Another set of months has past, another set of reviews piling up! Which is to say that 2016 artists are cranking out good music much faster than I am writing about it. Sorry this took so long, more on the way, still.
Daniel Wyche, Our Severed Sleep (Public Eyesore / Eh?, 2016)
In a forthcoming interview for this website, Daniel Wyche insisted in several ways that Our Severed Sleep is a rock album. Or rather, that these two extended compositions are rock songs. I love this sense of ownership and contrarian artistry, for Wyche (joined here by drummer Ryan Packard) could speak to several other traditions with his work, as well. So, Wyche aggressively claims a classic space for thoughtful noise and experimental improvisation, which raises questions about the role of textures and frequencies in the “grand canonical tradition” of rock (as we know it). Wyche’s own take could also be viewed as subversive irony, or a political stance in favor of artist-owned enterprises, for this set of compositions & improvised performance will expand and oppose traditional definitions of rock. Which is perhaps the best outcome for rock music itself, as Wyche essentially wields his axe to drain the bloated belly of that self-satisfied artform. Wyche himself is hungry, and lays it on the line throughout Our Severed Sleep.
In his Birds and Water tape series, Ben Owen masterfully uses longform frequency compositions to subtly string the listener into challenging modes of tone and construction. It is nearly impossible to follow those tonal changes, and Owen ensures that the listener is frightfully aware of that by extending each experimentation into a long, droning whole (a good thing). Speaking to other traditions, Wyche and Packard manipulate frequencies in a manner that winks at someone like Owen, before smashing those tonal experimentations into forward-moving, propulsive, emotional performances. One specific tool for creating this aspect of the performance was the bass transducer, which Wyche routed from his guitar amp and secured to Packard’s orchestral bass drum with sleigh bells. The resulting production is a physical frequency that accompanies specific notes (or bass ranges) from Wyche’s signal. Everything works for Packard and Wyche: the drummer smears cymbals into percussive screeching, Wyche delivers bending lines through optical distortion, and the machines pulse at certain frequencies, adding to the range and depth of each performance.
Alongside Wyche’s own processing, which was constructed for the purpose of developing feedback for one of these compositions, the transducer, drum, and bells enhance the visceral mood of the performers. By successfully adding this range of frequencies, and explicit frequency manipulation, Our Severed Sleep becomes an expansive space that hosts a stunning performance. One gets the sense that both the manipulation and the performance are complementary, since the listener must then engage with deeply textured and often subtle recordings. Given the hardcore hits and crashes of this disc’s crescendos, that textural production adds yet another dimension of space. I’m tempted to call this “dark” or “aggressive” at points, but I think those words are violent in a way that fails to capture the utter protest embodied by Wyche’s vision throughout this album.
More soon: look for an interview featuring Packard and Wyche on this site.
Health & Beauty, Wintermagic (Perilous, 2012)
Neil Young’s On the Beach as a genre: that total fucking bummer of Young’s (arguably) best work expanded into thoughtful no bullshit jazzblues. I recently (finally) found a copy of Wintermagic at Reckless Loop, and subsequently melted into the deep overdriven guitar tone and ringing keys. This album predates Health&Beauty’s most recent formulations as a trio, and has less grit than some of their performances. However, the mood remains the same, and the tempos bleed into clearly produced, dynamic songs. There is enough quiet & loud development on the album to help it speak with rock traditions, but the players move beyond those tropes with intricate moves and countermelodies. It’s hard to top a Health&Beauty live show, so in a sense Wintermagic sounds like foreshadowing, but the album also serves as ample evidence that the magic was always there.
Nick Millevoi, Desertion (Shhpuma, 2016)
If we’re rounding out the edges from Wyche to Health&Beauty, Nick Millevoi’s latest album also works on the rock tradition, albeit from a completely different perspective. Seeing this album from Millevoi is a treat after watching the guitarist pair with superstar Chris Forsyth, forming a nearly unfair combination of loudness and proficiency. Forsyth’s Solar Motel Band reinserts the soul in guitar worship rock, and on Desertion Millevoi transports that soul to its rusted edges. Fans of the guitarist’s more scathing work, such as Millevoi’s split CD with Onibaba, may find the leap into this classic foray surprising, but Millevoi has always spoken of his classic heroes alongside the experimental ones.
I shared “Just for a Moment I Stood there in Silence” because this track captures the diverse instrumentation that Millevoi peppers throughout this work. Millevoi is also unafraid to walk away from the noise and pair acoustic guitar alongside string arrangements, which works as effective contrast to the album’s louder moments. Read against history, Millevoi’s entry could serve as an edgy update to the “Back to the Country” aesthetic that found hard psychedelia and popular classic rock retreating in the 1970s. Millevoi effectively takes Young’s “Are You ready for the Country?” as a dare, unveiling that song’s vital protest or condemnation. Here, the country is full of jazz, guitar timbres both bright and mournful, and long compositions that slowly track to their destination. What I love best about Desertion is seeing a well-established guitarist accomplish a self-exploration that is clearly inward bound and also clearly shows that this is only the beginning. Between the Onibaba split CD (dark jazz / percussive noise), Solar Motel Band (supporting guitar hero), and Desertion, there is no direction that Millevoi cannot travel in his coming work. Desertion is Americana in the best sense: a newly opened path.
Sasvata, Elastic Arts (May 20, 2016)
On Friday, Elastic Arts featured a stacked ELASTRO that exemplified both the electric and acoustic potential of that series. A quartet of Julian Kirshner/Nick Mazzarella/Jim Baker/Charlie Kirchen opened the night with a WICKED set of acoustic and synthetic jazz, thanks to Baker’s shift between the piano and arp. Each of Mazzarella, Kirchen, and Kirshner took their turns heating the grooves, often locking into rhythmic repetitions that were hypnotic even in their loud live setting. The energy was set for the night, with a strong floor thanks to that quartet. Wrtch and anatole followed with synthetic creations that showcased the range of ambient or atmospheric music. Wrth used voice, found sounds (I think), and a wealth of synthetic tools to build a multi-layered incantation (moving from sparse repetitive bells to brilliant swell of brown noise). anatole nearly took repetition to its extreme, with a set of intricate pulses that moved forward through a devastating transition. By holding a composition for an extended period, and abruptly transitioning, anatole delivered one of the most dramatic surprises of the evening.
The duo Sasvata completed the night by combining a group of acoustic instruments (including bowed strings and [I think] hurdy-gurdy [or some other forced-air mechanism]) with devastating looping and electronic manipulation. The set was defined by two major improvisational moments, where howling vocals assembled a shrieking storm, and a righteous bassline that reverberated into an ascending loop. Both players were unrelenting in the face of these sonic imprints, adding to the energy produced by each of the previous acts. In this convergence of electronic and acoustic manipulation, Sasvata neatly tied together a string of divergent acts. Which is why ELASTRO is such a valuable series, anyway: each evening promises either nearly anarchic artist freedom or improbable convergences, readily providing an opportunity not to think about the potential of jazz and experimental music, but to feel it.
Other Listening / More soon:
Jon Wayne, Texas Funeral (Third Man reissue, 2010)
Strong / Fleisenberg, Belly Mecanique (self, 2016)
The Devil is Busy in Knoxville / A Short Life of Trouble (Mississippi tape compilation)
Spires that in the Sunset Rise with Michael Zerang, Kata Physio (No Index, 2016)
wrtch, Guilt of Man (self-packaged, “The Ocean’s Relaxing Surf” edition)
Bent Pyramid Trio / The Shouts from the Sea
JeaLousy, Paid for It (Moniker, 2016).
D’Angelo, “Brown Sugar” (EMI, 1995)