ON THE 12TH MONTH OF…..♬ Aside from the dusty white scapes of Bing Crosby, Burl Ives and the overly spangled reveals of Mariah Carey there are plenty of non-seasonal sounds wafting through the holiday airwaves that have nothing in common with tradition whatsoever. Or do they? Well, they sure do here at Toneshift where the season is always bright with the intersection of genres 365 days ’round. Here are a dozen of those records you don’t want to miss between candles on the kinara or menorah, passing giftcards or last minute stocking stuffer trips to Target… Instead, take a left turn, get off that super highway, pop on your best wifi headset and into some deep listening with us. We didn’t want to leave you in the lurch – so listen to these over the week, gradually. Consider these (un)Seasonal Solstice Selections.
JUST DESSERTS: In the meantime, it’s THAT time of year, so remember that through 12/31 at midnight you can rate (1-5 star system) the recordings we covered + that you really loved the most (or not so much) as we will present our very first People’s Choice from all posted reviews in the first week of January! And Toneshift’s Best of 2018 will follow on its heels come January 9 – it will include fave selections by all of our contributors. Time for us to take a much needed break for the remainder of the year, and will see y’all back here on January the 2nd. Please remember, if you are feeling in the holiday spirit, to think of us over the break! Stay tuned….
This is a deceptive collaboration between James Welburn and Juliana Venter. Two lengthy tracks of din and wild circumstance, surrounded at first around haunting vocal trills and treated industrialism. This is not for the faint at heart, though as it flails and drifts it goes from chaos to mystery, the evaporative nature on its bones is powerful and quite odd. The vocal is in the world of Diamanda Galas, Lydia Lunch, even Jarboe to an extent. There is much embedded in this edgy, emotive work. Intense.
The Elongated Path: Steve Ashby & Daniel Barbiero
This is a duo combining peaceful field recordings of rustic settings filled with singing birds with a deeply melancholic cello being bowed way down low. The tones shift some, but remain quiet, wispy, delicate over the course of five tracks. The air washes through the woods as if you are in-situ, in the moment. The final piece entangles nature and strings in mystical ways – definitely one to sit back and relax to.
Have Robot Dog, Will Travel: Stephanie Pan
Another selection that uses vocal treatments in our roundup, but deeply passionate, secretive and seductive. Throughout the record there are many twists/turns, shifting instrumental momentum, and a voice that comes off like somewhere between early Debbie Harry (on Song For Being Alone #1) and Julee Cruise. But the vocals are anything but straight ahead, there are scat-like edits, boundless trills and gurgles, operatic recitation, and all sorts of other colorful utterances alongside cowbells, arcade electronics, and ambient passages that sinewy and evocative.
Uhren: Gregory Kramer
A variant dozen tracks, each with an exact runtime of five minutes. Combining field recordings, shady voices muted deep within the mix, and moody effects – this recording took me off guard at first – which I so appreciate. Each piece is its own short story, vignette, some more minimal than others, some bold and free. There are several dark corners here, and just as many puzzle pieces to attempt shaping into some sort of map, but my suggestion is not to attempt anything but allowing this to take its dramatically unique course. Small objects are manipulated and played back in echo. It’s like being on a thrill ride where parts of your senses are sublimated for short periods of time – and suddenly you are in a clanging cafe. Worth the price of admission.
Sketches Of Plains: Schweben
A brightly colored and spirited set of electronics that dip into moments of repose and then wiggle away. There are just as many minimal parts as there is the feeling you are walking through The Love Shop from Logan’s Run. Yes, it’s spacey, it’s even kitschy, but lends itself to a certain irresistible factor that is both old school retro and futuristic. The record remains fairly chill throughout, so if you enjoy glassy synths and the allure of Playskool electronics (early Depeche Mode without any chorus in sight) this will be up your alley.
Waves: CIA Debutante
This tape is encoded with dicey, barely audible messages. The duo of Paul Bonnet and Nathan Roche take the intersection of guitar, synths and voice for a ride of distortion and mystery. It’s quite mesmerizing – and a bit like an industrial thriller-in-progress. This is the bastard grandchild of Cabaret Voltaire. The overall feel is queasy, inebriated and far-flung, floating in space in slow motion. They form a grey area of drone, speckled by moments in and out of consciousness – caught between transmission signals.
Harpagos: Dylan Neely
At first what appears to be some collision between half-jazz and ballroom becomes an endurance struggle as it chugs away. Of all the records we tested this month, this is likely one of the most subtle in the way it seems to meander from a central melodic trend and splinter off into so many directions. Oddly enough, it does this elegantly, instead of becoming muddy or incoherent. Keyboards, electronics, chime-like sounds – all becomes this magical passageway. But this album also boasts a ghostly presence, most evident by way of Wuritzer-like organ and a heck of a lot of pacing. It’s like a space Western starring the same Christmas red loinclothed character Sean Connery played in Zardoz, but far more mysterious and delicate. Listen for the swelling beauty of Mazares, it’s a stunner.
Musique De Film: Ümlaut
Likely my favorite this month, the expert blend of incidental chords and left turns, ultimately listenable and off-putting. If you indulge, like me, in works that blend the lymphatically drained side of beauty, this is for you. In one hand it has some in common with Kenneth Kirschner, in the other, warped exploratory drone that is fiercely defiant. It’s an enchanting work of minimalism, that taunts and teases with bells and other devices. These are a collection of soundtrack compositions for a series of short films (some of which you can see here) by the artist (NY’r Jeff Düngfelder) and you can expect this record out on January 9th – so consider this an early sneak peek!
Beyond Torneo Vol III: Alan Gleeson
The third in a series of which we reviewed the previous issue just recently. This thirty-four minute work hovers in the balance with extended drones. The layers grow in volume in a looped style, separating deliberately into stilled space. A meditative mix paralyzes rational thought as this ebbs at midpoint before its high rise and slow fall. And though you might expect a comatose drawn-out ending, think again. Gleeson instead erupts into a momentary discordant madness that induces chilling aftershocks into the ether.
Kegimo: Mokuhen & Kevin Gironnay
Another collaborative duo arrives to explore some deranged effect artifacts. In three pieces that are micro-encrypted and as abstract as they come, these Montreal-based two acoustic manipulators are at the very top of their game here. This is a powerfully mysterious recording that they term “an automatic drawing”. It is most definitely outside the lines, noisy when its most still, then full of degenerative effects that are riveting and eruptive. An innovative composition that sounds like it’s ready to explode into a collision of noise at any point, but manages to keep a tightly wound cauldron of secrets close to its chest.
Torque Soundtrack: MIRA
This soundtrack by an interesting Tokyo-based duo (Honami Higuchi + Raphael Leray), that I highly recommend – have a look at trailers one and two to get a better dash of what to look forward to. It’s an ambient-focused work that flutters into and out of post-rock, ending up being distinctively a soundtrack with a synthesis of emotive wavy effects. Brooding with a tangible moodiness, this is thickly lined with elusive somber tones.
Hi-Fi Is Sweeping the Country!: Populäre Mechanik
Which leaves us with likely the oddest of this big batch by an improvisational group from Berlin who base themselves on “a statement of positive affirmation of the modern age, against the dystopias offered by much of Punk and Industrial music at that time” – and that time has stretched from the 1980s until today, making lots of changes along the way. This record was made between 2005 and 2014, however it sounds like a forward-thinking blast from the past. Trippy vocals, squelching electronic effects, stylish mystery, all wrapped up in something decisively of modern German descent. The closest in comparison I can make is Suicide. It’s like a fusion of acid trip spoken word psychedelia concocted by a drunk jazz quintet with a rock edge at the helm.