STANDING DISCLAIMER: It would be ridiculous to try and do Full Disclosure on these. Just assume I know everyone here at least via the Internet, and most of them in person. You’ll be right far more often than wrong.
Youth Code, Youth Code (Dais, 2013)
Demonstrational Cassette, Youth Code’s 2012 debut, threw down a retro-industrial gauntlet it was pretty much impossible to avoid picking up if you were around for, and into, the late eighties industrial scene, especially the part of it that centered around Nettwerk Records (Skinny Puppy, Severed Heads, Moev, etc.). There are some ways in which I saw that as a problem; the band were starting from a vertical-market position, especially odd considering I don’t think either member of Youth Code is old enough to have been an adolescent back when Skinny Puppy were doing their best work. That said, and note that I say this as someone from Cleveland, where old genres go to die (we still have an industrial scene in Cleveland, though it is much smaller than it was when I moved here twenty years ago), Youth Code nail it. They’re making better eighties-era industrial than most industrial bands in the eighties made, and they’re certainly doing it better than 99% of those who have sprung up trying to do it since. There’s still the problem of the music appealing more to a nostalgia-aged crowd than the band’s contemporaries, and I am too cynical to believe there is a large younger, untapped market for old-school industrial music out there in the age of ClearChannel, but maybe I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong, because these guys deserve to be huge.
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Crowhurst, Everyone Is Guilty (Bandcamp, 2013)
Crowhurst seems to have set a goal for himself to not only surpass Merzbow and Sun Ra in quantity of material released, but to do so in about a tenth of the time it took either of them to amass their huge bodies of work; I think Crowhurst has released a couple of dozen things since this came out. (I am not exaggerating here; Crowhurst’s bandcamp page lists three full-length releases and three split/collaborative releases in the first two and a half months of 2014.) Everyone Is Guilty is relatively rare in the Crowhurst lineup in that Jay Gambit went totally solo on this one rather than pulling in any of his dozens of semi-regular collaborators; I don’t want to say this is a more personal release because of that—only Mr. Gambit knows that—but I would go far enough out on a limb to call this a more intimate one. I have heard a very small amount of Crowhurst’s full output to date, and so trying to make any sort of comparison along those lines would be absurd. But given what I know of his output, this is quieter, closer to the ambient realm than the noise realm (but without ever getting there). There’s even sound wash! (Check the opener, “Death Rattle.”) I won’t say I like this better than the harsh stuff, because after all I live for the harsh stuff, but of all the Crowhurst stuff in my collection, this has gotten the most rotation in 2014. Crowhurst is going to be touring the country in April/May 2014; you probably shouldn’t miss it.
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Supporting Roles, Dysmorphia (Passed Loves, 2013)
There is not nearly enough about Dysmorphia for me to posit that it is a concept album, and yet I keep coming back to this in my head. There is definitely a theme running throughout, and with a title like Dysmorphia, song titles like “Body Horror” and “Metamorphosis” should come as no surprise. But Daniel Stolarski changes things up on a fairly regular basis here, careering between deep, meditative ambient-style tracks, looped soundwash noise, film score-style keyboards, and the occasional track that borders on being noise, but never gets quite harsh enough (I’ve always thought of this as “Joe Colley noise”; Crawl Unit’s Stop Listening disc is the first release I heard that works that vein). Please do not make the mistake of substituting “not intense” for “not harsh”. Supporting Roles knows how to use a synth wash as a weapon like few other bands do. This is really a phenomenal piece of work; it would be my favorite of the month by a hair had I not swapped in one of my ten favorite albums ever to write about at the last minute.
The shortest piece on the album, but I love it so.
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Skin Graft, balance/d (Mistake by the Lake, 2014)
I’ve talked in a few recent mentions of Skin Graft about Wyatt Howland moving the project in a new, more dynamic/quiet/ominous direction. Well, usually. Then you get releases like balance/d, which now holds the distinction of being the only album I have ever listened to at work that managed to piss my co-workers off through earbuds. Skin Graft starts with ear-shredding high tones guaranteed to kill insects and small animals within a one-mile radius of you, then, in the fifteen-minute first track, adds just enough going on under the surface to keep it from being boring.
Then comes the real meat of the disc, the forty-five-minute second track. It starts out even hasher and more ear-shredding then the first, though it does get slightly calmer about halfway through (slightly), abandoning the high-pitched wall of screech for a more classic noise-wall approach. The lower the defining tone gets, the more chaotic the stuff behind it. Howland has taken the classic Skin Graft approach and melded it with his newer aesthetic of very long tracks. This is not powerelectronics for beginners.
None of this disc is out on the net yet. Here’s a little live something to tide you over.
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Reluctance, Weary Souls on Troubled Soil (Mistake by the Lake, 2014)
There’s a tag I sometimes apply to music: bad car listening. (You heard that a lot in Desert Island Disc.) It’s a situational thing. The music itself isn’t bad—two artists I tar with that brush often are Rapoon and Thomas Köner, both acknowledged masters of their respective disciplines—but if you’re suffering from road hypnosis, sticking on Fallen Gods or Permafrost is not going to keep you alert, you know? Side A of Weary Souls on Troubled Soil qualifies. I found that out the hard way, driving home late at night from a very slow (but very good) movie and almost putting myself into a ditch. The More You Know(TM). However, I believe messrs. Kirschner and Collino took a break between the two sides and had about five shots of espresso each, because Side Two changes the game up. There is no major difference in theme, method of composition, or anything like that, but Side 2 is far more intense; on Side 1, the shapeless, shadowy thing is coming down the hall. On Side 2, it has you, and you’re strapped to the table watching it choose the scalpel it wants to use that day. You want this one, just don’t stick it in the tape player on long roadtrips.
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Furisubi, Limb of Copernicus (Last Visible Dog, 2002)
Furisubi (mentioned in last month’s incarnation of OTM) heads even father down the road of what might well have become the “desert” branch of stoner-rock with Limb of Copernicus. “Lost Ship Blues” and “Crave Dawn”, the album’s central pieces, are all about slow jangliness and wide-open spaces. The rest use the same instrumentation, sometimes adding a keyboard, for a more repetitive, ritual feel. If you’ve heard early Pocahaunted, take out the vocals and strip the sound down to its roots and you have an idea what’s going on here. There’s not much I listen to that I would tell you is good to have on as background music during a dinner party, but Limb of Copernicus fits the bill very nicely.
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Death Squad, Unreleased Material 1997 (Death Squad, 2012)
Two mini-CDs in this toxic little package. One is a CD re-release of Electro-Chamber, about which I wrote way back in the day (and has since appeared here at var.ev. as part of the Vault Reviews). The second piece, which takes up the entire second mini-CD, is the unreleased stuff, and that is where we’ll be concentrating today. While it’s all tracked as one piece, it feels like two different ones. The opener feels like it’s going to be a generic intro piece, rhythmic, burbling electronics, until it blows you through the back wall with rapid, sporadic bursts of static that are four of five times as loud. You’re not allowed to fall asleep on the job here. Second piece starts about eight minutes in, and the tones are already higher and more piercing, even if softer… this is the kind of stuff that Michael does best. The samples start floating in and out a couple of minutes later, and soon after that you start understanding what the term “powerelectronics” really means. Even though the second piece never gets anywhere near as loud as the static blasts form the first, this is the one that will hurt you if you turn the volume up too loud, because those tones are brutal. (If you’re looking for a little relief, some lower-end stuff appears a little later…but I wouldn’t let it lull you into any sort of complacency.) I lost count of the times I’ve seen Death Squad live probably some time in 1998. And while there is no way to record the intensity of the Death Squad live assault, which also includes video and Michael’s inimitable stage presence, this is a pretty good representation.
Something a touch older for you, in the same timeframe.
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Paik, Corridors (Beyonder, 2001)
I wasn’t a huge fan of that whole stoner-post-math-rock-instrumental-whatever-you-call-it subgenre (think Earth, Fucking Champs, Bakerton Group, Sunn 0))), that sort of thing) until a few years ago. Part of what got me interested in it was Paik’s Corridors. I can’t even remember where I picked this up, or why, or even when, but I’m certainly glad I did. I can’t promise anyone else, especially those who are already familiar with this sort of chunky, heavy instru-metal, is going to have the same reaction to it I did, but man, this stuff blew me away, and having now heard all those bands and a couple of dozen more who do stuff passably similar to Paik, it still kinda does. Bass that manages to be both smooth and punchy with fine, shimmery guitar laid over it that puts me in mind of nothing so much as Bethany Curve. This is a soundtrack looking for a Noah Baumbach movie, but in a universe where Noah Baumbach makes good movies.
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Steve Taylor, Meltdown (Sparrow, 1984)
Back during my ill-thought-out born-again days in the mid-eighties, I listened to a lot of stuff that I’d now consider, well, kind of questionable. I was feeling oddly nostalgic for some of it a few years ago and I went hunting, picking up two albums I probably wore the grooves out of back then. Hearing Bloodgood for the first time after a quarter-century was briefly covered in Desert Island Disc. And then there was Meltdown. I loved Steve Taylor when I was in high school. (I won’t swear to it, but I think my altar-call moment came at a Steve Taylor show in Pittsburgh in 1985.) That shit made so much sense to my impressionable, addled, quite-often-stoned high school brain. (The guy who got me into Christian music wasn’t quite as much a stoner as I was, but he was not known for turning down the herb.) Now, in my forties, I listened to this stuff…and I had no conception at the time of how militant this guy was. “Over My Dead Body” is basically a song aimed at the Soviet Union saying “bring it, bomb us, it’s time we got this whole tribulation thing underway”. And “Baby Doe”, well, if you’re at all pro-choice, you probably don’t want to google the lyrics of that bad boy. Even during my worst head-in-the-sand moments of religionism, I spurned TV preacher idiots like Billy Graham for being batshit-nuts extremists, never realizing for a second that I was listening to a guy whose music was far more extreme than they ever were. Listening to it now, I’m horrified.
The only song on the album I can still listen to.
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Elhaz, The Black Flame (Memento Mori, 1997)
The perfect brain bleach for Meltdown is The Black Flame, the sole album from a mysterious band who called themselves Elhaz. They released a single album on Dark Vinyl sub-label Memento Mori, and in the late nineties, it was mind-shattering. (Nowadays, you know this style as “symphonic metal”, but back then, we had no frame of reference for such a thing.) While the band certainly has some legs for the mystery aspect—for the record, I have always hypothesized that Elhaz is a Kirlian Camera side-project—they don’t need anything beyond the music to get them by. The Black Flame is a gargantuan album, ranging from “pretty damned great” to “absolutely perfect”. Big stadium-rock riffs clash against hooky drums, the keyboards are accented with the occasional blast of sax, the vocals are delivered in the most laid-back death-growl you’ll ever hear. Overtly Satanic, but part of the album’s greatness is that this is not “we’re going to spit on other religions” Satanism, this is “hey, we are part of this religion and we are going to celebrate it”. You know, like other religious music that people aren’t making in order to shock all the people in religions other than theirs. This is an album that should have been a game-changer for Satanic music; it has never gotten its due. To this day, the best Satanic album in my collection, and one of my all-time favorites.