Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Luciferian Towers (LP, Constellation, September 2017)

luciferian-towers

Ah, good old Godspeed. After the epic metal excitement of 2012’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, this is rather more business as normal. Which isn’t to say that it’s restrained, of course…

There’s that perfectly poised counterpoint of resounding melody and screeching dissonance, of guitars and strings. There’s a nice dose of brass this time around. There’s a blend of rock, folk, classical, and drone. It’s emotional, edgy, and uplifting. It has track names like Bosses Hang and Anthem For No State. I imagine what I’m about to say is some kind of sacrilege — after all, this is undoubtedly angry, political, and important music — but twenty years after I first encountered them, this is a bit like comfort food to me. Which is to say, I listened to it on the streaming magic, I thought “very nice, but I don’t actually need to buy that, I have plenty like it”, and then a bit later I found myself listening to it again, and then again, and then I’d fallen for it and I ended up splurging on the beautiful gatefold vinyl because it turned out that, actually, this is stuff still means something special to me after all.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Indie / Alternative.

Jessica Moss: Pools Of Light (LP, Constellation, May 2017)

pools-of-light

A fascinating and powerful solo work from the Silver Mt Zion violinist. Each side is a continuous piece in four movements. The A-side, Entire Populations, combines densely layered strings, at times of a sort of middle-eastern-ish folk-ish flavour, at others of a spiky neo-classical, at times densely layered, at others more stripped down; Pt. II is dominated by a repeated doom-laden vocal, the mantra “Entire populations, oh, we can’t see” making clear the eco-warning at the heart of this. The flip, Glaciers, is more obviously influenced by post-rock, you could see it as an extended and more fully developed version of one of the quiet string-based bits from a SMZ record… it’s nice, but it’s not all that memorable. The A-side, though, is great.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Experimental / Electronic.

Aiden Baker & Karen Willems: Nonland (LP, Gizeh, May 2017)

nonland

A subtle, compelling, and rather beautiful thing, this. Recorded live in one day, this consists of gentle, intricate looped and processed guitars from Baker and loose, jazzy percussion from Willems. It’s determinedly experimental without ever being in the least showy about it. I guess you could say it’s a little bit like a two-piece Tortoise if Tortoise weren’t so keen to impress you with how clever they are. It’s the kind of record that you can let slide by in the background very pleasantly if that’s your mood, but which richly rewards careful attention too, and opens out with repeated listens. Highly recommended.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Experimental / Electronic.

Anna von Hausswolff: Källan (Betatype) (12″, Touch, November 2016)

What with the excellent recent records from Claire M Singer and Bethan Kellough, Touch have been on a pretty stunning run of form recently, and this release absolutely keeps up the good work. As with Solas, the composer is doing some awesome melodic drone work on a pipe organ, in this case the astonishing Acusticum organ at Piteå — but there the similarities end, as the other instruments here are electric guitars and percussion, of a suitably epic post-rock/post-metal persuasion. This is basically one 21-minute track split across the two sides, and frankly it’s a bit of a monster. (It’s not too surprising to learn from a Quietus interview that the staff at Lincoln cathedral were very nervous about letting her use their aging Henry Willis organ because they thought she’d break it.) This combination is new on me, and it’s hugely entertaining.

I bought this from the label.

Oiseaux-Tempête: Unworks & Rarities (LP, Sub Rosa, June 2016)

Oiseaux-Tempête’s Ütopiya? was easily one of my records of 2015. So I was pretty intrigued to get hold of this. You never know quite what you’ll get with this kind of bits-and-bobs compilation, but this exceeds expectations. It opens with Eclipse & Sirocco, a number based around Christine Ott’s ondes-martenot work which starts of as ethereal as you’d expect from that but which slowly builds an ominous pulsing and ends up quite as dramatic. Not as dramatic as most of the record, which is typically heart-on-its-sleeve stuff, guitar led but drenched in effects and analogue synths, plus Gareth Davis’s familiar bass clarinet on the last couple of tracks. Other highlights for me include The Strangest Creature On Earth, in which G W Sok (who memorably provided the Nazim Hikmet readings on the last album) delivers a killer spoken-word political rant — I won’t attempt to gloss it, go check it out, but it’s a masterpiece of quiet sorrow and restrained anger — and Black As Midnight On A Moonless Night, a big swaggering bluesy number with some excellent work on the whammy bar, which could easily soundtrack the entrance of the baddie in a cheesy thriller, on which (whisper it!) I think ol’ Frédéric D Oberland might actually be having fun. All in all… okay, this record isn’t quite as good as Ütopiya?, but it’s almost as good, which makes it very good indeed.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Indie / Alternative.

Mätisse: Kairos (CD, In Paradisum, January 2016)

Sometimes, I really don’t make life easy for myself. It’s very hard to know what to say about this record. There are two 18-minute tracks, but each is in several apparently unrelated parts. Along the way it incorporates (in no particular order) melodic synth music, sparse modern classical using a variety of different piano sounds (from the close-miked and intimate to the echoey slightly dissonant), abstract acoustic bass noodling, buzzy drone ambient, post-rock guitar, some weirdly resonant plucked instrument I can’t place, a combination of humming and bowed resonant chimes and throaty chanting seemingly suited to some kind of meditative ritual, jazz xylophone (!), aleatoric percussion, heavily processed chanting, and a dozen other styles and instruments which I either can’t remember or can’t name. Often, we get two of three of these at the same time, in frankly surprising combinations. Sometimes, things will seem to come to a climax and then peter out; other times, they’ll simply come to a halt. There’ll be a pause, and then something different will happen, with no obvious sense of progression. It’s all very strange, really. But here’s the strangest thing of all: somehow, they manage to make this all not just work, but sound quite natural. Not only are all the elements satisfying individually, but the whole thing manages to combine an elegant lightness of touch with a kind of almost devotional intensity, and I found myself keeping on coming back to it — and after four or five listens, I started to convince myself that there’s a sort of fractured subconscious logic to its structure. An early contender for the hardest-to-categorize record of the year, but an immensely rewarding one.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic (which is, frankly, a cop-out).

Oiseaux-Tempête: Ütopiya? (CD, Sub Rosa, April 2015)

Over the last twenty-odd years, there have been many heinous crimes committed in the name of post-rock. This, however, is unashamedly post-rock, and it is stonkingly brilliant. It has quiet bits, with echoey guitars and ominous pianos and field recordings (including the obligatory street chatter with distant siren). It has loud bits, with heavy drumming and noisy angular guitars. It has vocal samples of a general left-wing protesty nature. Yes, it sounds a bit like Godspeed! much of the time (I really like Godspeed! by the way) and occasionally even like Slint (I like Slint, too). It’s also bursting at the seams creativity and energy and technical skill and emotional intensity. It prominently features a jazzy bass clarinet, which is a nice touch. One highlight is Ütopiya / On Living, which centres on two readings by G W Sok of poetry by the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet, who spent much of his life imprisoned or persecuted for communism, who I hadn’t come across before but intend to investigate further (the verses are the third stanza of On Living, and It’s This Way). The CD version finishes with a 22-minute live recording called Palindrome Series: the recording is a touch muddy, especially noticeable after the spot-on production on the album proper, but it still really makes me want to go see them live. I guess this isn’t a very fashionable sort of record right now, but who cares when it is this good?

I bought this from the label.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (CD, Constellation, October 2012)

This record is immense. Let me try that again: this record is IMMENSE. The first track, Mladic, starts out in typical Godspeedy fashion: a crackling loop of vocal sample, a few bleeps and bloops, a distant-sounding folky melody over a buzzy drone, a clanking noise reminiscent of a passing freight train. Then, after a few minutes of this slow build, it kicks in, and before we’ve quite twigged what’s going on, we’re being pummelled by a massive wave of dirty guitars, howling strings, and heavy drumwork. To be perfectly honest with you, it’s more than a little bit metal — in a good way, an unashamed, authoritative, stomping-on-mere-mortals-who-get-in-its-way way, and just weird enough to keep it real. Oh, and it’s twenty minutes long. It leaves me feeling in need of a little lie down, really. Which is a bit unfair on the next track, Their Helicopters Sing, which is a fine piece of blarting dissonance, but doomed to be slightly underwhelming (and a mere slip of a thing at six-and-a-half minutes). Track 3, We Drift Like Worried Fire, is another twenty minute monster, almost as powerful as the opener (and it’s probably lucky that it’s a little more restrained, since listening to Mladic twice — and, in the interests of science, I have done this thing — is not good for my mechanism). It’s also more nuanced, with distinct movements, by turns urgent, sinister, euphoric. The final number, Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable, is another thickly textured six-and-a-half-minute drone job. It’s been fifteen years since their (proper release) debut, F♯A♯∞, and if they haven’t revolutionized their sound, why would they? They keep growing in scale, and here they are on absolutely imperious form. Plus, they keep making me grin.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Indie / Rock / Alternative.

A-Sun Amissa: Desperate In Her Heavy Sleep (CD, Gizeh, March 2012)

Cheery album title, eh? Indeed, this album starts out in pretty mournful mould, reminding me of one of the more sombre string sections from a Godspeed or Silver Mt Zion record. (There’s also something Constellation-like about the track listing, which contains wonders like “Dislocated Harmony i. into small Cold EYES ii. Several Miles Above”. Well, that or Rush-like, I suppose…) It’s compelling stuff, dense and elegant, and develops a rich complexity across it’s long tracks. The tone does subtly shift as the album progresses, and I find the ethereal drones of the final track (called simply “Ceremony”) to be quietly but persuasively uplifting.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Home Listening / Modern Classical / Ambient.