Brood Ma: Daze (LP, Tri Angle, February 2016)

I have to admit, this record frustrates me at times, as it doesn’t seem to be making the most of the producer’s obvious talents. But there are enough good bits here to make this a keeper. Presented as 13 tracks but effectively a 27 minute continuous mix, it manages to pull in grime, techno, industrial, noise, electronica, and sound effects — plus a bunch more things, probably, and that’s just in the first couple of minutes. The downside of the scattergun approach is that, for the first third or so of its running time, it mostly sounds unfocused, like a kid excited to show you all their toys and not really letting you see anything properly before jumping onto the next thing. It’s about track 7, Molten Brownian Motion, before things start making sense for me: at 2m58s it’s the second longest track here, and manages to finally lock into a groove — and one of an impressively pummelling intensity. For me, the wait is worth it: the next seven or eight minutes are a real visceral thrill. Things do start to drift again near the end, but then the final track, the 5-minute (!) long Nrg Jynx (Daze End Version) is a big snarling monster of bassy synths, machine-gun beats, and a stonking industrial howling and clattering, and all is forgiven.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Prurient: Frozen Niagara Falls (2CD, Profound Lore, May 2015)

The “thrilling ten minutes of proper dark industrial techno awesomeness” which is You Show Great Spirit, from the three-track Through The Window on Blackest Ever Black, was my standalone track of 2013. My quibble with that records was that the title track, basically making one noise (albeit a very awesome one) for almost 18 minutes, slightly outstayed its welcome.

Well, this double CD (also available on triple LP) can’t be accused of monotony. In fact, if it has a flaw, it’s that it crams in too many ideas: its ninety-something minutes are densely packed and it’s a helluva lot to take in. I think this is is probably deliberate, that it wants to simply overwhelm the listener, and frankly (with me) it succeeds. In an effort to tame it, I took track-by-track notes. I started well, recording things like a “Stadium synth riff, thumping sounds, misc. crashing and wailing noises; distorted death metal vocals which take some to to register as even human; squealing later” (Myth Of Building Bridges). I noted the contrast between a “Roaring over a pounding beat” with a “Guitar line that sounds a bit like an ’80s soft metal band, I think maybe Heart” (Dragonflies To Sew You Up) and the quiet interlude featuring “Interplay of heavily flanged synth noises, more squealing” (A Sorrow With A Braid). I was keeping it together for most of the first disc, alert to things like a “Heavily reverbed vocal over high-BPM hardcore beat, with shouting, breaking up into static” (Poinsettia Pills). By the start of the second, I was falling back more heavily on metaphor, describing one track as a “Malfunctioning robot mouse trying to escape from galvanized metal dustbin” (Wildflowers), and then being thrown by the abrupt transition into “Folky acoustic guitar riff accompanied by dark ambient hums”. I’m pretty incoherent for the bulk of that disc, jumping between a “big fat minor chord” and an “intermittent gunshot rhythm”, between “static noises” and “space-invader noises”, between “heavily reverbed lyrics” and “shouting about pain”. And then I get it together for the final track (Christ Among The Broken Glass), with its “Ominous humming, crackling, and scraping noises dominated by an open, resonant acoustic guitar melody which weirdly reminds me of [Radiohead’s] Street Spirit [(Fade Out)]”… this last realization being rather surprising and somehow rather brilliant. The record does indeed fade out in style, with a wheezing of minor-key synths and a whispered lyric imagining a Jesus figure among the destitutes of a wintry city, desperate and helpless in the face of the scale of their need, and cheerily ending “‘Go ahead,’ he says, ‘Go before me.’ Whose turn is it with the flashlight, down in the hole tonight?”.

So, yes, this is rather self-consciously epic. And, no, I don’t pretend to have got my head around it yet. Most of my favourite albums, I feel like we spend a while getting to know each other, then we form a relationship, and maybe we fall in love. I couldn’t say that I love this record, and indeed I suspect it’s trying quite hard not to be lovable: we’re still at an awkward stage where I’m never quite at ease with it, and I suspect that stage might last for some time. But I admire it immensely, and I keep getting drawn back to it, each time hoping to figure out another bit of its puzzle.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Emptyset: Recur (CD, Raster-Noton, November 2013)

You have to admire Emptyset’s dedication to an ideal. That ideal is making big, chunky music almost entirely formed from clanking and buzzing noises. There are no beats, but the sounds are heavily rhythmical. There are virtually no notes at an audible frequency, but the bassy whirrs are forced through a tortuous tangle of filters there are often note-like things squealing out in the harmonics. It’s pretty much impossible not to use some kind of metallic metaphor to describe this, it’s industrial music in the most literal sense. It’s impressive, powerful stuff — but I have to say it’s a bit of a one-trick pony, the same rhythms and sounds keep (if you’ll pardon the pun) recurring, and by the end I find myself a little jaded. Maybe I’m overthinking it, maybe the idea is to lie back and blast this out at the kind of volume that obliterates critical thought… or maybe, just maybe, they didn’t quite have an album’s worth of material here. Good, but not quite great.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Industrial / Drone / Noise.

Alva Noto: univrs (CD, Raster-Noton, October 2011)

Uh-oh, the king of glitch has got the bass bug. This is ostensibly a follow up to 2008’s unitxt. I think it’s fair to say that this is an altogether dirtier affair. The ultra-precision clicks, blips, and edits are all present and correct, but there’s something grindingly industrial running underneath everything here. The tone is quite varied, ranging from the sinisterly atmospheric to the almost catchy (well, if you’re in the mood to let yourself be caught). Maybe he’s picked up a couple of tricks from RN contributors like Senking or from his collaborations with Ryoji Ikeda… but nobody is like Carsten Nicolai when it comes to constructing a sound which is perfectly mechanical and yet has such a visceral human connection.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

ANBB: Mimikry (CD, Raster-Noton, September 2010)

Oh boy. When I first read that Alva Noto was making a record with Blixa Bargeld, I was pretty excited. When I heard the first previews, I was very excited: they were breath-taking. And when I finally got the album, well, it was even better than I’d expected. Oh boy.

I adore the work of Carsten Nicolai, whether he’s making me fall back in love with found-sound ambient (the Xerrox records), glitching up delicate piano works (his collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto), or pushing the boundaries of just-barely-there techno (the insistently propulsive Aleph-1). With the Einstürzende Neubauten frontman, we get his glitchy take on industrial, and it turns out I adore that too.
Much of Nicolai’s work is quiet, but it is rarely deferential. This album is rarely quiet, and never deferential. Tracks like Once Again and the staggering Ret Marut Handshake feature a beat that sits right up the front of the mix and pops directly into my cranium, a phenomenally buzzing bass sound that appears to be erupting from the underworld, and Bargeld’s growling Germanic vocals. Bersteinzimmer is more sinister, centring around a dissonant string swell, supplemented by ominous clicking and clanking noises, and only near the end introducing a quietly threatening vocal. The title track is another sinister one, with a repeated refrain of “You, you as in insect, mimic yourself”, over a stark broken beat and a mournful bass melody. Berghain, appropriately, is a kind of techno, but a horribly twisted and broken kind: we could be clubbing in hell… the drugs have gone horribly wrong, we are trapped in a crowd of gibbering imps, and Bargeld is our satanic MC… Perhaps the most surprising track is the cover of Harry Nilsson’s One (“…is the loneliest number”). Bargeld’s vocal here is restrained and genuinely tender (remember, he did sing Kylie’s part in Where The Wild Roses Grow when Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds toured). It ticks along with a time-signal beep, some scraps of piano, and a part-time buzzing glitch which kicks in on the verses with a gorgeous warmth. I love it when a cover makes you completely re-think your preconceptions of a song, and this version is an excellent example of that for me: I don’t find it in the least bit twee.
All in all, it’s surprising, inventive, varied, touching, energizing, and so superbly produced that I just want to stop what I’m doing, turn the volume right up, and get lost in it. Literally awesome.

I bought this from Juno. They call it leftfield, whatever that means.