Complainer - “Pure Vanilla”
The new tape from St Louis noisemakers Complainer doesn’t wast any time getting down to business — at barely ten minutes, it doesn’t have the luxury of that slow fade-up. “Pure Vanilla” is 5 tracks of hyper-caffeinated noise-punk, and it’s here to make your life just a little bit better. Built around the raucous creativities of Joe Hess and Mabel Suen, the collection is a blast of primal rock ‘n’ roll: guitar, drums and a little saxophone. Sometimes that’s all you really need. Opening track “Pure” is exactly that, a pure punk roar that burns out after a minute and leaves you breathless and shaking with anticipation for what’s coming, its tenure filled with a complicated history of manic inspirations and adrenalized influences.
“Cardboard” combines the ferocity of proto-punk with the angularity of its ancestor post-punk, creating a landscape of jagged edges and spiked rhythms. “Fucking Droid” is a sludgy punker, complete with rumbling drums and barely contained (but still very catchy) guitar melodies. Basically the companion to “Pure,” “Vanilla” is somewhat slower and more calculated, a ground-shaking slab of punk that showcases the versatility of saxophone in this setting — imagine X-ray Spex in a more improvisational setting. “Lip Service” closes out the tape with a series of kinetic percussive explosions and Suen’s manic howl, a fitting ending to a set that prizes its punk brevity and warped tonalities over our own mundane realities.
Forget the Times - “Winter Haven”
What started as a Michigan-based free improv collective in 2010 has slowly evolved into a powerhouse group of musicians who seem able to turn their instruments inside out. Wielding the name Forget the Times, this group of artists blend elements of psych, drone, free jazz and post-rock to create a sound that’s as fascinating as it is inimitable. And on their new tape, “Winter Haven,” they continue to explore the infinite reaches of this aesthetic, crafting 2 tracks (clocking in at just over 32 minutes) which traces their collected influences through a dozen different genres and musical disciplines. It’s a wild and wildly divergent half hour that doesn’t offer easy answers but requires thoughtful examination and complete obedience to its amorphous movements.
“Nasturtium Blues” is a jungle of twisting sax skronks, jazzy percussion and background atmospherics which continually builds and releases until it’s difficult to recognize the real world apart from these overwhelming sounds. Akin to the experimental work of Red Krayola or The United States of America, the band’s unpredictable nature is on display in every second of this song, allowing its mutated and occasionally harsh environments to completely subsume your sense. “Bergamot Swirl” is a ragged and cacophonous burst of sound, with guitars being cut open and drums beaten until they sound like they’re falling apart. It’s a challenging listen, but one that offers substantial rewards after repeated listens. You never know when you’re going to hear something new, and that’s the wonder of the track — and of Forget the Times’ music in general.
They Will Burn Us to Ashes - (self-titled)
Sound culturist Mike Mangino isn’t trying to impress his audience — he is simply trying to relate to them through a wash of broken electronics and frayed soundscapes. Having earned his stripes with proto-industrial duo Smersh in the ‘80s and under various guises in the intervening years, his outlook on music is as ephemeral and prone to muddied categorization as anything you’re likely to come across. Through his newest moniker, They Will Burn Us to Ashes, he establishes his comfort with minimalist drones and disorienting repetition. On his recent self-titled tape, he aims for something light years ahead of post-modern composition, something almost undefinable and only accessible through a complete immersion of emotional associations.
Songs like “There Was Nothing You Could Have Done” and “Minor Forms” are vast and inescapably alien, but also comforting in a strange and otherworldly way. You will become lost here, and the horizon doesn’t offer an end, only further room to tread and explore. The closing track, “In This Grave Hour,” is a 42-minute behemoth which challenges your ideas of what can be done with these types of electronic sounds; it’s a fitting cap to a collection that revels in arrhythmic and atonal rationality, a beast that conveys both indifference and affection, comfort and intense anxiety. And it’s in these hesitant atmospheres where the genius of Mangino’s synthesis is most apparent. His world is not made up of concrete ideologies and melodic aesthetics but is constructed from fragments of half-remembered dreams and the grand theater of our own experiences.
Isness - (self-titled)
Isness is the vehicle through which Catherine Debard (who also releases music as YlangYlang) and sound experimentalist Matt Robidoux share their kindred appreciation for fluid soundscapes and ambient psychedelia. There’s an affection for minimalism which they both share and gravitate towards while under the influence of this particular collaboration. Beauty and deconstruction coexist in their collective imaginations — beginnings and endings blur until the sounds form a lovingly warped ouroboros, And this tendency to soften boundaries, break down expectations and focus on their unique brew of magically musical obfuscation can be heard throughout the songs on their new self-titled cassette, a collection of 9 songs which unravel and devolve/evolve into exquisitely unfathomable tones and textures.
Aided in their quest by violinist Jenifer Gelineau (who provides some emotionally resonant patterns to the A-side of the cassette), Debard and Robidoux concoct an impressionistic ode to the complexity of their electronic impulses. Tracks like “Phones in the Night” and “Softly, Softly” recall a stripped-down post-rock landscape, as if Godspeed You! Black Emperor and “Music for Airports”-era Brian Eno decided to make music together. “Canadian Shirley Temple” employs Gelineau’s violin to great effect, allowing the tactile feel of her strings to lead and direct the surrounding aural ephemera like some musical pied piper. The B-side focuses more on pure noise and clattering field recordings, gradually growing in force until moody closer “As You Meditate in Your Tropical Rain Forest” provides a form of respite and lets us willingly dissolve alongside its wavering rhythmic motions.