J. Campbell – The Cormorant

J. Campbell – The Cormorant LP VAKNAR 2021

To start off, I know virtually nothing about this artist or the label (or the parent label VAAGNER), although what initially caught my eye was the consistent visual aesthetic and clean design of the labels’ releases. It then transpires that the artist J. Campbell is Australian, while the music is bracketed under ambient and modern classical descriptors.

With The Cormorant being my introduction to the musical works of J. Campbell, this album has been on high rotation in recent months. An aching melancholia permeates all aspects of this album, where field records of gentle waves, floating synths, ebbing drones, and minimal static washes blend and interweave. The occasional use of sparse piano lines, violins and vocals interject a more direct melodious focus to proceedings, which generates a quite cinematic soundtrack-styled edge. More broadly, the pacing is slow and unhurried, where the compositional elements (field recordings, sparse atonal sonic clatter, melodious synth drones, and composed/processed instrumentation), are highly detailed and balanced, while the spacious widescreen production is of enveloping warmth, rather than cold detachment.

While the ambient and modern classical descriptors might be an overly dry assessment of what is sonically delivered, to this ear the overarching mood and atmosphere is strongly comparable to the dreamy ambient washes of Fennesz, as well as the more musically melancholy moments of Ben Frost’s recorded works. Yet, not wanting to be completely reductive on the basis of comparisons alone, these are mainly used to indicate the pinnacle musical level which The Cormorant inhabits. The physical edition vinyl is limited to a mere 90 copies, but also available digitally for wider distribution, particularly benefiting of an album that should be heard by a much wider audience.

 

Heart of Palm – Tropique Concrète: Collected

Heart of Palm – Tropique Concrète: Collected CD Difficult Interactions 2021

Knowing effectively nothing about this project it has been approached at face value, where the album title then gives a clear indication it involves musique concrète  experimentation. This is duly confirmed on the opening track Her Tears Shed In Paradises Grotto, which is based on field recordings of distant rumbling tropical thunder, lapping waves, sparse bird calls, and minimalist single note synth melody provides a forlorn yet dreamlike atmosphere. Elsewhere muted rhythmic metal clangs, looped field recording elements, and micro-tonal clatter provides a more ‘post-industrial’ vibe. Yet the overall tone and atmosphere is kept purposely subtle and moody thanks to the minimalist underpinning melodies, which on occasion includes a tropical-tinged guitar. Vocals also sporadically appear as an additional tonal element, but are treated with sonic smear which prevents interpretation, and which are further placed far off in the background of the mix for added obscurity.

As further alluded to by the album title, this release functions to collect material from a number of limited-edition tapes from 2016-2018 (plus 2021 bonus track), but notably it all hangs together strongly here as a standalone album of post-industrial inflected and darker toned musique concrète works. A six-panel pastel pink digi-pack adorned with suitable imagery provides further visual references to align with the coastal concept, which is then self-described as: ‘subconscious tropical concrète atmosphere & malaise’. The end result is a divergently intriguing album that is slightly left of centre of the usual type of material covered by Noise Receptor.

Soleil Satan – Les Couronnes De L’Aube

Soleil Satan – Les Couronnes De L’Aube CD Cipher Productions 2021

Cipher Productions has released yet another previously unknown project for me, so the promo text is then useful in providing context by placing Soleil Satan from the culturally disputed Basque region of Spain. It also clarifies the project is helmed by Miguel A. García: a sound artist ‘working mainly in the field of electro-acoustic composition and improvisation’, while this album ‘is a solemn ambient exploration of voice, guitar and electronics, recorded in a deserted factory in Bilbao’.

On this apparent debut album, an organ-like sustained drone opens proceedings and further sees other sparse acoustic, percussive and reverberating elements flit and weave. Equally the depth of the sound production functions to give a strong impression of a cavernous and echoed space, which obviously typifies the chosen abandoned factory location for the recording. Later on, sparse whispered vocals appear, as do guitars, yet the strings are played in an atypical fashion to provide for elongated and abstract droning effect. This general approach found on the opening tracks continues through the balance of the album’s 40 or so interlinked minutes. Here creaking sounds and a myriad of unidentifiable atonal elements bleed into the sonic frame and very much embedding the impression of experimental and broadly ambient framed post-industrial soundscapes. Although in a few moments the tone does push upwards towards headier and noisier sonic peaks.

A pro-pressed CD and four-panel mini-gatefold sleeve round out the visual presentation of what is an enjoyable and strongly engaging introduction to Soleil Satan.

Various Artists – Terässinfonia Vol. 1 / Terässinfonia Vol.2

Various Artists – Terässinfonia Vol. 1 / Terässinfonia Vol.2 CD Freak Animal Records 2020

Freak Animal Records have always been a huge supporter of new and up and coming projects in the noise-industrial-experimental underground, no matter how obscure. These two collated volumes are then noted to have a more specific function: that being to specifically focus on current activities with the Finnish underground as evidenced by the tagline of: ‘The sound of Finnish experimental noise. Terässinfonia : Steel Symphony’.

Noting the role of a good compilation is to showcase projects you may have not come across before, on that front I only recognise a handful of project names across the 24 contributions here, which includes (in order of appearance): Umpio, Kitu, Tyhjä Pää, Hazarda Bruo Sonsistemo, Atrophist, Unclean, Edge Of Decay, H.Ö.H, Jazzhand, Rotat,Junkyard Shaman, Contortus, Metsäkirkko, Ihmisen Jälkeen, Nuori Veri, Parempi Ratkaisu, Amek Maj, Toteslaut, Maskhead, Vitun Siat, YANA, Circle Of Shit, Ahola & Silander, Electric Hobo, Tyhjiø. However, as there are then far too many contributions spanning the two discs to focus on individually, some of the notable highlights of those projects whom I am not overly familiar with include:

  • Kitu – Edeema: features a strong contribution of hollowed-out industrial rumble and soot-infused ‘abandoned factory’ ambience.
  • Hazarda Bruo Sonsistemo – Loishäätö: contains upfront ‘detailed’ sounds sitting over a rising tide of thickly atmospheric distortion.
  • Atrophist – Mutation Cycles: offers a touch of sonic respite on the first disc, with a droning composition that edges ever so closely towards dark ambience.
  • H.Ö.H – Mittausteknologian Kehittyessä: aims for more experimental expression with a short track of wonky sparse cutup sounds and tape loop material.
  • Jazzhand – Gavia Arctica: stands apart given its main focus on natural based field recording, while a minimal underpinning drone and vocal and relegated to being low wihin the mix.
  • Junkyard Sharman – Harha: opting for an enveloping ritual ambient drone-work, the compositions subtle scrap metal elements sitting off within the background.
  • Nuori Veri – Jatkumon Ahjo: ranges from minimalist ‘micro-tonal’ elements, which are blended with sampled choral vocals for emotive effect.
  • Parempi Ratkaisu – Ali-ihmisten Kärsimys: actually reminds quite strongly of Grunt’s sound, given its focus here on raw noise which has been roughly hewn into intertwining scrap metal loops.
  • Toteslaut – Strike the Master Sword: strongly impresses with a track of raw and overblow power electronics, complete with rough vocal proclamations.
  • Yana – Tuntematon: shifts tactic to charts a minimalist soundscape of sparse tones and a variety of scrabbling sonics.
  • Ahola & Silander – Koitos: is notable with its thick and warm, yet hollow tonal quality to its clinical experimental drone-work.
  • Tyhjiø – Aurinko: being a raw and spitting noise-industrial track with significant sonic heft thanks to its massive production sound.

Despite not all tracks getting an individual mention above, there is a lot to like and discover across the 80 minutes of material spanning two separate CDs. But it is also worthwhile noting that a number the more established names like Umpio, Unclean, Edge of Decay, Rotat, Contortus, Maskhead, Circle of Shit function to represent the harsh noise, scrap metal industrial, and ripping power electronics sounds of the Finnish underground. The striking collages of the cover artwork provide a suitably strong visual presentation and are further pressed as four-panel digipacks. Solid compilation collections all round.

Trust Collective mini-showcase

Trust Collective mini-showcase

Trust Collective are a new tape label from America, operating in the fields of noise, power electronics, ambient, and experimental. Having only been operating since 2019, they have already amassed over 40 releases, with tapes issued in small batch print runs but backed up with an online digital availability. Following below is a brief rundown of a couple of recent label releases which are of the more ambient and experimental variety.

Anasisana – Perfect Stranger MC Trust Collective 2020

Being wholly unaware of Anasisana prior to this tape, they appear to be a young project with a handful of releases since 2018. Perfect Stranger is a short four-track tape of melancholic drone and drift, ambient-framed electronic music. Across the four compositions the slow shifting sustained melodies articulate a late-night mood of dour contemplation. Those melodious elements are further backed by a subtle drift of field recordings, subdued atonal textures, and even treated spoken vocals in one track. With a short runtime this tape leaves me wanting more, and is a good example of modern ambient electronic; current material on the Posh Isolation label would be a logical comparison to make.

Volunteer Coroner / Yolabmi – split MC Trust Collective 2020

On this split tape Volunteer Coroner leads and takes up Side A with the single lengthy track Moments Measured By Grief. As might be suggested by the title, it has a melancholic mood where the slow and minimal synth melody is both fragile and gloomy. From mid-track onwards an undercurrent of crumbling static is revealed yet remains as a separate sonic element which never overtakes the primacy of the main melody line which is an achingly bleak composition. Yolabmi take up Side B with the single track Breathe, an experimental sound collage-type composition. As such tonal fragments are added and subtracted in quite an academic fashion, there is a loose progression to the sound which is sonically clean but supported by a vague aquatic churn. Yet, from mid-track a minimalist drone appears that provides tonal focus around which the other sound textures are framed. Although both sides of the tape are completely different from one another, if I were to play favorites, given my own sonic preferences the Volunteer Coroner track is the pick of this tape.

White Stains – Beauty & Structure MC Trust Collective 2020

No, this is not the early 1990s Swedish experimental band White Stains with links to Genesis P-Orridge. Rather, this White Stains is the solo project of Belgian Koenraad Impens who has issued a clutch of tapes since 2018. Five tracks and approximately 20 minutes of material feature on Beauty & Structure, which sonically delivers cinematic synth-driven electronic music with a strong sci-fi bent. Moody sci-fi tinged melodies float and drift, while a mid-paced programmed rhythmic beat pulls the compositions ever forwards. Intriguingly, opening track Silence Observed on Side B features an almost minimalist dungeon synth atmosphere, yet soon enough the programmed rhythmic beat element returns on Neon Streams Are Almost Transparant Now to push the mood back towards a cinematic sci-fi sound. All in all, Beauty & Structure delivers an enjoyably moody respite from the harsher bluff and bluster of the underground material typically covered in Noise Receptor Journal.

Ybalferran – Inflorencense MC Trust Collective 2020

Yet another obscure and previously unknown project for me, the seven compositions of Inflorencense deliver droning synths and experimental soundscapes. With a vaguely sub-orchestral tone, the deep synth drones either drift along or function in broader structural loops, with other shimmering and sweeping sounds taking up the mid to higher sonic register. Select tracks do register a lower bass tone rumble, along with occasional vaguely rhythmic textures but these mostly sit within the background, and with a generally slow forward pace, the tracks slowly morph and evolve in a moody experimental way. The final track Fields Of White Lichen stands apart from the rest, given that it features a musically-focused synth melody and spoken vocals. Given its slightly abstracted experimental approach to composition, my overriding impression of this tape is that it is decent enough and certainly enjoyable to listen to – nothing more, nothing less.

Shredded Nerve – Acts of Betrayal

Shredded Nerve – Acts of Betrayal CD Chondritic Sound 2020

Shredded Nerve is an American project of Justin Lakes who has issued a slew of releases since the early 2010s. Having not kept up with this output that now spans around 30 releases, I have to take Acts of Betrayal at face value, rather than how it may compare to or has evolved from other releases.

Although an instrumental experimental noise album at its core, Acts of Betrayal covers a wide variety of stylistic elements across its seven tracks and hour length, including jagged noise, caustic drone, scrap metal-infused industrial, and power electronics bluster. The lengthy opener Coup D’Etat is demonstrative of this, with a slow-moving yet tensile drone ambience which gradually elevates with hollow scrap metal sounds and a rising tide of crisp distortion. Flowing immediately into following track Dragged Through The Mud, the manipulated scrap metal tones are brought to the fore to create significant sonic heft, sitting in the mid to higher tonal range. Given its 15-minute length, Meridian takes ample time to unfold from the early passage of electroacoustic minimalism, but builds to a monolithic maelstrom of multilayered noise of roaring jet engine proportions. Following the hefty peaks of this track, a couple of more subdued and controlled tracks feature (Fate Deciding Life and Death and Times of Grief), which can be broadly bracketed under the descriptor ‘industrial noise meets electroacoustic experimentation’. As for the title track, it gradually increases in intensity, although a series of slowly elevating industrial-toned corkscrew loops with raw and shredding noise is added for good measure towards the track’s end. Divergent Paths features scrabbling scrap metal sonics and dour underpinning synth, plus a tone of power electronics bluster. Final track Nights Of Endless Fire spans electro-acoustic soundscapes and tensile drones, but through the last half features one final rising tide of scrap metal sonics and harsh noise chaos.

For me personally, it is the slower and more sonically spacious moments of the album that work best, but that observation says far more regarding my own listening preferences: noise heads would clearly revel in the moments that build to maelstroms of cascading sonics. But with moments swaying from those of a jagged and harsh tonality, through to segments of controlled and contemplative experimental noise atmospherics, it demonstrates both craft and attention to detail. A strong and commendable album is the result, with the CD housed in a high gloss, four-panel, colour digipack.

Kjostad – Extinctionist

Kjostad – Extinctionist CD Chondritic Sounds 2020

Stefan Aune’s ‘organic versus electric’ experimental noise project has been rather busy of late, with the fantastically titled Extinctionist being the latest full-length offering. Again the blending of the organic and electric elements again reigns supreme, with the tone ranging from subdued and contemplative, through to heady yet controlled noise avalanches.

Opening track Vigil blends bird calls and fizzing / erupting overblown static, prior to a detailed sonic cascade of scrap metal clatter. Moving onwards the second track Riven opts for different sonics with a deeply echoed and hollowed out track of scattered and multi-layered micro-tonal field recorded elements, which appear to have been made in urban / industrial environments and further manipulated into loosely rhymical loops. The subdued and controlled mood continues with Fort Kjostad, again using loosely constructed loops for rhythmic impact, before pulling back to low electric drones atop which a myriad of field recordings of natural environs are placed (water, wind, birds singing, etc.). Later the rhythmic scrap metal loops reappear but are relegated to the background in a distant and controlled fashion. Scavengers features as the most straight down the line track of chaotic and controlled noise, while Iron Edge commences with muted scrabbling tones (a microphone being buffeting by wind?), and slowly builds with loose caustic loops and mid-toned widescreen drones and onwards to structured territory based around creaking metallic recordings. The final title track is perhaps the loosest and nosiest track of the entire album. Being based on a substantial number of tonal layers it is a rough and erupting track of considerable sonic heft, although it waxes and wanes in the latter half before one final death throw outburst.

In noting its experimental noise approach, Extinctionist has ample rough and sonic crunch to please the noise and industrial listeners. But equally displayed extremely well controlled and composed pacing, and willingness to pull back on all-out harshness, which will no doubt be of strong interest to the listener of a more experimental yet composed field recording bent. A spot-varnished, four-panel digipack with images from an early settler era of America rounds out a classy sonic, visual, and physical presentation.

Kjostad – Environment Electronics

Kjostad – Environment Electronics CD Found Remains 2020

Environment Electronics was first issued by Found Remains on cassette in 2018 (reviewed here). Now it has been reissued on CD with updated artwork, along with two additional tracks and subjected to remastering treatment by Grant Richardson (Gnawed) for good measure.

The original tape version of Environment Electronics featured six tracks intent on blurring the line between environmental field recordings and man-made elements, self-described on the cover as ‘exercises in electronic-organic synthesis’. The original tracks span a variety of sonic textures and approaches including elongated and abstracted drone minimalism, light washes of static counterpointed with bird song, and a general underpinning of bass rumble and mid-spectrum static. Of the extra tracks on the CD, first bonus track Regression was originally issued on the 2019 Found Remains tape compilation Through A Glass Darkly and, based on the micro-tonal detailing, it sounds to be mostly the sonic result of a night-time forest walk complete with insect noise and bird calls. The means by which the sounds have been captured and processed is unclear, but they sound amplified and hyper-real in tonality. The middle of the track evolves into more mechanized territory with a series of intertwining elevating loops and panning static rumble. The second bonus track, Arrowhead Killer, is an abrasive cut of ‘upfront’ and detailed junk metal tones and overblown sonic textures put alongside other naturally-toned sound elements. With its careful looping and layering of elements, it makes for sonically complex and engaging listening.

The careful balancing of organic and man-made tonal elements here maintains an industrial noise rather than academic ‘sound art’ approach. The newly remastered sonics pleasingly elevate the sound to greater heights and, with the bonus tracks and new artwork, this a welcome reissue and expansion of the limited original tape.

Leather Bath ‎– Nature’s Crackling Fire / Anarch Peak – Vitarium

Leather Bath Nature’s Crackling Fire CD Leather Bath, Inc. 2019

Anarch Peak – Vitarium CD Chondritic Sound, 2019

The common thread between these two releases is Greh Holger (of Hive Mind and the Noisextra podcast), who collaborates with John Weise as Leather Bath, and separately with Rodger Stella (formerly of Macronympha, Mother Savage, etc.) as Anarch Peak.

In turning attention to Leather Bath first, they seem to have been active since around 2012 with a clutch of releases, yet Nature’s Crackling Fire is the first album proper from the group. As might be suggested by the album title this can be described as experimental noise and musique concrète, with an underpinning drone framework. Two lengthy tracks feature, the 23-minute In Temporary Suspension and 17-minute Hunter Horn. Although the musique concrète descriptor is used, this is by no means stuffy or academic in tone. Likewise, with reference to the ‘noise’ descriptor, the sound is ‘detailed’ rather than loud, meaning there are tons of close-up micro-tonal sonic textures throughout. There is considerable depth, with various tonal elements sitting far off in the background, offset against the upfront elements, while speaker panning is also used for surround-sound immersion. In Temporary Suspension exudes an open tonal quality, with lots of space to breathe between the sound of stone, wood, and metal which is creaked, bowed, struck, and scraped. Hunter Horn differs from the first track with a greater focus on droning elements, scrabbling textures, and treated horn elements, while field recordings provide further natural and human resonances. Later the track involves a metal-on-metal tonal workout and echoed footfalls, which are dragged to their conclusion with animated windswept drones.

Moving on to Anarch Peak, the first thing to be noted is the psychedelic sci-fi style artwork that adorns the six-panel digipack. This sci-fi angle is reinforced with some abstracted surreal text included as part of the digipack. Sonically speaking, Greh handles the synthesizers and minimalist metal-derived inputs, while Rodger mans the theremin – by listing that instrument alone, it should be clear that Anarch Peak are not dealing with a harsh / junk noise approach. Two longform tracks make up Vitarium, the 37-minute Alpha in Dissent and 33-minute Driftglass. In the opening to Alpha in Dissent the atonal synths and theremin drones slowly unfurl, while some subdued metallic clatter is noted far off in the depths of the mix. Like an ebbing and flowing tide, the track slowly builds and recedes over extended passages. Not being chaotic or loud, the track does build up a certain bulk and tonal weight through the middle and later sections, where discordant wailing textures sit at the middle to lower end rather than resembling a high-pitched squall. In the last third, some doom-addled sub-orchestral synth melodies appear and sweep the track’s mood in a completely different direction, more into sci-fi territory (perhaps akin to being slowly dragged towards the event horizon by the gravitational pull of a black hole). Driftglass differs by being tonally fragmented and fragile, with subdued wonky tones, minimalist crackling textures, and low-level static, while a melodious organ-like drone slowly appears to provide focus and forward movement. The middle to back end of the track sonically articulates intertwining corkscrew spirals, while the final movement uses metallic tones in a stilted rhythmic fashion.

Neither of the albums are overly dark, but each is characterized by being experimental or artistic in tone in their own way. The material across both albums is animated and varied, with each making for a detailed and engaging listen. The above descriptions should clearly indicate whether either or both albums will be to your liking.

Ergomope – Етиологии

Ergomope – Етиологии 2xMC AMEK 2019

AMEK are a Bulgarian underground experimental label and while I have not followed all of their output, from what I have heard they are releasing a decent amount of atypical post-industrial music. In this context I have not come across the Ergomope project before, but that is also perhaps explained by the fact that Етиологии appears to be their only release to date.

Opening with short experimental and evocative piano motif which has been layered and treated in studio, it immediately catches attention in the most positive of ways, before shifting off into a length 15-minute track framed around grey hued sonic treatments of obviously urban based field records. But not to be based on raw field recordings alone, those elements are coupled with sonically melodious and shimmering drones which blend and intertwine and carries the material forward at a generally unhurried pace. Likewise, though a number of tracks the minimalist field recordings elements have been looped for vaguely rhythmic effect, while on occasion the drones and field recordings elevate in pressure and force towards an heavier post-industrial frame of reference, where the sound builds to a peak before recedes again. In other sections there appears to be what sounds like abstracted playing of a treated piano, and sections of shrill orchestral strings and percussion which have been mutated in a studio environment. Of individual note, lengthy track Whiteout functions as a sort of album centrepiece given its more prominent musicality, including layered piano playing, plucked string instruments, and elevating melodious drones late in the track.

Clearly there is lot to digest across the two cassettes, amounting to a run time of around 80 minutes. But with emotive experimental ambiental music such as this, appreciation is rewarded from an unhurried listening, allowing the shifting and morphing sonics to unfurl at their own pace. For the sake of comparison, the likes of the material released on Touch, and specifically the likes of Fennesz and BJ Nilsen comes strongly to mind, which is testament to the quality of this material, despite its relative obscurity. In then noting that the Black Sea is referenced in the promo text, and is a title of a Fennesz album, perhaps my comparative impressions are more than mere coincidence? Either way this has been both an enjoyable and rewarding listen.