In a buzzy glow of lo-fi warmth comes Slow Blink’s Time Constant. Released last week on April 1st, 2022, Time Constant is the 4th full-length album by Chattanooga, TN’s Amanda Haswell through their Ambient project Slow Blink.
Performed live at Stove Works in Chattanooga on March 18th, and while less doom-laden than their former live album Pangea, Time Constant manages to enchant and haunt the listener in a doom spell of earthly contemplation.
The warmth of the analog tape loops mimic the environmental noise that one comes across in nature- be it deep in the woods, up in the mountains, by the ocean, or standing in a median of a parking lot looking at little strands of grass. Chords warp and swell past. Live instrumentation atop tape loops, like glockenspiel on the titular closing track Time Constant, is classic Haswell modus operandi.
In its exploration of time, Time Constant displays an absolutely mature, haunting beauty. If you enjoy lo-fi Ambient, you absolutely need to hear this album.
Warmth is a 2020 single release by artist Amanda Haswell under the alias Slow Blink. Based in Chattanooga, TN, Haswell’s slow hypnotic tape loops pull and morph themselves into a haze of melancholia. Warmth is, appropriately, a very warm track full of speaker buzz and fuzz. As with Haswell’s other releases comes the strong, controlling yet calming sensation of guided tranquility. At times introspective of the artist and the listener, and at times an external force- something as ancient as mother earth itself.
I can’t recommend it enough.
For fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, Grouper, Susumu Yokota
The long-lost genre of tropical ersatz haunts on in the reverberations of the past. Exotica’s problematic past, a colonialist fantasy involving ‘savages’ and drenched in Orientalism, have permanently marred it. But while Exotica and its racist overtones have long given way to (what I would like to think of as) societal progress, the Hollywood-esque cinema of the mind echoes on in both eerie and campy appeal.
Post-Exotica is this very aesthetic reverberation intertwined with contemporary societal attitudes, recording techniques, and accessibility afforded to us by the internet. Post-Exotica, as an aesthetic mode within music, lacks any unifying subculture or definitive sonic palette.
Records of the ‘post-exotic’ can range from exploring the sociopolitical to the existential, the atavistic to the alchemical, or simply act as a pining for ye olden days of ‘classy’ Hi-Fi bachelor pad music.
Without further hesitation, let’s explore these selected offerings from a genre even Bandcamp has yet to recognize. This is Resident Sound’s Guide to Post-Exotica…
Early Rumblings: JG Thirlwell, Steroid Maximus, and the post-Post-Punk of The 1990s
Around the mid-1990s, revived interest in Lounge, Surf, and Exotica music were in full swing. But it wasn’t all CD reissues and copies of the Swingers soundtrack. Artists like Southern Culture on The Skids and (dare I say…) Richard Cheese were creating new work upon recently old genres. So it’s not surprising we can look back to the 1990s as some of the earliest examples of Exotica music re-envisioned. And while retro acts made Exotica’s contemporary scene, no one else embodied the ‘re-envisioning’ aspect of Post-Exotica music better than JG Thirlwell.
You may not know him by name, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard his music. He’s the composer for famed adult animated shows Venture Bros and Archer (since Season 5), has worked with Marc Almond, Lydia Lunch, Nurse With Wound, Zola Jesus and more, and has released nearly a dozen full length studio albums under his most infamous project: Foetus.
That in mind, it’s not too surprising that his name (or one of dozens of pseudonyms) would show up on a list like this.
By the end of the 80s and into the early 90s, the more ‘artistically-inclined’ members of the Punk and Post-Punk movements were looking to expand past their genre’s established sonic templates. It’s around this time we see the formation of Virginia’s experimental Hardcore outfit Men’s Recovery Project, Germany’s Doom Jazz godfathers Bohren & der Club of Gore, and JG Thirlwell’s expansion into more cinematic, Big Band and Exotica influenced compositions with his project Steroid Maximus.
“…by 1990 I felt that I needed to shift gears and do something that was a little more challenging to me and that’s how I started Steroid Maximus, to create instrumental music that was cinematic and all the sources hadn’t been in my music before. … Since then, I explored doing large scale groups like an 18-piece version of Steroid Maximus which I’ve done in Europe and New York.”
The first Steroid Maximus album ¡Quilombo! was released in 1991 and breaks all conventions. There is no pastiche, only impressions of a former sonic era. The easiest way to describe ¡Quilombo! is to make comparisons to the varied works of Jerry Van Rooyen, Raymond Scott, and Robert Drasnin, though no singular example is particularly accurate. Often lauded for his more violent overtones, Thirlwell achieves work of a greater depth, utilizing the many exotic shades of darkness often overlooked for pure black.
It’s a record that needs to be heard to understand the distance a Post-Exotica record can go. So before you go, I recommend spending a little time ¡Quilombo!
Kava Kon – Virgin Lava (2016)
At times coming across more pastiche than ‘Post’, Kava Kon’s 2016 EP release Virgin Lava is a dark and divine dive into the sonic palette of Exotica music. Not letting 50+ years of audio engineering developments go to waste, Kava Kon have brought the sultry sounds of Exotica into the days of DAW.
When asked about overlooked elements in an interview for Gravedigger’s Local 16, Kava Kon’s Nels Truesdell said:
“A lot of the percussion done on the albums Departure Exotica and Tiki for the Atomic Age was beatboxing. For example 90% of all güiro sounds were done by my mouth. Then we processed it using EQs and compressors on the recordings to give them a more realistic tone. There are so many more examples of unconventional recording techniques used on our albums.”
Featuring two remixes of Doom Jazz icons The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Virgin Lava touches on the parallels of hyper-aestheticized niche genres, namely that of Post-Exotica and Doom Jazz.
Similarities include an exemplification of Hollywood cinematic themes, ‘extreme’ music genre traits (such as doom metal or noise) crossed with mid-century adult music genres, and nostalgia for periods outside of living memory. But while retro is inherently regressive, both Post-Exotica and Doom Jazz carry with them innovation, distinct sonic palettes, stylistic variants, and great potential.
Iosu Vakerizzo – Forbidden Island (2020)
Iosu Vakerizzo’s Forbidden Island is an excellent work of would-be film score. Hearkening back to pop Exotica’s ornamental novelty, Forbidden Island‘s use of sampling creates sonic depictions of a sea-side land while the album’s minimalist instrumentation creates eerie impressions of an outside world.
The site HipWax described the pop Exotica of the 1950s as “[filling] a niche curiously left open by Afro-Cuban, Hawaiian, and other related music. It is the mood music of place, but no place familiar. …One conjures a torrential rain in the tropics, a jungle safari, or the desert at night. And that is precisely the stuff of exotica: an odd combination of the soothing and stimulating, like nature itself.”
The Post-Exotica work of Iosu Vakerizzo delivers both the stimulating and soothing effect given to us by 1950s Exotica, while building off of its predecessor with the possibilities afforded by Dark Ambient music.
Resident Sound’s first view into the world of Post-Exotica was a review of Iosu Vakerizzo’s previous album The Temple. If you like Forbidden Island, we highly recommend checking out his other work here.
Strange Cousin – Knifes And Smothers (2021)
Released in February of 2021 by American music artist Strange Cousin, the single Knifes And Smothers and its b-side track Houdini Whodon’t’he are a dual approach to Post-Exotica’s sonic possibilities. The titular Knifes And Smothers is a melancholic Dark Ambient work consisting of reversed piano chords and news coverage of an unsolved 1997 homicide. Countering Knifes And Smothers is b-side track Houdini Whodon’t’he, a pummeling cinematic horror show of double kick triplets and wailing horn sections. Real ‘run through the jungle’ energy, an unsettling churning sensation.
German Army – Animals Remember Human (2020)
Animals Remember Human is one of five releases in the year 2020 by the hyper-prolific project Germany Army. GeAr, as they’re sometimes known, is the musique concrete project of Peter Kris and collaborator Norm Heston.
Inspired by the works of Paulo Freire and Sydney Possuelo, the Post-Exotica work of GeAr confronts the colonialist lens of 1950s pop Exotica which we are well familiar with.
When asked about the name German Army in an interview with Stereo Embers Magazine, Peter Kris said:
“I figured it was perfect because one can’t help but notice that at the time there seemed to be a rise in intolerance across the globe. I thought it would be a good name to take and use to actually document language and cultural extinction. Further, I wanted to critique all nationalism and focus on the actions of U.S. imperialism. You could just not bother to pay attention to the name or the message, but if you do, it is very clearly one of anti-imperialism, pro-ecology and for the cultural preservation of those disappeared or who presently have a vanishing language, culture, flora and fauna.”
If Post-Exotica were ever to develop into a fully fledged school of work, we ought to expect the hauntological humanitarian attitudes set forth by German Army to become prototypical.
Chick Vekters – Silicon Island (2021)
Perhaps now the go-to medium of escapist fantasy, video games allow us to fully immerse ourselves in a foreign world. What’s more exotic than that?
Using the retro video game aesthetic genre of Chiptune, Chick Vekters’s 2021 release Silicon Island is rightfully self-described as “an eclectic cocktail of aural adventures!” Heavily rooted in the Chiptune’s 8-bit sound, Silicon Island still delivers the escapist fantasy of island adventure, albeit just a wee bit pixelated.
With songs like Bionic Garden, Neon Forest, and Cathode Ray Reef, Silicon Island plays to the spirit of 1950s pop Exotica, while moving past Exotica’s colonialist past.
A E S T H E T I C S: Post-Exotica, Vaporwave and Aesthetic Niches
‘Post-Exotica’ is a term that has made brief appearances in the Vaporwave world over the past decade, but is Vaporwave the missing link to the development of Post-Exotica?
Vaporwave itself is a genre heavily invested in aesthetic offshoots. From iconic aesthetic-concept albums such as Frasierwave, to the more or less visual genre Simpsonswave. While built across the internet as opposed to regionally, Vaporwave, unlike Post-Exotica has managed to establish a shared set of artifacts, sonic and aesthetic identifiers, and language norms (albeit meme oriented) associated with subcultures.
Both the ability to retrofetishize and simultaneously criticize glory days of existing power structures are traits of both genres, but as a dual mode only particularly integral to Vaporwave.
Vaporwave has shown us that both the micro-genre and aesthetic genre is a place of sonic exploration, even if just as a brief layover on an artist’s greater developmental journey. Will Post-Exotica ever bridge this gap and become a fully fledged subculture and genre? Only time will tell.
Krypto Grotesk is the industrial dub project of duo Konrad Agnas (“drums and transients”) and Anton Sundell (“processing and sounds”). Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Krypto Grotesk’s 2019 release Post Urban Exotica is a refreshing and attention grabbing entry in the all too similar world of electroacoustic instrumental Hip-Hop.
Anton Sundell’s massaging of Konrad Agnas’s organic instrumentation with ‘solid’ or ‘found’ audio creates textural impressions of a cold, urban environment. The clangs and clutters of city life are there reverberating throughout its landscape, while a garbology of European cultural aesthetics haunts on in the form of piano, LP manipulation, and samples of ‘laconic messages’ (anti-smoking meditation tapes).
Unlike the pop-exoticism of the 1950s, Krypto Grotesk’s Post Urban Exotica doesn’t so much employ musical impressions of any perceived place as it does apply an all too likely, weird and eerie dystopian lens upon a shared sense of westernized urbanism.
A great album for fans of the video game Paratopic.
Pangea is the 2021 full-length single by Chattanooga, TN based artist Amanda Haswell under the alias Slow Blink. Self described as “tape loop weather patterns,” there’s never been a more appropriately titled release for such a monolithic work.
Originally performed at Electric Arcadia Festival IV in Sewanee, TN earlier this year, Pangea towers above all live deconstructed musical performances. Hearing Slow Blink embrace longer, more struggling work only fuels the richly saturated, meditative states which they craft so well.
Is it a dirge? A death knell? Pangea’s engulfing state feels beyond the funeral status of their Doom Metal contemporaries. This is grief! This is reckoning! And at times, we find ourselves adrift in a state of incomprehensible aura.
You could call it an emotional or spiritual truth. I call that good art.
For fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, Grouper, Susumu Yokota
Scrap Book is the 2009 release by writer and Trunk Records founder Jonathan Benton-Hughes, professionally known as Jonny Trunk.
Disregarding greater compositional structure for works in miniature, Scrap Book is a showcase of dense textural collage. A series of vignettes, a pure charcuterie of sound. Notable standouts from which include the quaint K Piano, the mellow saccharine How Sweet It Is, and the deeply haunting and eerie Snowblind.
On Snowblind, Scrap Book’s clunky cartoon-ish revelry is displaced by the haunting, encroaching exterior world. To paint a mental picture, if Scrap Book was an ensemble-casted cartoon Christmas special in which everyone was snowed in together, Snowblind is a haunting foray into the cold and eerie outside. Disney could never.
While each track is its own little nugget of joy, Scrap Book as a whole will delight you with unease throughout the entire journey.
Upon pressing play, the listener is immediately plunged in a current of ethereal introspection. A wide range of classical samples are seamlessly interlocked, sleight of hand shifting to synth melodies and back again. Symbol is beautiful, to put easily. It frames clearly what ills us, like a mirror reflecting back to us our shadow selves.
Only a few songs into the album, stabbing strings on Traveler In The Wonderland emphasize the song’s looping nature while countering samples fade in and out in a haze of reverb. Even as things grow more festive, an air of mystique is always at hand on Symbol. Following track Song of The Sleeping Forest is no exception. A 60s prom dance clashing with electronic personified exotica, melancholic tenderness carry the listener on a cloud of air before fading into the night.
Many songs, Flaming Love And Destiny for example, are far too bold to simply be considered ambient (as this album usually is). Even songs 3 or 4 minutes long seem to fly by in seconds. Still, the album is incredibly meditative, introspective, and begging to draw out the wonderment (however enlightening or horrifying) we carry deep within ourselves.
Symbol is a masterwork in musique concrète and contemporary classical composition. Each song on the album is intricately crafted, vocal samples obscured or altered resembling only the fading memory of human life. Maybe none more so than I Close The Door Upon Myself, a sonic interpretation of painter Fernand Khnopff’s 1891 symbolist work I Lock The Door Upon Myself, or perhaps of other work inspired by it. Either way, Symbol‘s introspective element is made abundantly clear in a statement such as this.
Yokota died, 54 years old, on March 27th, 2015 after a “long period of illness.” His exact cause of death is undisclosed. While Mr Yokota released many records since the early 1990s, one could spend their whole life exploring each sound, technique, and the myriad of emotional interpretations that saturate Symbol.
Susumu Yokota is a genius, a master of his craft gone too soon. Symbol is perhaps the most beautiful album released so far in the 21st century. Quoting Youtube user Ed Barret on an upload of Blue Sky and Yellow Sunflower from Symbol, “If I were to leave a piece of art this stunningly beautiful when I die, I wouldn’t need an epitaph.”
Released in 2007, Montreal-based composer Amon Tobin’s Foley Room offers itself to oddity while never acting as a novelty. Opening track Bloodstone is a psychedelic trip of unnerving melancholia heaving and swaying like a choppy sea. A sort of ‘could be’ scoring style for a would be Edward Gorey film.
The album proceeds into a musique concrète / rock hybrid with proceeding track Esther’s. Motorcycle engines rev up and pull out in time to a sample of Dick Dale’s rapid tremolo picking, each source material processed and warped perfectly over a thudding rhythm section.
Every piece of Foley Room is mixed and processed in such a way as to keep things from sounding choppy or jagged. It’s a justified use of post-production polish that leaves things sounding smooth, atmospheric and at times quite cinematic.
“The idea was to get source material that was pretty basic. I got drones mostly from the Kronos Quartet. Patrick Watson gave me little piano melodies that I then cut up and re-arranged, and even mixed them with some vinyl piano to make different melodies from. It was all treating everything in the same way: a rock falling, a musician, a vinyl sample. All these were treated as an objective source, and then applying the arrangements and the creation of the music afterwards,” said Amon Tobin in a phone interview with Radio Free Canuckistan, a Canadian music blog dedicated to “musical musings from the frozen north.”
As we get further into the album, more and more commonly ‘electronic’ elements work their way further into center frame. Big Furry Head slams and twists with all the industrial bravado of Author & Punisher, its groove reminiscent of industrial dub mastermind The Bug.
Near closing tracks Ever Falling and Always give the listener a relative moment of levity on an otherwise dark and unnerving album. Choir vocals lift us over a field of twisting and crackling rhythmic sounds on Ever Falling, while fun bass lines and childlike vocals come through a fog of bombastic reverb-drenched drum breaks on track Always.
Originally developed in the 1930s in France, the techniques and theory behind musique concrète have expanded greatly due to technological development and the accessibility of equipment. We see the proliferation of reel to reel recording equipment post-WW2, followed by cassette tapes in ’63, and later the first digital sampler in ’69. This whole time music studio equipment is becoming better and better, granting more facilities and allowing artists more control with post-production manipulation.
Enter the digital audio workstation, or DAW. With computers, the facilities granted to the artist are greater than ever, yet the momentum behind musique concrète’s development and experimentation has fallen by the wayside. Musique concrète is a term most often relegated to analog-based ambient music strewn carelessly across the internet. On the other hand, with Foley Room, Amon Tobin pushes musique concrète forward, never sacrificing the music for the clear-cut regulations imposed upon the genre.
“Basically, I want the music to come first, the satisfaction I get from making music. Whatever idea I have to begin with, I don’t want it to restrict where the song could go or how good it could be. I don’t want to be saying, ‘Well, I’d like to do that, but it doesn’t fit into my concept.’ It’s not going to happen. I want the music to be king, and everything else just facilitates that.”
To varying degrees, there is a level of humor preinstalled in absurdity, albeit sometimes morbid. Released in 2008, Igorrr’s Moisissure is a complex mix of glitched-out neoclassical, death metal, breakbeats and 1920s/30s pop music. Above all else, Moisissure is an electronic musique concrete hybrid; a grotesque showcase of eccentric source material and contrasting influences. Haunting layers of piano, pitched and digitally shredded drums, and the circling sound of flies will leave you feeling like you’re in a German expressionist Crash Bandicoot level.
It wouldn’t be entirely off-base to call it a bit of a novelty album. Moisissure did in fact come from the same person who created Chicken Sonata. But perhaps a more appropriate lens to view Moisissure through is that of a modernized take on surrealism.
However you frame it, Igorrr is not for everyone nor for every occasion. But if you’re looking for something genuinely spooky with just a degree of cartoon staging, this album is for you.
For fans of: Meat Beat Manifesto, Nurse With Wound, Flying Lotus
I once met Cal Folger Day at a show in Asheville, NC. She was on tour with The Bonk from Ireland, herself an American living abroad for at least a couple of years as I remember. Another rainy Tuesday, which meant maybe 5 people showed up, much like the Tuesday show I had worked before (XL Fits, Osaka, Japan). I had just witnessed one of the best shows I had ever seen, and with the little tip money I did make that night I bought as much Cal Folger Day merch as I could.
Enter At The Roots of The Stars (Solo Edition); a download card made of thick bevel-cut mat board and printed on with rich pink and black inks. None of this is important to the musical qualities of the album itself, obviously. Consider it an appreciation for the artists who put a level of care into their download cards and, as of now, the only download card I have kept after use.
Cal Folger Day’s use of text-to-speech accompanying ‘vocals’ bring a level of subversiveness to At The Roots of The Stars. The integration of text-to-speech in music has been marred by meme-culture association and general reluctance in classically trained circles to integrate with new sounds or experiment. But Cal Folger Day commands a level of mastery over it. The text-to-speech ‘vocals’ add a dimension of emotional coldness and disdain which is repeatedly overcome by the warmth and humanity of Day’s dynamic singing.
“The text is a short play written in 1919 called ‘At The Roots of The Stars’ by Djuna Barnes. I have such an utterly unshakable confidence in the beauty of the language that the work every day of finding the most nimble, pleasant, natural melody for the words was terribly easy. As if I needed additional motivation, this feeling that I have, of being simply abashed that Djuna Barnes is today a relatively unknown name, lent a strong sense of justification and indeed obligation, less to her ghost than to myself and other readers/listeners,” wrote Cal Folger Day for An Áit Eile, a culture, society and ecology site based in Ireland.
At The Roots of The Stars (Solo Edition) is currently unavailable online. If ever given the chance to stream or get a copy of this album, take it. Until then you can check out Cal Folger Day’s site here or their Bandcamp where other beautiful works of theirs are available.
For fans of: Karen Dalton, Vashti Bunyan, Sibylle Baier