REVIEW: Thriftwicker Audio Society – VOLUME IV – HOW TO LIVE A ZESTY LIFE (2021)

Like Kraftwerk at a lower bit-rate, this crunchy lil’ synth piece was self-released by Thriftwicker Audio Society in 2021. How To Live A Zesty Life (like a lot of art-brutish music) doesn’t attract the listener with any particular song as well as it functions as a background mood piece to play [insert activity] to.

For me, this might be playing a video game I’ve played a million times before. For others this could be anything. Too distracting to be ‘ambience’, too aloof to be engaging.

Thriftwicker Audio Society’s own take on plunderphonic’ absurdist humor is textbook, but not ineffective (track Thinker’s Milk and TURBOPUKE definitely got a chuckle out of me on the first two listens). Absurdist lyrics- phrases such as ‘drink your oatmeal and often’- are looped and manipulated over cellphone-sounding rhythms. How To Live A Zesty Life is fun and light on cynicism, which helps it stand out from more dense or pretentious punderphonic works emulating the genre’s classics.

These songs revel in a holdover of what we expect ‘digital’ to sound like- a holdover of oversimplified synth lines and looped drum machine rhythms that could easily be a false memory of the music on Bill Nye the Science Guy. More Chick Vekters than Macintosh Plus- it’s an interesting take on the 80s/90s nostalgia that has otherwise been played to death (and now feels insincere) within vaporwave.

If they wanted to, I have a feeling Thiftwicker Audio Society could handle an album of more typically written of songs while remaining true to their sonic palette, and create a very memorable album in the process.

For fans of: Men’s Recovery Project, John Oswald, Strawberry Blonde

Like Thriftwicker Audio Society? Give these a listen: Acetantina, Nostalgianoid, Will Powers

REVIEW: Client_03 – Ur_Luv / Interpersonal Relationship Assessment (2021)

“It sounds a lot like you’re the one assessing us”, the ‘interviewer’ says. So what does that make this?

B-side track Interpersonal Relationship Assessment is a 12 minute sound play of the character that is Client_03 being ‘assessed’; a therapy-like interplay in which a feminine robotic voice answers a down pitched interviewer’s questions. All and all, it’s a not-so veiled comment on Neo-liberal capitalism (or ‘late-stage’ capitalism as Mark Fisher put it) in which ‘the artist as character’ acts as a comment on our collective humanity drowned out in the pursuit of productivity.

There isn’t much out there on the ‘sentient computer program’ character that is Client_03, and that’s probably how Charlie Fieber intends it to be.

Screenshot taken on 4/08/2022 from video 'Client_03 - Ur_Luv' uploaded 9/12/2021 on Youtube by Supermarkt.
Screenshot taken on 4/08/2022 from video ‘Client_03 – Ur_Luv’ uploaded 9/12/2021 on Youtube by Supermarkt.

Fieber, better known as Fracture, is an electronic musician from the UK and is one of the founders of the Astrophonica label. And while it isn’t immediately confirmable, it seems pretty likely that they’re one and the same. You didn’t really believe AI music programs were flippin’ samples this well, did you?

Nevermind all that.

A-side track Ur_Luv is an absolute Electro jam. Pitched out and glitched out, Client_03’s flip of Collapse’s Hold Me in Your Arms vocal track grabs the listener’s attention by the ears and never lets go. Swishy drum machine rhythms and punchy kicks keep on stepping as a fat synth acts as the minimal but deep groove needed to push this track to perfection.

Ur_Luv is complete Electro bliss.

Go grab it while it’s still online.

For fans of: Fracture, Adam F, DJ Solo

Like Client_03? Give these a listen: A_GIM, Siu Mata, Phasmid

REVIEW: Slow Blink – Time Constant (2022)

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.

For fans of: Tim Hecker, Grouper, Susumu Yokota

Like Slow Blink? Give these a listen: Robert Chamberlain, Music For Sleep, Brian J Davis

REVIEW: Tokyo Wanderer – Incubus (2019)

Tokyo Wanderer crosses the connections between all the ‘wave’-genres of the late naughts and teens; Synthwave, Outrun, Chillwave and Future Funk blend in and out across the album. Only Vaporwave fails to make an overt appearance.

Incubus is clinically cold. Synth lines and ‘glitched’ out chops are warped through phasers, both standing as foundational sonic elements. Big, spacious guitar solos mimicking 80s corporate rock inject a liveliness to the early tracks- helping the songs shift and morph in a more organic direction as they go. It is all very sonically pleasing.

But as the first 3 tracks roll over into the album’s latter half featuring guest musicians (mostly vocalists), Tokyo Wanderer is lead astray. 4th track and album midway point Loveless, featuring vocalist Lavera, is a delightfully poppy track, reminiscent of Kali Uchis’s first album. But with a tight EP contained in the album’s first 4 songs, Incubus tanks into grievously bad territory.

First offender, the song Drown, features singers Phaun and Nuno Renato Guerreiro. Tokyo Wonderer’s guitar work turn to softer, 90s style-alternative; warbling and burning up under tremolo and overdrive while Phaun contributes a somewhat lifeless Pop vocal performance. Crossing into the final third of the song, the predictive Pop stylings of breakdown-bridge to turn around show. It’s all pretty standard, until Nuno Renato Guerreiro comes roaring in with the most powerless, processed, and airy guttural vocal delivery I’ve heard in a long time. It’s a vocal style so terribly out of place anywhere on the album that it came as a shock. Science asked if it could, but it never asked if it should.

Following this, the song Hurt kicks off with 4 minutes of what sounds like someone taking direct inspiration of Miyazaki’s go-to composer Joe Hisaishi and British Industrial Metal legends Godflesh. Not bad if I do say so myself. The album’s lengthiest song at 7 minutes 58 seconds, I actually quite enjoyed it. But at 4 minutes and 12 seconds in- and still reeling from the prior track- I was sonically accosted by Nameless Warning. Having been silent up until this point, I began to assume they were contributing something other than vocals- perhaps part of the new ‘Doom-y’ guitar elements. But no.

Sounding like a yassified Microsoft Sam, ‘just popping in’ to deliver you a ‘sad boy’ shtick of lyrics, this might be the biggest upset in recorded music history.

The titular closing track features Sola The Luva, Shrouded Serenity, Indyadvant, and a second vocal feature from Phaun. The corporate Rock guitar soloing is back and this time it’s less pleasant. Incubus makes a brief detour into trap territory before arriving at the song’s (and I guess, in turn, the album’s) final destination: chunky Alternative Metal.

That’s all that ought to be said.

For fans of: android52, Washed Out, Slime Girls

Like Tokyo Wonderer? Give these a listen: Pachinko, Warpaint, Neon Indian

REVIEW: Sierra Ferrell – Long Time Coming (2021)

Released on Rounder Records in 2021, Long Time Coming is the third full-length album by Nasheville, Tennessee-based Sierra Ferrell. The musicianship is impressive, but can’t get me far enough away from this nagging lack of interest. The songs, their compositions and performances are very pretty, but lack conviction or something to really grab hold of.

It general, Long Time Coming is a grab bag of American busker stylings put to a full band and sung real pretty. There isn’t much else to say. It’s too straight forward to be cheesy, too mundane to be interesting.

Entering the latter half of Long Time Coming, a new infusion of calypso instrumentation breaks from the album’s previously established Ragtime Americana. But by the end, Ferrell changes directions again for a sound more ‘Country’- whatever that means to you, the reader. Pedal steel comes blubbering in like it’s holding back a tear on tenth track In Dreams, then dips out before two final schmaltzy tunes.

It’s for someone, probably, but there isn’t much to sink one’s teeth into.

For fans of: Nick Shoulders, Albanie Falletta, Rosali

Like Sierra Ferrell? Give these a listen: Carolina Catskins, Frank Hurricane, Tatiana Hargreaves

REVIEW: Christian Mistress – To Your Death (2015)

One thing that contemporary Rock never shed from its predecessors was overt-cheesiness. So a Hard Rock / Heavy Metal retro act coming out of Olympia, Washington in 2008? An element of cheesiness is a certainty.

Released on Relapse Records in 2015, To Your Death immediately embraces such cheese on opening track Neon, containing lyrical moments like “can’t escape the knife of the neon lights burnin’ out the stars” and “…just a teenage dream lookin’ for a scene and falling apart.” But the vocals wail, the solos shred, and the rhythm section chugs along as Christian Mistress carve their groove.

The album opens up new territory, daring to break away from its retro reservations. Songs like Eclipse and Open Road are absolute standout tracks. Hefty and vivid songs with which Christian Mistress provides vigorous performances. As praised elsewhere, vocalist Christine Davis is excellent, and delivers a powerful and dynamic performance.

With exception to a slight gothic element on Lone Wild, To Your Death is a Hard Rock / Heavy Metal album and the guitars want you to know it. Little flairs and outbursts decorate otherwise rhythmic-centric sections, where the instrumental track titled ‘III’ displays a profane excess of guitar overdubbing- no one guitar standing out or particularly saying anything. There is nothing left to be implied, and certainly no room for it.

To Your Death understates Christian Mistress’s rhythm section. If you’ve spent any time drumming or playing bass than you can can tell Reuben Storey (drums) and Jonny Wulf (bass) have a wealth of talent that isn’t even close to being explored.

Ultimately, To Your Death is a fun and debaucherous Rock record otherwise held back by an imbalance of its rhythmic core and melodic ornamentation. To Your Death …by a million guitar licks.

For fans of: Heart, Queens of The Stone Age, Acid King

Like Christian Mistress? Give these a listen: Bundle of Hiss, Raging Slab, Lions

REVIEW: Primeval Well – Talkin’ in Tongues with Mountain Spirits (2021)

Metal is one of those precious genres that can be dropped into any culture across the world and it will just work. Egyptian Black Metal? Brad Sanders wrote about it. Extreme Metal in China? Josh Feola got you covered.

But never had I heard something so uniquely Southern in the Metal genre until now. Nor had I expected to hear an ol’ time snare shuffle on a Black Metal album. But let me tell you, I’m glad I did.

Talkin’ in Tongues with Mountain Spirits is the second full-length album by Nasheville, TN outfit Primeval Well. Taking the more raw, atmospheric sound that is Black Metal’s specialty, Primeval Well experiment with Post-Punk guitar melodies, shuffled Country/Folk jaunts which break out into full blast beats, and plenty of twang. This band is the Wire of Appalachian Black Metal and I’ve never been happier.

Nearly every track is a hefty 8-10 minutes, but how Primeval Well weaves through movements keeps each composition feeling engaging and lively (not a term usually associated with Black Metal, but it’s time). The second half of the album incorporates certain elements of Stoner Metal, fuzzed out thick riffs and a faint wah-wah element.

Talkin’ in Tongues with Mountain Spirits is melodic in unexpected ways, blending and bleeding soul with haunting atmosphere. If you’re looking for something different, Primeval Well is for you.

For fans of: Negură Bunget, Bathory, Windhand

Like Primeval Well? Give these a listen: Batushka, Vile Haint, Colin Stetson / Sarah Neufeld Duo

REVIEW: Lower Level Bureau – Innerworld (2015)

Released on the Italian label Vollmer Industries in 2015, Innerworld is the 2015 debut album by the Eunice, Louisiana-based recording project Lower Level Bureau.

Recorded at Reverb Studio in Cuneo, TX, Innerworld kicks off with the massive 10+ minute track Rose’s Theme. Taking its Badalamenti influence straight, Lower Level Bureau otherwise connect the ominous link between Doom Jazz and Southern Gothic. This instrumental album is incredibly cinematic, with an impressive faux-natural drum machine sound, thick layers of synth strings, and audio samples serving as an effectively haunting human element.

Innerworld more or less exists as a Lynchian representation of the JFK-conspiracy within music. The album artwork and opening track Rose’s Theme refer to Rose Cheramie, a somewhat tangential character in the mythology surrounding the John F. Kennedy assassination. The music across the album is scattered with samples of the event’s news coverage.

A younger me, deeply into anything remotely spooky and arguably ‘real’ (unlike, say, creepypasta), would have fawned over Innerworld without hesitation. But now our societal climate lacks any practical social cohesion.

Since the album’s release in 2015 we’ve seen first hand the political manipulation, the tearing of societal fabric, and its devastating toll that have become the real world baggage to an interest in conspiracy theories, something that years ago could have been considered the interest of the gumshoe’s hubris, oddity nuts (such as myself), or just plain old weirdos.

Speaking of Twin Peak’s influence and conspiracy theories, does anyone remember X-Files?

All of this said, the JFK assassination and its mythology are, to put grimly, as American as apple pie. Perhaps Innerworld is a last call for our more playful collective interest in such topics. It’s a beautiful album, and one that expands upon both Noir and Southern Gothic themes within music. Maybe one day we’ll come to find it ‘fun’ again.

For fans of: The Killmanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Angelo Badalamenti, Dale Cooper Quartet

Like Lower Level Bureau? Give these a listen: Malakas, Iosu Vakerizzo, Music For Sleep

REVIEW: Montel Palmer – Catastropheland (2022)

Catastropheland, despite what its name suggests, instigates a state of dubbed out bliss. From the Cologne, Germany based trio Montel Palmer, Catastropheland is a lo-fi futuristic album full of post-apocalyptic minimal rhythms and tripped out, oil-slick synth ambience.

The album’s low fidelity recording wraps its contents in noisy warmth. Electronics percolate around bumping minimal synth bass lines while the occasional spoken vocal draws out in waves of delay. There’s a delightful degree of absurdity to it all, while still retaining an emotionally accessible tone.

Faintly reminding me of UK Hip-Hop group Strange U, Montel Palmer’s futuristic sound is simultaneously dystopian and relaxing. It’s not entirely uncommon to see people bemoaning our lack of ‘futurism’ as a sign of a dismal societal/global outlook, but perhaps what’s more telling is what we see in what little futurism we do have. It could be argued that ‘futurism’, as an artistic element or mode, could never accurately predict anything to come from the chaotic world we live in. But I believe an audience focusing on what futurism says about the future completely misses the point.

The future really is now.

For fans of: Bill Laswell, Meat Beat Manifesto, Ouxh,

Like Montel Palmer? Give these a listen: skintape, Strange U, Cindy

REVIEW: Fonta Flora – Farmer’s Wake (2020)

Farmer’s Wake is the debut full-length album by South Carolina-based and Southern Gothic themed Alt-Country band Fonta Flora. The duo consists of lead singer and rhythm guitarist Robert A Maynor IV and lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dosher. Fonta Flora’s folksy brand of Alt-Country carries the rustic tonalities expressive of grim, glum and sometimes lonesome backwoods living. Fair enough. But aesthetics can be an empty shell, and as the album played out I found myself in familiar territory.

It all started innocently enough, but steadily as the album progresses I find an uncomfortable creeping sense of irritation. Some of the album’s more deficient aspects are covered by the duo’s songwriting abilities. But even highlights on Farmer’s Wake, such as the lead guitar melody on track Planetary Haze are shot out of focus by goofy lyrical content.

5 songs in and I think I may just be a ‘whiskey’ short of winning Southern-cliche bingo. We got a ‘I work all day’, ‘lord’ this, ‘lord’ that, ‘devil’ this and a ‘devil’ that. I stopped keeping track. Farmer’s Wake is an album that gets progressively worse with its cliches; more and more in your face, more grating with each passing minute.

Alt-Country like this is something straight out of the creative class, somewhat distanced from the ‘salt of the earth’ people the genre usually attempts to represent or pose as. That’s okay, I don’t expect Lord Worm, former vocalist of Canadian Death Metal band Cryptopsy, to have actually been “in the kitchen, with a screaming triple-amputee” who he is cannibalizing, let alone any of the other things depicted on None So Vile (1996) to be true.

But while more conservative attitudes to music try to distance themselves from the splendor of showmanship, music is and always has been a show. Music and its marginalia- album art, flyers, drama, lore and legend- have become their own theatre since recorded music (if they haven’t always been).

With the ‘theatre’ of music in mind, what’s so grating about Farmer’s Wake is that Fonta Flora’s strengths- the album’s highlights- are left as pretty ornamentation surrounding the album’s hokey celebration of what is a troubled and depressing trope of Southern identity (not to mention the obvious atrocities pervading conversations around Southern identity). Like a theatre-kid out of their league, there is an unacquired gravitas in the album’s approach to its subject matter which makes it feel lifeless (at best).

Where to go form here? I’m uncertain. But both Dosher and Maynor prove themselves to be talented and multifaceted musicians. Perhaps a shirking of established tropes will let them find something that both highlights their musicianship and resonates with a more nuanced emotional palette.

For fans of: Old Crow Medicine Show, Sons of Perdition, The Dead South

Like Fonta Flora? Give these a listen: A Man Called Stu, Carolina Catskins, Rowland S. Howard

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