell and heavy static that sounds like a machine sifting for gold or coal. I imagine a traveler now entering a cave, going deeper into darkness, which I believe the rest of the album explores through several other styles that appear later on.
Most of the compilation uses recorded sounds from natural and industrial settings. On a lovely nineties resembling website written by Nick Koenig (aka Hot Sugar), he discusses that associative music harnesses psychological and visceral properties of sounds native to what he calls “non-music environments.” Then, these sounds are twisted and shaped and disguised within the new melodies being created, while also giving slight reference to those sounds. I believe that the Blood Dirt Compilation contains all of these properties, especially in the more ambient and experimental tracks. From these tracks I feel deep aggression and despondence, yet subtle hope weaving its way throughout the album. The rest of the compilation is split into two kinds of ways to express this despondence: metal and the formerly discussed associative music.
“Spring Will Give You a Body Fit For the Streets” by Elizabeth Veldon, “Logic” by Xiphoid Dementia, and “Uneasy Swamp Part II” by Pregnant Spore deal with extreme examples of how experimental sounds extract harsh feelings and intense grit. “Spring Will Give You a Body Fit For the Streets” contains mostly squeaky static noises, like a war between static blobs. As I’m listening to it, I feel like I’m in a wild television set in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. As the song continues, the noises are like a debate, rising and falling and colliding over each other. Xiphoid Dementia’s “Logic” begins with a menacing howl, like something dropped and echoed. Throughout the song it appears to be exploring various depths of the imagination, mimicking an interstellar reality. On Xiphoid Dementia’s SoundCloud, Egan Budd describes his solo project as an “exploration of my inner personal love, hate, fears, longings, doubts, hopes, dreams…many of which can be expressed through the abstract form of noise.” Pregnant Spores’ “Uneasy Swamp (Pt. II)” channels the same aviary noises as “Logic,” opening with a loud airplane signal that’s ready to take off. About thirty seconds in there are loud radio frequencies whirring, kind of sounding like R2D2 whining and screaming through the muddy terrain of Dagobah.
The tracks I found to be more melodic, but still highly associative, were “Blue Sky” by Trans Atlantic Rage, “Cumbia Masonica” by O+YN+GMC, and “Advance and Be Mechanized” by Express The Motif. “Blue Sky” opens with faraway electronic percussion, echoing and replacing itself as it maintains a steady beat. It’s soft, until the synth picks up after about a minute, highlighting the urgency behind the percussion. The music is steady and fast but it’s lonely and lost. On the foreground, a high pitched xylophone chord rises and falls repeatedly, while in the background the percussion keeps it grounded. I find a lot of this album to reflect the true nature of things. Not every song is beautiful and melodic, it’s gritty and harsh, just like reality can be sometimes.
I’m glad a cumbia-inspired song appeared on this compilation via Argentinean artist O+YN+GMC. Cumbia originated from Colombia during the colonial times, and was a dance created by slaves taken from Africa and brought to Spain. It evokes a transcendence above the labor and the hardship. “Cumbia Masonica” opens with a small voice of a child that’s broken up and talking against a strong wind. A windchime picks up after a few moments, fusing with the voice of the child as a guitar signals the classic 2/4 beat. Around three minutes in, a voice cries out a monosyllable sound, repeating this until about six minutes in, where the tone of the song changes. The sounds are drawn out and blurred. Toward the end, the wind chime picks up again and takes the foreground, tinkling into quiet.
“Advance and Be Mechanized” has the sturdiest beat within the album and the most tightly woven song using natural and industrial sounds. This is a more aggressive song that propels the listener and I think provides the hook for the compilation. Since this is the second track, it does a good job starting things off with a hip hop beat surging and pulsing over a mysterious bell chime, alternating with minor trumpet trills. This beat alternates with an absurdist clash that evokes a spooky mansion hosting a hip-hop party.
The few metal songs on this compilation take the moodiness we’ve seen to the next level. “Black Order of the Goat,” “To The Roots,” and “Torture Scene” show true grit and hiss with pure rage above the quieter, more reflective tracks.
There’s nothing I love more than a throwback to folklore. A Nachzherer is a type of zombie that devours its family upon waking, and the more they eat of themselves, the more of their family they physically drain.“Black Order of the Goat” by Nachzehrer opens with a disorienting three minutes of interstellar static, plummeting into a drill drum beat and earnest, dark guitar. It continues with mild rises and falls, then blood curdling vocals pierce through the ominous background. The singer even sounds like the corpse eater himself. This type of metal sound commands you to be “here and now.”
Similar to “Black Order of the Goat” is “Torture Scene” by Vagina*. There’s no room for wandering or daydreaming here, although I’m sure you’d want to. This track has a less organized, more chaotic beginning with sudden pauses and breathers. I imagine Satanic worshippers pouring lighter fluid on a pile of dead bodies and dancing around them with a tambourine. “To The Roots” by Open Wounds is the finale of the album. It’s a hayday of caterwauls and chaos. Although it only lasts about thirty seconds, I find it a climactic way to end the frustration and despondency that looms throughout the entire album.
Although I’ve mostly categorized the tracks to make it easier to review, there are a few songs I considered stragglers. Not that they didn’t belong, but they were hard to group, and I think they stand on their own. Matthias Boss provided a raucous violin solo with “Pourquoi Pas,” which translates “Why not?” There’s tons of climbing riffs and rants. Most of the song felt like an agitated note progression intertwined with subtle slapping of the strings and occasional staccato. It was a complicated and frenetic twist from the other tracks.
“Sick of Goodbyes” by Newspaper Joe and “Break” by Icicles were the slower, melodic folk songs. “Sick of Goodbyes” expressed a lament for creating emotional bonds, crooning “No one knows you like I do, seconds click in which I’m changed to dust, withered clumps of hair and rotten rust, sun-dried locomotives to the ocean, I’m so sick of goodbyes, goodbyes.” “Break” by Icicles also mourned a lost love, murmuring “You break my heart” over gentle, hazy, warm guitar strums.
Overall, Blood Dirt Compilation Volume II managed to pull all its broken strings together into a wonderful and exotic narrative album. Each song worked with the natural sounds we hear every day that may not sound like music to most people, but can be wrought and welded to evoke deep and serious emotions. From the beginning to the end, I felt as if I had traveled through many dimensions and countries, back and forth between historical periods. Blood Dirt Compilation Volume II can be downloaded for free on their Bandcamp, as well as the first volume.
Review by Ailsa Florenza