code 000 – at one with the machine (powernoise)
self released, 2012, DD album, 1h 32m 9s
at one with the machine is the sophomore release and point of exit for Jason Norwood’s studio powernoise project code 000. Two albums have evidently been enough to scratch that creative itch for him, but he has made good use of his time in the world of electronic distortion and jackhammer beats. Powernoise is a genre that demands its practitioners take a position on issues around humanity and creative agency; its basic materials are both mechanistic and aurally abrasive, admitting neither conventional aesthetic valuations nor traditional notions of expressive craft. Some notable proponents of the style embrace these features wholeheartedly, presenting desolate soundworlds of post-human indifference, whose entire audience appeal (and this is dance music we’re talking about) is based on power and strength; others use humour to give their music an organic face, or, as Norwood does, assemble sets of samples to develop themes that could be explored through lyrics in other zones of musical practice. at one with the machine at once enacts the causes and subjects of alienation in the automated violence of its textures, and explicitly critiques its causes. Some samples are ironically reappropriated pieces of commercial discourse, others are critical utterances employed to colour the beats in a particular light. code 000 is concerned with themes of social justice and human potential, which are juxtaposed dialectically to themes of de-humanising automation and the more bodily, hedonistic forms of resistance proper to the dancefloor. The beats and sounds are precisely crafted, leavening the necessary repetitions and hypnotic continuities with creatively varied sonic details; thick, crunching piledrivers of aurality abound, but the timbres employed range across a broad spectrum of frequencies and densities. Although the music is consistently intelligent and interesting, it is also a relentless, driving force, an imperative wall of stomp that combines the deep hypnosis of dance music with the grim intensity of extreme metal.
Sonance – Like Ghosts (doom/ drone)
Doognad Records DOOG014, 2012, LP & DD album, 41m 54s
£0+ DD €15 LP
The experimental fringes of metal are increasingly characterised by compositional range and depth: Sonance are not unique in producing long-form compositions that range across entire spectra of volume, density and intensity, but the particular manifestation of these concerns in Ghosts is a sound that’s entirely their own. The way their music submerges for extended periods into a calm too profound to permit riffing, focussing instead on subtly evolving timbres and simple chord sequences, bears as much of a relationship to post-rock as it does to drone or doom. All three are audible presences in this album, as are many other sites of practice in the louder end of the guitar underground, but it’s the way in which these influences are combined that lends this album its particular power. Vocals range from sonorous murmurs to hoarse angry roars, and the bass, guitars and drums do more or less the same (although drums obviously don’t roar as such, but you get the idea); clearly a steep dynamic slope is nothing new, but in Sonance’s hands it’s an instrument of high drama, and is usually accompanied by a timbral transformation from the melodious and coherent to the wild, furious, staring-eyed, spittle-flying, tempestuous and berserk. Maximum intensity is marked by the stylistically established textures of doom metal riffcraft, but the music’s moments of quiet are also frequently as powerful and engaging, such as the extended harmonic drone passage on side B. At all points the music is carefully crafted; at its best Like Ghosts combines the large scale compositional coherence of the novel or of history painting with the attention to textural detail of poetry or abstract impressionism. It’s good shit yo.
Heidi Harris – Dream Fodder (avant folk)
Reverb Worship RW209, 2012, CD & DD album, 49m 24s
$6+ DD £6.59 CD
Right from the get go, Dream Fodder is beguiling and ambiguous. I’ve been following Heidi Harris’ progress for some time now, and these are trademark features, but you can listen to as much of her work as you like, and each new piece you hear will still possess novelty, and the capacity to surprise. There’s a real consistency to her artistic practice; this album was not recorded as a single work, but compiled from various collaborations and projects made over the course of several years, yet it has a solid coherence to it, sonically and creatively. To me, Harris’ sound is unmistakeable. Her recordings are constructed from a variety of sounds, including traditional acoustic instruments, found noise-makers, electronic sources, and her distinctive voice, all processed with the artifice of a studio savant: the sounds usually sit in a large four-dimensional space, rather than being welded together into a mechanism. There is narrative momentum, and discursive sense, but she studiously avoids the rhetorical over-determination of most groove-based music, preferring to present her compositional elements as independent artifacts, and inviting the listener to interpret and connect them in an active manner. Dream Fodder’s soundscapes are gentle, and while they are probably too gnomic to be called inviting, they are decidedly open, inhabitable environments; the aleatoric elements of an everyday ambience are often foregrounded, with small hisses and knocks sounding far closer to the listener than the tonal elements of the music. Even in a piece like ‘The Mistletoe’, a collaboration with Kine Hjeldnes, which has a deterministic electronic rhythm close to a dance beat, the overall sense is still one of tentative, contingent ambiguity; a sense of possibility, rather than one of certainty. There’s a real rigour to Harris’ work, on this album and elsewhere; it is not easy to combine such a probing commitment to investigation and experiment with such a sparkling and beautiful aesthetic.
Stakka Lyrics – I still think it’s the 90s (hip-hop)
Rhymepad Records, 2012, DD album, 27m 39s
I rarely encounter anything resembling a generation gap in music, but here’s one: Stakka Lyrics looks back at the 1990s as a golden age; I think of them as something futuristic… For the same reason, I’d never be able to tell if 90s music sounded dated. Meaty beaty boom-bap hip-hop like this certainly never ages in my ears; there’s been some seriously innovative sonic creativity in subsequent hip-hop production, but there has seriously never been anything as booty shaking as this classic formula (although, as I say, it still feels strange to call it ‘classic’, since that era seems very recent to me). I should hasten to point out that I still think it’s the 90s is not made to formula, mind you; this is not generic, join-the-dots material, but creative and forward looking stuff, with deep, slinky grooves and charismatic, humorous, intelligent vocals. Local allegiances are in evidence throughout, but especially in tracks like ‘Filthy Fens’ and ‘Home’; this is really the first time I’ve heard anyone repping my own old stamping ground (I’m from Cambridge, and so is Stakka Lyrics), so I’m predisposed to like it, but luckily the quality of the recording more than justifies it. The beats are mostly sparse affairs, which make the most of their ingredients, and curate some seriously funky basslines (the upright part on ‘The Reason’ is just massive); they address themselves directly to the listener’s pelvis without ever diverting attention away from the verbals. The flows are deep and smooth, without any particular displays of self-conscious cleverness, and the same could be said of the lyrics, which are honest, direct and self-effacing. The whole mixtape is an essay in chunky simplicity, building the most compelling structure possible from a love for its constituents, like a chef with the insight to let quality fresh produce speak for itself. If that makes it sound a bit ‘meh’, a bit ‘ok, but nothing spectacular’, let me just point out that being clever never made anyone want to move their body; this is one of the most enjoyable releases to come my way in a while, and it takes a very clear creative vision to make anything this effective out of any musical materials, simple or complex. Top whack.