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File under experimental

Earth’s first albums in the early 90s. Yes, the same Earth that we greet today as the forefathers of drone-metal, the raison d’etre of Sunn O))), which Stephen O’Malley originally conceived of as a band tribute to the power trio from Olympia. The same Earth who were accused in their day of being heavy and obtuse—first by pop audiences, then by heavy metal ones. When they weren’t accused of being a joke. We definitely weren’t ready for them.

Seen today with perspective, the confusion generated by “Extra-Capsular Extraction” (1991) and, especially, “Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version” (1993) among the crowds of that time is, nevertheless, understandable: they came to us through Sub Pop, the label that had just fired the shot from the starting pistol for grunge with Mudhoney, Smashing Pumpkins and, of course, Nirvana. But what Dylan Carlson and company were doing didn’t have much, or anything at all, to do with all of that—only the sharpest then knew to relate them to Saint Vitus, Swans and Winter– even if the group did move to Seattle months before the “Nevermind” fever and the “alternative” gale fully hit. They shared a common underlying basis with many of their fellows, the hard riff inherited from Black Sabbath, an influence that is highly evident on albums like “Bleach” (Nirvana) or “God’s Ball” (Tad). But their obsessive use of repetition, rhythms close to clinical death, and their essentially instrumental nature didn’t help their popularity much. Until a few years ago it was founded on such unedifying issues as the friendship between Carlson and Kurt Cobain, whom the leader of Earth is said to have introduced to heroin, and with whom he bought the rifle that he would end up using to blow his brains out. The question is that for once historical justice has triumphed, and as I said, Earth are recognised today to be the forefathers of a genre, doom-metal, to which we owe many of the best recent vanguard rock proposals, from Nadja to KTL. Which leads us to “A Bureaucratic Desire for Extra-Capsular Extraction” (Southern Lord), a CD that entirely recovers Earth’s first recording session, the fruits of which, spread out over various volumes, had never been brought together in a single album, as was originally intended: seven heavy-rock cuts bordering on autism, harsh and entirely without any superfluous element, heavy and asphyxiating. It isn’t such a definitive work as far as the genre goes, like the more decisive “Earth 2”, but it reveals the group’s course prior to reaching the abstraction of the latter. Closer to High On Fire than to Sunn O))), so that we understand each other, “A Bureaucratic Desire for Extra-Capsular Extraction” might not be the treasure that many wanted to find in the archives, but, if I may say so, it totally rocks. And it also includes, for the grunge star-struck, the sought-after “Divine and Bright”, with Cobain’s non-credited vocal contribution. The (Yellow) Swan SongThere artists are like a sexual partner who’s willing to try anything: you don’t realise how fortunate you are to have known them until you lose them. Something like this happened to me with Yellow Swans. During their short, but very intense existence—over fifty recordings between 2001 and 2009– the duo consisting of Pete Swanson and Gabriel Mindel Saloman situated itself in an ambiguous place on the noise scene, halfway between isolationism and a sort of crumbled rock, totally outside of recognisable forms and reduced to pure intensity. I paid attention to them, but maybe not enough. That’s what I think now when, thanks to the extraordinary series of solo releases put out by Pete Swanson in recent months, I have recovered works like “At All Ends” (Load, 2007) or “Going Places” (Type, 2009), to name two of the most easily-found albums. Both seem to me today to be indispensable pieces in any collection worth its salt; they are master treatises about the epic nature of distortion, pregnant with a singular lyricism. They are without a doubt noisy and pro-noise albums, but their greatest radicalism lies in the absence—at least apparently—of the slightest hint of bellicosity. Noise, in Yellow Swans’ hands, a psychedelic vehicle, capable of transporting listeners to a state of profound captivation without resorting to the cosmic or the harmonic. Swanson continues to achieve this in his more recent productions. Of the many cassettes and records that he has put into circulation in 2010, the ones that have ended up in my iTunes – “Challenger” (self-released), “Feelings in America” (Root Strata), “Where I Was” (self-released) and “Waiting for the Ladies”, this last title is shared with René Hell and was also self-released—prolong the stylistic legacy of Yellow Swans with a greater emphasis on the basic lines that distinguish them. They are more isolationist (“Challenger”) and more rock (“Feelings in America” and “Where I Was”). They are definitely a review, bigger and better, or what Yellow Swans was. Let’s see what Mindel Saloman does in this regard.

Not Hypnagogia EitherThe hypnagogic thing doesn’t seem to have much more to offer. Having overcome the initial surprise, the (alleged) gift of the phenomenon seems to decrease as the months go by. The latest releases from Dylan Ettinger ( “New Age Outlaws: Director’s Cut” (Not Not Fun), LP version of the cassette “New Age Outlaws”), Gary War ( “Police Water” on Sacred Bones), and Sex Worker ( “Waving Goodbye” on Not Not Fun) are all frustrating. Not so much because they represent a decrease in quality with respect to their authors’ previous works, but because they don’t at all propose any substantial difference with respect to them. More of the same: lo-fi tangle, 80s timbres and, deep down, the same songs as always—in some cases literally: Sex Worker covers “Rhythm of the Night” in a way that says “look how eccentric and funny I am.” “So Unreal” (Not Not Fun), released by LA Vampires in a joint venture with Matrix Metals (alias of Sam Meringue, from Outer Limits Recordings) deserves special mention: it’s an album that is at first disconcerting and finally disappointing after you have listened to it a couple of times. There is no trace of the cavernous dub of the previous works from the Los Angeles night-dwellers and there are too many old-fashioned keyboards. I don’t know, it seems to me that what The Skaters proposed was going in another direction.

Man on WireI love Mark Fell. I love him very much. In fact, if it weren’t for that red beard of his, which looks like it must be really scratchy, I would give him a big kiss to thank him for being alive. I’m telling you, he has been cheering up my life for over a decade, whether in the company of Mat Steel as Blir or Snd –the first and last microhouse group, as I see it– or alone. Not only for the music that he produces, but for his attitude: I consider Mark Fell a paradigm of the artistic profile dictated by the times: a creator whose sensitivity owes as much to science as to art, to continuous research in the digital medium and an imagination that blurs the lines between high and low culture, where the cerebral and the carnal, abstraction and effectiveness, come together and blend. Fell is a juggler who can play with the line separating the experimental from the popular while keeping a balance that is little less than miraculous. You can see for yourself whether you agree with “UL8” (Editions Mego) and “Multistability” (Raster-Noton), two albums being released simultaneously which complement each other perfectly, although they appear to be aimed at different tastes.

“UL8” is entirely conceived of as homage to Celestion UL8 speakers, the same ones that his brother had, and thanks to which Fell discovered electronic music during his childhood and developed his taste for synthetic textures. The album’s press release includes a detailed description of the means and methods used for its production, alternated with autobiographical notes. It is precisely this combination of the scientific and the human that significantly distances the Brit’s creation from the strictly experimental. Formally it is: here you won’t find the usual beats of Snd or the usual references to dance music, in spite of the occasional use of a handclap or two and that nod to Hecker in the seven sequences of “Part Three: Acid in the Style of Rian Treanor”; it’s pure technological testing, once again creating that hybrid of science and art to which I was just referring.

Something similar is proposed by “Multistability”. The methodology is different, as on this occasion the artist returns to the fold of the latest editions from Snd –in fact, the similarities to “Atavism” (Raster-Noton, 2008) are obvious– but once again the traces of a past lived in the laboratory and on the dance floor are as clear as the light of day. This time, though, Fell makes the angles sharper. If in “Atavism” they were already playing with rhythmic irregularity, in “Multistability” –a much more illustrative title that it might seem, as the stability of the songs, which is effectively multiple, is divided between different patterns in a highly complicated coexistence– non-linear structures rule, along with brusque changes in speed, sharp turns of the steering wheel in the percussion, and of course the diamantine sound. It isn’t an easily digestible album, but that’s the thing—for a few brief moments it seems like it is.

Mp5 The Dead C: “Patience” (Ba Da Bing!)

Opening with something like “Empire” is winning the battle without having to draw your sword: the best sixteen minutes of rock –crude, noisy and free– of the year. Starting here, things go downhill a little with the more minor “Federation” and “Shaft”, but then there is another superb quarter of an hour, with “South” at the end, which gets the album back on track (and how!). It’s what all fans of the New Zealand trio have been waiting for since the already-distant “Secret Earth” (Ba Da Bing!, 2008). T-r-e-m-e-n-d-o-u-s.

Vomir: “Vomir” (H Series HNW)

Although it might be difficult for novices to tell them apart, there are many kinds of noise. And perhaps the roughest of them all –for its denial of any type of structure, its self-absorption, its ruthlessness—is the wall of noise. And the walls built by the French group Vomir, detached from any dramatic content—without titles or anything—are made of reinforced concrete. Real madmen.

Taku Sugimoto & Moe Kamura: “Saritote II” (Saritote Disk)

“Voice, guitar, mandolin, and cello,” they claim to use. And “silence,” they should add. A master of reductionism, Taku Sugimoto unfolds a collection of songs in “Saritote II” that are so delicate they seem about to break at any moment. Kamura’s voice, more of a whisper, is the most logical option for complementing such a special, unique album, which not everyone will understand. For yours truly, it’s a gem.

Sun City Girls: “Funeral Mariachi” (Abduction)

Possessed with a very particular imagination, facing off almost militantly against any canon of coherence to a genre, Sun City Girls have gone down in history as one of the greatest anomalies to have arisen from the American underground. The trio formed by brothers Alan and Rick Bishop and the deceased Charles Gocher –he died in 2007– no longer exists today, but this posthumous volume keeps their memory alive, very alive. If you have ever wondered how a Balinese orchestra would sound performing African music, directed by Ennio Morricone, “Funeral Mariachi” is for you.

Catherine Christer Hennix: “The Electric Harpsichord” (Die Schachtel)

Lost for years in the archives, a piece has finally been recovered that is perhaps not essential, but which is undeniably relevant to drone music. Recorded in 1976 under the influence of the Hindu mantra, “The Electric Harpsichord” sounds more current today than ever: immense, hypnotic and infinite. A necessary rescue to demonstrate that there was always life beyond the holy trinity of LaMonte Young, Pauline Oliveros and Eliane Radigue. It’s a luxury edition, with a booklet and notes by Glenn Branca, Henry Flynt and Young himself.

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