Category Archives: Reviews

Wreck And Reference – Black Cassette

Every now and then I come across a release that I really want to tell everyone about, yet no matter how long I let it simmer in my head, I’m at a loss for just the right words to use… Occasionally that has resulted in something of a lateral approach, but I really didn’t want to leave it a minute more before talking about Wreck And Reference’s Black Cassette, particularly as – instead of something moderately easy like altering images with wire, sand and various other mediums – the artistic inspiration this is responsible for involves herding a big group of unsuspecting people near large buckets of different coloured paint, plus the use of a fly wall and a catapault.

I have no idea why, though I’d hazard a guess it has something to do with that cover art, but it’s all beside the point since it’s not something I have the resources to accommodate. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that the presumed people-mosaic such a thing would result in looks very cool the way I imagine it.

There is something a bit fascinating about the focus of surprise people have after being subject to forces greater than themselves, particularly if that force has become an accepted if but domineering presence, as I suspect a great big catapault in a room would be. I’d bet good money people would be splat against that wall and saying things like “My good coat! It’s ruined!“, partly because they already know and have accepted how they got stuck to that wall, and it can’t be changed, and partly because there is strange comfort in the absence of will and choice. Such, also, is the power of something that is both personal and visual that it usually supersedes the importance of great things in our immediate vicinity, even if they pose a threat.

Generally, if people are thrown, they accept they will fall.

On to much more important matters, however, and this music. There are things that are due attention (like all the stuff about innovation and so on, in particular that this can be filed under genres like doom, noise and metal yet it’s all electronic aside from the drums). And then there are the things that grab mine… Things like “what’s it like to not have hands?”, a line in the first track All The Ships Have Been Abandoned, which is my own paint-covered coat. (Metaphorically speaking).

What’s actually important is that there is a hell of a lot that is striking within the 2o or so minutes these tracks run for, and if/when you give some thought to what struck you the most, I doubt it’s going to be what instruments were (or weren’t) used. These songs have been crafted effectively enough for that to be largely inconsequential, to me anyway. As in, good music is bloody good music; don’t care how you make it.

You can currently purchase the second issue of Black Cassette from Music Ruins Lives, which includes an exclusive track. As with all their other releases, numbers are limited but if you miss out, you can grab a digital copy from Bandcamp.

S4E

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Offthesky – The Beautiful Nowhere

The Beautiful Nowhere is just about as delicate as an album can be, without any of the implied weakness that often accompanies the description.  The Surface of Your Sin, the opening track, begins with a few notes struck from what I can only assume (from reading the press release and then researching just what on earth it was) is a kalimba. Prior to that, I thought it was a gu zheng; which I mention purely to demonstrate the subtle skill in which sound has been allowed to bend around the listener’s own ideas or concepts.

Quite often, a song will construct a fairly specific concept or story, even if at times it’s purely through mood and maybe an indication or two of emotion; neither mood or emotion is absent on The Beautiful Nowhere, yet it’s so organic that it’s almost pliable, almost reshaped as you listen to it.

As textures build and/or expand, strings, vocals and effects quietly create space that is both ethereal and earthly. I have a pre-disposition for flights of fancy as it is, so I love it when music creates an atmosphere that lets my imagination take a few liberties with what I’m hearing (and for the record, that earthy/ethereal quality translated for me to liberties that ranged from images of slow moving, yawning giants who made the ground tremble with footsteps, to tiny insects with flickering wings; and even just the lovely simplicity of feeling the warmth of the sun through a clouded sky).

The album title may reference nowhere, but I imagine it’s what you’d hear if you put your ear to the ground and listened to the hum of the earth, the natural sound underneath the structures we’ve built – which has the same capacity to be simultaneously stark and refined, ancient and newborn, warm and cold, willing to yield to hardworking hands yet remarkably uncompromising, rife with spirit, of things yet to come, and rich with old tales.

The Beautiful Nowhere is available in limited quantities through Hibernate – on CD  (with packaging hand-made at order), and vinyl, with immediate digital download accompanying both.

S4E


Inga Liljeström – Black Crow Jane

June is the first, official month of winter in Australia, but it’s been damn cold at night for quite a number of weeks. While I’m not yet at the stage where I need to re-think my negative position on the Snuggie, hearing about the release of a new album by Inga Liljeström was welcome news indeed – I’ll take her smouldering ember-like voice to warm my nights over a blanket with sleeves any time.

I’m sure everyone has felt that mix of excitement and reserve when a favoured artist releases something new, particularly when – after three years of keeping record – one of their previous albums remains the most played out of my entire collection. Elk is a breathlessly good album, pretty much perfectly capturing in sound the fire and ice sensation of love, desire, intimacy and everything in between.

By comparison, it’s fair to say that Black Crow Jane is a little older, wiser and more incisive than any of its predecessors. It’s also more resolved, even if at times the subject matter is slightly less so, and perhaps surprisingly, it doesn’t have the slightest hint of becoming jaded in the process. Love is still sacred in this world; and if Elk was about moments that sear the heart, Black Crow Jane shows that those experiences can make if fierce, but don’t stop it from having the capacity to remain quietly and beautifully vulnerable at times.

Jazz and blues were always a noticable undercurrent to Inga’s unique, film noir blend of trip-hop, rock and folk; whereas before they highlighted moments of yearning, mourning and wonder, on this album it’s soulful, sultry and sharply seductive. The sheer and intimate nature of previous work made albums like Elk incredibly bold, despite their vulnerability. This album is no less intimate or bold, but there’s a definite shift in where and how such things are shown. This time around, sound-wise, the comparisons to both Björk and PJ Harvey (which is not uncommon when it comes to talking about any strong female artist, particularly if their work contains the slightest hint of electronica and/or rock) are not far off the mark; Black Crow Jane has elements akin to the brash, bluesy-rock honesty of Harvey, as well as the playful, curious and occasionally delicately blissful charm of Björk, but (of course) is unmistakably Inga Liljeström.

The entire album can be streamed online via SoundCloud, and purchased in Australia via Groovescooter. It’s also available from France’s Emergence Music, with Euro distribution.

….

S4E


Benjamin Finger – For You, Sleepsleeper

Sometimes the title of a release eptitomises the music in a fairly overt way; other times it’s a little more subtle (or seemingly completely irrelevant, but that’s beside the point). For You, Sleepsleeper is a little of both, that is, it’s overt and subtle in being an indication of the music contained therein.

While I’m not here to explore words and the various subtleties of context → inherent implications, it’s something I can’t help noticing and appreciating; particularly when it ties so neatly in with how I have personally interpreted the tone of the music.

For You… can be both an ode and a gift  – an ode to what has come to pass, and a gift for what may come; and perhaps while Sleepsleeper might suggest tranquility and a level of unawareness, on this album it’s decidely burgeoning, giving me the sense that this is the ode to what happens not when you wake, but become aware.

The core of the album lies in the ambient electronic realm, and the tracks shift from trembling energy to warm tenderness through layers of organic instrumentation and field recordings. The overall effect is that the heart of this album feels centred and at peace, but at the same time, in vision and sentiment, various thoughts, ideas and emotions are brought to the foreground.

These are often quite animated and even occasionally a little scattered, as though there is so much in the world to discover and be curious about, excited by or frightened of, but ultimately to embrace – sometimes through delicate indulgence, and other times with swift and reckless eagerness.

Drowned In Elbows has a gorgeous, understated jazz melody that is wistful and serene; though the electronic element is more pronounced and quite energetic, together it almost becomes like watching life and all its wonders flash before your eyes – stood still in that centre of calm, sights, sounds and memories rush forward and disappear, leaving behind a glimmer of nostalgia as something new begins.

For You, Sleepsleeper is available through How Is Annie Records and Tigernet.

S4E


Heinali and Matt Finney – Ain’t No Night

As Ain’t No Night’s release date is still TBA, this is the artwork for Candidate

I spent a while trying to put my finger on just exactly what it is this album reminds me of, steadfastly resisting the urge to use yet another correlation to the realm of films, but I can’t help it, really. I spent a good decade wanting to work in film, and as a consequence a significant portion of my twenties was spent watching them, devising and half-finishing scripts, and idolising Jim Henson (amongst many others, but, you know…the dude was awesome. He made a frog ride a bike, which was an exceedingly difficult thing to do).

Why am I even talking about Jim Henson? Pretty much because he created vastly intricate scenes that were gone in the blink of an eye. His visual craft was such that sometimes you only understood how damn impressive it was if you studied it carefully and properly, otherwise it was a deceptively simple, but pretty (or scary, as was often the case in The Dark Crystal) picture. And that’s relevant.

Those two paragraphs aside, believe it or not I intended to mention Hal Hartley, but I’m getting a bit off focus here.

I mentioned this duo at the end of last month, and this release – three weeks later I’m still impressed by it. The last album I reviewed (Conjoined), I liked – to be honest, I favour most things that subvert any pre-existing ideas I have about the way I think things should be (i.e. spoken word and music don’t belong together). Ain’t No Night, feels and sounds like a more assured and fully realised album, to the point where I completely neglected to be aware of that idea. The unison between words and music is almost seamless here, which is not at all to say that there aren’t two unique and distinctive voices at work.

Clearly, I’m not American, so I can’t claim to have any authority on what is (or what makes) an American story, but this is where the Hal Hartley reference comes in, who is American, and told (what I take to be) American stories. Matt Finney’s lyrics – and delivery – remind me of the underlying narrative in Hartley’s films, where the story, the actions and reactions are in plain view, but the viewpoint itself generally comes from the audience – rarely did the actors in a Hartley film imbue their performance with any overt clues as to what they were thinking or feeling; you have the scene and the words…and yourself.

I may be wrong, but I believe this is one of the greater achievements of art, if not its outright intention – that is, to hold a lens to a story or concept – a reality – that is simultaneously reflective, ultimately giving the audience (of any art) an opportunity to participate no matter how introspective or personal the story actually is. Matt Finney achieves this on Ain’t No Night, as exemplified quite well on the title track (a gritty, bluesy number that alternates between acoustic folk and heavier doom/’gaze), with lyrics that, in moments of otherwise silence, have the capacity (and/or tendency) to creep into somone’s consciousness; in a way that – even if no one’s ever said them to you – can make hearing them feel like some sort of vicarious deja vu (if that’s possible).

During the spoken word sections, Heinali’s music is generally subdued, in the same kind of way storm clouds gather and roll across the sky before they break – they’re quiet, but their presence and imminent storm is unmissable. The compositions on this album are a force to be reckoned with indeed, ranging from subtle to palpable.

The intracacies of the music again lie just beneath the more overt surface. The instrumental sections in the first track, In All Directions, are quite searing at first (like when a storm first breaks), but as the song progresses, the sudden and startling ferocity of it recedes and other layers are revealed. To me, it sounds like the musical translation of an irrational, emotional reaction, followed by a gradual calm as more information is brought to attention.

Which is what made me think of Jim Henson, by the way. One of my favourite scenes in The Dark Crystal lasts for about 3 seconds or so – a straightforward pan across a forest that acts as the lead-in to another (story-developing) scene. At a casual glance, it’s a nice scene showing some of the quirky flora and fauna that populates the world, but it’s an amazingly intricate scene if you pay just a little bit more attention to it. The more detail you unravel, the more you understand about the world Henson is trying to show – same thing here with Heinali’s music. It is aesthetically very easy on the “eye”, but you could give that eye a good workout if you had the inclination.

There’s definitely quite a bit going on, both lyrically and musically. It’s like very finely tuned chaos – neither overwhelming or confusing, which may or may not have to do with the relative succinctness of four tracks, but at 35 minutes I warrant it has more to do with careful use of light and shade.

Ain’t No Night‘s official release date is as yet unannounced, but is due late spring (I presume that’s US) on Paradigms Recordings.

In the meantime, you can further whet your appetite with Candidate, their take the Joy Division track.

S4E


Mamaleek – Kurdaitcha

According to my dashboard, I started this post six weeks ago. According to my head, I have no idea where I was going with what I had written. If S4E were a televised cooking show, bringing up a half-baked cake from six weeks back with “here’s one I prepared earlier”, pretending I knew what the contents were…once, well, it isn’t going to look all that good no matter how bright n’ shiny my smile is. (Unless it’s a fruit cake, the kind you have to boil for hours and can keep in a hessian sack until such a time as fruit cake is required. I don’t make those, though). So I’m going to have to start from scratch – seems like a decent place to start, anyway.

The main point is, I know jack about black metal. That’s not news, I’ve said as much on other occasions and – as you can see – it shows every time I try to write about it, thus I consistently realise and admit to it. Something I do know is that a good percentage of it that I’ve listened to has left me scratching my head and wondering why the hell I don’t get what’s going on – which, it’s important to note, is distinctly different from simply wondering what the hell they’re on about. That’s because there’s been a select few albums that I not only immediately grasped, but they managed to impress me beyond what I would have thought possible for music with which I usually feel I have no particular aptitude or affinity. So I’ve developed something of a perpetual curiosity about it – while admittedly it’s relatively mild, it’s also an anomaly in that I would usually neglect to actively seek out releases from a genre if I considered the vast majority of it something I don’t like and/or “get”.

Kurdaitcha, strangely enough, lies somewhere in the middle of my capacity to understand – and therefore possibly appreciate – it. That’s strange because I dig the most of it. While it contains much of the abrasiveness and dissonance I’ve started to become familiar with, there’s a rationale to it I can grasp and I’m not left thinking I haven’t understood the basics of where it’s coming from.

At this stage, I remain convinced that there’s a language to black metal that’s ultimately beyond my current level of understanding. I sometimes think it might even be the absence of certain language(s) that causes me to get the sense I need to learn something different before I can interpret and understand what I’m listening to. By language, I’m not referring to lyrics/vocals, either. When I listen to music, no matter how unfamiliar with it I am, I can detect things that I am familiar with, and either relate directly, or translate them to a slightly different sense: visual, literal, emotional…and so on. I’ve really only ever been able to do that once with a black metal album (Murmuüre’s S/T). It’s weird.

Maybe that’s the point. And why I keep gravitating towards it, as though it’s a unique dialect that I can crack if I just listen to enough of it. Perhaps eventually I’ll stop telling myself there’s a secret code to unlock, for surely music has the capacity to just speak  – out of the sheer need for, or indulgence in, a different languange – and I’ll appreciate it for that.

For now, and what it’s worth (from someone who spent the opening paragraph inexplicably rambling about cake, and most of the rest talking about this music as if it’s an odd curiosity in need of deciphering), I like this album. I can’t tell you much about it other than that, but I can virtually guarantee that if you’re even moderately inclined to give it a listen, you’ll find a thing or two to like about it as well. If you pay attention to certain circles, you likely would have seen a certain amount of hype  surrounding its release. I, at least, have the capacity to recognise why; it’s a prime example of the kind of music that keeps me exploring the genre instead of giving it up.

Kurdaitcha was released on vinyl and as a digital download by Enemies List Home Recordings. The download may be acquired for free, but you can show your support for the artists behind the music by donating some cash via the download page.

S4E


Kyle Bobby Dunn – Ways Of Meaning

No matter how much time I spent listening to Ways Of Meaning before coming here and attempting to write about it, it always felt like it wasn’t enough.

If you recall, last time I used the visual artistry of director Wong Kar Wai to draw parallels between discerning nuances in the visual and musical realm, though admitting I’m more a student in the matter than an authority. If you’ll allow me to further that theme for a moment, I think I’ve graduated to the next chamber. My task to learn this lesson is to fill pails with water, then carry them back to a certain destination without letting them spill. Thus far, I’ve been arriving to a stern, disapproving glance at my empty pails and swiftly sent marching  back until I’ve not only mastered the art of balance, but can extend it beyond myself to the fluid substance given temporary form and which I carry at arm’s length while I move with impetuous impatience.

To clarify things, the water is a metaphor for the thoughts I gather when I listen to Ways Of Meaning, and in the course of feeling rather confident in them, I turn on my computer, open up a blank page, only to think I don’t have nearly enough to say. That it clocks in at almost a third of the listening time as A Young Person’s Guide does little to negate the sense that there is something vast and intricate to explore, and that I have much more of it to do before I can consider writing about it.

It may appear as though I’m doing the release a disservice with diversionary tactics, or perhaps that I’m inadvertantly disregarding it by virtue of admitting my grasp feels fleeting. So I want to say that, like A Young Person’s Guide, it would have been easy to take this music at face value, but if I was ever prepared to do that I would have just strung together some nifty words. You know the ones: ambient, mourning, resonant, fluid…and if I started to run out maybe I’d reach for pretty, then a thesaurus – they’d all be relevant and true. But it’s much more honest for me to say that those are the words I was left with after I’d finished listening. They were the few drops left in my pails, the ones that looked like sad little dregs, because they’re not only somwhat superficial in their application here, they show little about what I thought – so here’s what you should know…

When you think about the kind of music that soundtracks the events in daily life, from the commonplace, everyday occurances to those that take us by surprise, the ones that leave us slightly winded and uncertain what’s going to happen next, it’s natural to make immediate connections to music that plays loud enough to get through the noise in your head.

Ways Of Meaning is like the music that was already there. It’s those natural layers of sound that hum underneath motion and thought, that drive it, and the music you hear when just for a moment you allow memory or imagination to steer your thoughts instead of the other way around and reacting to them. If provocation itself,  the instigation as opposed to cause and effect, of sense memory had a sound, this is what I think it would sound like.

Each time I played this album, I had 40 minutes to simply listen to the music and think of ways to describe it, but that, perhaps unfortunately, doesn’t interest me as much as what I actually did. I spent much more of the time delving into other things – things that if I mentioned would probably look stark and unusual, because they’re mine alone and I remembered or imagined them in a context that (I insist) will only make sense to me. It isn’t the music that I have fleeting grasp on, it’s the confidence to share the secrets I found when listening to it.

Ways Of Meaning is available on the 3rd of May, on vinyl and digital download, through Desire Path Recordings.

S4E