Well, the train wreck of 2020 is in the rearview, but I’ve collected another selection of submissions that Scene Point Blank received in the past year or so that were worthy of note and a bit off the beaten path. Full speed ahead: the good, the spazz, and the wtf. I should note that some of the links in this article are probably NSFW.
Basil Kirchin - Everyday Madness
Since his death in 2005, English composer Basil Kirchin has seen his work reevaluated, largely through the efforts of kitsch label Trunk Records, who’ve issued a series of Kirchin works over the years. 2020 saw the release of three Kirchin offerings, including his soundtrack for the 1969 film I Start Counting as well as the computer-produced single “Silicon Chip” from the early ‘80s. Still, it’s the Everyday Madness release that’s arguably of most interest to the composer’s fans or new listeners. The opening track heads from warmer sonic territory directly off the cliff, with a bright children’s vocal replaced by agonized wailing, shrieks, growling, and disconcerting chatter. It's vintage Kirchin: fascinating to listen to but downright distressing. And now for something completely different: a dance-like coda that seems to have been ripped from an animated fairy tale. “Pat’s Pigs.” It's a somewhat odd title -- are the titular pigs being used to dispose of bodies from Mafia hits? Almost subterranean ambiance, with gnarly guitar and breathy woodwind tones alongside barely there mallet percussion. Piercing pangs of noise jolt the listener back to reality every now and again. I like the whooping electronic effects, similar to the types of sounds you’d hear in an old sci-fi flick. The lengthy album closer almost plays like a demo reel, exhibiting many aspects of the trademark Kirchin sound. This resembles ADHD put to music as numerous motifs, maybe even entirely separate compositions slam together, yet there is a glue holding it all together since the main melody pops up repeatedly.
SANKT OTTEN – LIEDER FÜR GEOMETRISCHE STUNDEN
About when I was going to complain that the mix sounded, to my ears anyway, too “small” in the first track, the group unleashes an expansive spacey background which persists for the remainder of the album, which translates as "Songs for Geometrical Hours" . Honestly, the mix is well-done throughout, and I appreciate the fact that this seems more composition-based and doesn’t really play the “wave game;” you know, like coldwave/darkwave/whateverwave, that many contemporary synth-based artists aim for. “Die Kunst des falschen Timings” is the initially troubling yet ultimately uplifting dance hit 1983 never knew it needed. It’s cool that this is a purely instrumental album, but my mind was left wondering what some of these pieces would turn into with added vocals. I also realize that, alongside the more pop-oriented material, this group is equally capable of dropping something that may as well be a Stranger Things soundtrack outtake. Or a deep cut from some super obscure Italian genre film Quentin Tarantino would not-so-slyly reference. The propulsive album closer is a definite highlight; it suggests to me a process by which the “geometry” dealt with in the album stretches forth to infinity. Which is probably accurate. Math is forever.
Eraldo Bernocchi and Hoshiko Yamane – Mujo
...And if SANKT OTTEN overall left me with a sense of hope, this ominous album (another worthwhile Denovali release marking a collaboration between Italian composer/guitarist/producer Bernocchi and Japanese composer/violinist/producer Yamane, a member of the legendary Tangerine Dream since 2011) pretty much dashed that immediately. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; hell, I realized long ago that I enjoy more moody music. Still, Mujo’s combination of menacing synthesizer, tense rhythmic structures, and expressive, even tragic sounding strings is unsettling, especially in light of recent human history. That lonely guitar in “Future Suns” seems plucked directly from a NIN record, and similar to much of Trent Reznor’s work, alongside the gloom, Mujo does offer isolated moments of beauty and oh-so-tentative optimism. Overall, this is an immersive, gorgeously constructed album and an example of how electronic and classical elements can be combined to great effect. Just not an upbeat one in almost any respect; the more urgent feeling finale hints to me that maybe the apocalypse is imminent.
156 - Accidental Exorcism
The idea of exorcism became prominent in popular culture in the 1970s and has enjoyed the occasional resurgence since. Hell, I remember an Exorcism: Live-type of show from a few years back. This album, produced by prolific one-man group 156, lives up to its title: a nightmarish combination of grinding metal, ghastly vocal elements, and odd sound and synth effects. The artist’s commitment got my attention: while many contemporary musicians do a solid job of paying homage to vintage synth film music, Accidental Exorcism nails a murky, genuinely distressing atmosphere with ease and would work exceedingly well as the accompanying soundtrack to a particularly grimy horror film playing NYC’s infamous Deuce. Especially effective in this regard is the buzzing intensity of “Red Rooms” and “Ode to Pazuzu,” which -- with its hammering discordant piano, shrill ambient tones, and lurching rhythmic structure -- truly does seem to conjure the Mesopotamian king of the demons of the wind. The occasional use of elements such as the echoing train whistle peeking through the crackling ambient elements in “The Holocene Extinction” or muffled city sounds in “When a City Stops” give the record a concrete sort of base, perhaps suggesting the dark elements referenced in this menacing music is bleeding out into the “real world.” The combination of alternately religious-themed and doomy spoken word and almost lullaby-like instrumental parts make for a very unsettling closing track.
Baldi/Gerycz Duo – After Commodore Perry Service Plaza
This improvised work from two members of indie rock band Cloud Nothings (their second jazz collaboration of 2020 and apparently named after a stop along the Ohio Turnpike) often seems more about what you don’t hear than what you do. Melodic but lonely saxophone slowly morphs into more frenzied flutters of tones accompanied by sparse percussion. The mixing also contributes to this effect: parts sink into the background only to reappear emboldened and energetic -- or come in just on the edge of the audible range, particularly the rolling cymbal and wheezing metallic accents. When the percussion hits though, it’s punchy: a real contrast to the almost purposely underwhelming way much of it is performed. I found there to be an almost romantic, yearning quality to individual sax lines, but this is hardly-smooth jazz fits for a night in with a loved one since these moments of tenderness are frequently followed up with squawks, squeals, or breathy hissing. Much of the album is intimate in terms of its sound, as if you’re hearing a private performance, though things conclude on a more ruckus note.
Andrée Burelli - De Sidera
It's dreamy opener of moody, reverb-drenched piano, makes me feel as if I was being carried away on a gusting wind or maybe heading back in time. Loop-based and almost deceptively simple at times, De Sidera is sweeping and epic when it wants to be, boasting a complex layering of gorgeous vocals and warm synths, and despite the prevailing melancholic, almost smoky sort of mood, was supremely chilled out and captured for me the profound wonder of the universe. I could see these sounds accompanying an astronomy documentary. Maybe Carl Sagan would’ve dug it. One of the aspects I found most intriguing the vocals, which are performed in a self-described imaginary language. It’s kind of amazing when listening to this album that my brain really wanted to ascribe meaning to the words and, truth be told, they are more complex than the “oohs” and “ahs” one often encounters, yet I don’t think traditional vocals (with words) would have allowed this pretty remarkable album to work as well as it does.
P Foundation - MISSINGNO
I can’t find much of anything about this band, but here’s about the only info about P Foundation as per their bandcamp: “P Foundation was established in late 2019 to administer and preserve the legacy and works and life of Pablo (2000-2019). MISSINGNO. is the first artistic work issued by Lucy Cheesman and Adam Zejma in their roles of trustees of the estate. In its 5 tracks, MISSINGNO.’s experimental and electronic noise rock honors Pablo’s memory in suitably absurd and neurotic fashion.” Honestly, I’m not even sure what that blurb is entirely talking about, but I can say that listening to MISSINGNO. felt like I had plugged myself into an electric socket. Or maybe it replicated the sensation of burning up upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Manic to the extreme and just plain loud, this EP assaults the listener with massively distorted vocals, tons of weird sound effects, and about the maximum amount of harsh electronics you could pack into a quarter-hour. I mean, it’s fun, but this is one of the most whacked out releases I’ve come across in a long time.
Bruckmann/Djll/Heule/Nishi-Smith - Brittle Feebling
Okay, so on this improvisational jazz, er, noise album, we have a trumpeter, someone playing a koto, one playing the oboe/English horn, and someone on the floor tom. Right there, that sounds like odd instrumentation, and I tend to think I’m pretty good at identifying musical sounds, but this album had me frequently stumped in my game of Name That Sound. At times we’ve got trumpet keys, maybe coins rattling, lengthy sequences of breath hissing through wind instruments, tinkling strings, muffled background chatter. Roughly five minutes through the opening track, and I’ve counted one solitary, genuine musical tone, a sharp flatulent outburst from the trumpet, and on it goes. What now? A saw slicing through wood? A bow running across a drum head? The trumpet being played with the spit valve open? Your guess is probably as good as mine. The rumbling tom strikes (or is it that?) make this whole thing almost disconcerting, punctuated by grating tonal accents from instruments being played in ways definitely not endorsed by their inventors. Granted, not everyone would be trying to digest what this quartet is selling, but if you’re looking for some fascinatingly weird music sound for...some occasion, let me assure you that this offering would undoubtedly fit the bill.
Federico Balducci - Clowder ov Death 2 [Manière]
Clowder: a group of cats, so what to expect from an album titled Clowder ov Death 2 [Manière]? One of those novelty albums where a gaggle of felines butchers the hit songs of, I don’t know, Barry Manilow? Surprisingly (or not), that’s not what we get here. Instead, it’s an album of self-described space jazz broken up by three brief interlude tracks that pile-on a lot of dark atmosphere while unleashing some nifty guitar and trombone tones (especially evident on the title track), crackly field recordings, and even whistling birds. Many tracks here have some element of noise to them, though I found the album quite pleasant to listen to. “Casual Stroll,” sounding to me like anything but, and “Tomorrow Will be Better,” which pops up out of nowhere as the penultimate track, are almost straightforward metal with tight drumming and thunderous guitar, while other tracks such as “One Way Street” or “Walk in the Park” are warmer, maybe even vaguely playful. Arguably one of the best aspects of this album is that Balducci doesn’t overstay his welcome; most of the album’s pieces are relatively brief, with only one (the forbidding, somewhat more obviously experimental “Gazouillis”) heading over the three and a half minute mark. I also found it pretty cool that the composer, on a track entitled “If I was a cloud….,” which I might have suspected would be childlike and whimsical, clearly has the composer taking the form of a storm cloud of some sort. Kudos for shunning expectations, and dig the stately finale.
David Mountain – A Farewell To 2020, For Thirty-Nine Saxophones & Eight Suonas
For my last item in the column this time around, I thought I’d give a listen to David Mountain’s A Farewell to 2020 for Thirty-Nine Saxophones and Eight Suonas, a suona being one of these guys. Essentially a drone piece in which different instruments join in, adding to the expansive and expanding whole. As might be expected, the result is somewhat dissonant, reflecting the crazy year being reflected on, though there’s some warmth and a sense of hope to the proceedings as well. I mean, 2020 was a tough year for everyone, but there were some admittedly good things that happened. Listening to this, I’m reminded of a live performance I saw a while back of Rhys Chatham’s “Les 100 Guitares: G100” which featured a 100-guitar orchestra. Just the sense of power when dealing with that amount of instruments is pretty stunning on a purely aural level and it’s kind of amazing to listen to the color of the tone and its overall quality morph over time, particularly here where it seems the suonas take over down the line.
Even if there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, 2021 looks like it will be another challenging year for many. Maybe taking a walk on the wild side with some of the music here can take your mind off things for a while. 'Til next time, keep on truckin’ and remember to take care of yourself and each other.