I go through cycles with reading. Sometimes I fly through books at a pretty fast (for me, anyway) rate, and other times I read the first few pages of several things and then just let them sit for a while. I don’t often re-read things, tending to find new (to me) things instead of revisiting places I’ve already been, but there are two or three authors whose work I keep coming back to for one reason or another. One of these is Jack Vance. So of course, after having very recently re-read his Planet of Adventure series, I’m going to start this article off with a 2022 release based on Vance’s works.
One of the key features of the works of Jack Vance is his ability to create worlds, societies, and customs. His stories are populated with characters, major and minor, with fully-formed belief systems, traditions, and attitudes. Some of these flash on the page for just a mention and then are gone. If you’re making music based on Vance’s works, this is something you’ve got to get right. I’m happy to report that Scrying Glass absolutely nails it. This album, consisting of two 18-minute tracks, is a musical interpretation of Tschai, the setting of Vance’s Plant of Adventure novels. The music here is varied, interesting, and, well, otherworldly. The synth sounds emulate horns, strings and voices, but all in a slightly unfamiliar way. The length of these pieces allows for the creation of separate movements; you can definitely tell when the traveling caravan enters the alien forest about six minutes into the first track. This is a richly textured release that almost demands repeated listening, whether or not you’re familiar with the books on which it’s based.
One of the fascinating things about relatively young subgenres like #dungeon synth is being able to trace the ways they grow, change, evolve, and mutate in real time. Scrying Glass is worlds removed from the subgenre’s origins yet still retains recognizable traces. Our next artist features a take on the sound that’s somewhat more traditional.
Dungeon synth is a branch of a tree with black metal somewhere down near the roots. On their first release, Russia’s Труп Колдуна (or, “Warlock Corpse”) stay close to those roots, featuring several tracks that weren’t just influenced by black metal, they are black metal. On the second full-length, you can tell there’s been growth. The double-bass drumming and buzzing guitars are mostly gone, replaced with a somber, funerary atmosphere. That doesn’t mean the roots have been abandoned, though. On the title track (loosely translating to “Ancient Bone Breaker”), the group evokes black metal legends Summoning, albeit in a much more lo-fi, DIY method (and with a far shorter track length). It’s not all a brooding, dour affair, though. “Сохнет Трава” (“Dry Grass”) is reminiscent of the solo works of Klaus Schulze. Until, that is, the throat-shredding vocals show up. And if you need those guitars and drums, the album closing “bonus track” “Рогатый Бог” is there to give you what you’re looking for. Overall, this album is an excellent follow-up to Труп Колдуна’s first record, establishing them as an artist to keep an eye on.
The #primitive tag is interesting because of the incredibly broad array of interpretations of what “primitivism” actually is. What it means to our next artist is a basic, stripped-down “voice and accompaniment” approach to music.
Chronicles of your Hometown
The ingredients here are simple, just a voice and an acoustic guitar. But what’s special about this record is how big these songs sound. It’s most likely due to the recording technique—which is either “none” or one so elaborate that it somehow sounds like none. You can hear the spaces in which these recordings were made. These songs echo with room sound, ambient hiss, and, on the opening track “Hospital Rooms,” what sounds like passing traffic in the distance. This atmosphere gives a sense of immediacy to these songs. You can picture yourself sitting on Hayes’s porch or in his kitchen, listening to him pour his heart into these performances. It makes a track like the delicate “No Paper Sack” feel like it’s being sung directly to you and nobody else. Too much focus on the atmosphere, though, and we might lose sight of the craft on display here. That’s simple, too. Straightforward song structures and Hayes’ soulful, languid voice further that intimate connection between artist and listener. The Ernest Tubb cover that closes out this release solidified Hayes as part of the tradition Tubb helped establish—simple, good music that stays around in your head long after the final chord is played.
Although I’m familiar with the descriptor, I’m still not 100% sure what #alt-country actually is. Maybe it’s a “you know it when you hear it” thing. Maybe it’s just a catch-all for country music that doesn’t get a lot of mainstream radio play. But that doesn’t matter, really. What matters is that the genre tag is filled with great stuff to listen to.
Will You Still Love Me?
The latest from Edmonton, Canada’s VON BIEKER features five tracks of country-flavored pop. These are tight, incredibly well-played songs with introspective, often sad, lyrics. Musically, Bieker—assisted by producer/engineer Harry Gregg—knows precisely when to allow simplicity to carry a song, using minimal percussion, a guitar, and his own voice (a pleasant, versatile voice reminiscent at times of Tom Petty). He also knows when to add in other sounds, like strings, an organ, or an incredibly talented and well-placed horn section. The trombone solo on “One of Us Is Right” is absolutely perfect. It’s unexpected, but once it starts, it’s clear that the song wouldn’t work the same without it. This EP as a whole is filled with these unexpected delights. Although mostly downbeat where tempos are concerned, Will You Still Love Me? is an exciting listen filled with solid, well-performed songs.
We’re back in the familiar territory of the #indie pop tag. Although typically associated with guitar-based artists, our next artist applies that tag to danceable electronic music.
Clem Salvataggio Summer Mixtape
By the time you read this, summer (in my hemisphere) may be on its way out. Of course, climate change is here to make sure it stays nice and warm at least until the week after Halloween. Regardless of when (or where) you listen, this mix of tracks from French producer Clem Salvataggio will bring the laid-back, beachy vibes we all expect from summer but so rarely achieve. After a brief introduction, “Another Game” kicks off proceedings with a rolling bassline, trundling breezily along under icy synth stabs and twinkling melodies. “C Groove!” kicks things into a higher gear, with a booming beat wrapped around a deep, bubbling bass and pitch-shifted synths. The party ends with “Sunny Lazy Cool,” a flowing track that’s the perfect recovery of a full day of celebrating in the sun. Those are just highlights, of course, but the entirety of this mixtape showcases Salvataggio’s expertise at keeping the party going, no matter the time of year.
The #noise tag always has some weird stuff going on in there. That’s good. I like weird stuff. I hope you do, too because this next one? It’s real weird.
Lost Identity 3 – No – Context
The most recent release from Peruvian noisemakers Crying Kittens (and the third in their Lost Identity Series) continues their pattern of creating haunting, challenging work that subverts expectation. Electronic/ambient music is at its best when it acknowledges, absorbs, and transforms its own history, and Crying Kittens most definitely do this. Early tracks on this album take mallsoft’s fascination with the echoing atmospheres of liminal spaces and blend it with harsh, industrial sounds. The grinding and scraping isn’t slammed into your ears at high volumes, though. It exists on the edges of these tracks, a wailing ghost of machinery rather than the full force of the machinery itself. As the album progresses, so does the intensity of the sound. The album’s mid-point, “All the Formal Ways of Sound Torture” (for ease of reading, I’ve deleted the many skull emoji present in the original song title) brings in a plodding, distorted drum machine, which quickly forces its way through a a choir of eerie phantasms to take sonic center-stage. That drum machine sticks around for a whole, stomping its way through the jet exhaust whine that kicks off “Grow_Up!!!!,” and lurching forward, almost but not quite completely breaking down by the track’s end. Overall, it’s a challenging listen and a bold statement from an artist with a clear sonic vision.
We’re headed down South America way to #Peru, our first geographical tag on this journey. It allows us to jump from noisy experimentation to traditional heavy metal.
Compact Disc (CD)
Mandragora’s latest EP is more of the full-throttle riff worship that they’ve been serving up since their 2010 debut. I suppose you’d call this “traditional” heavy metal, but whatever label you put on it doesn’t really matter. It’s just really good. Taking bits of the ancient spells recorded by Manila Road, Riot, and (of course) Iron Maiden, Mandragora unleashes a roaring twin-lead attack that feels absolutely massive. The galloping riffs on “Death to the Witch” are absolutely exceptional; thick, solid, and accentuated with just the right amount of harmonic squeals. When the solos on that track start happening—particularly the part where guitarists Herman Roll and Paulo Roquetton are playing the same thing at the same time—it’s utterly transcendent. Sure, it’s a trick that’s been done before, but I never get tired of it, especially when it’s performed with this much precision and energy. Speaking of influences, this one closes out with a cover of the title track from NWOBHM legends Tank’s 1984 Honor and Blood.
Knowing that we’re in Peru, let’s close our focus just a bit to focus on the capital city, #Lima. Somewhere in there, we’ll find our next featured artist, a duo making harsh, uncompromising industrial sounds.
Sometimes bands find the perfect name for their sound. The English translation of this band’s name is “Mechanical Machinery.” Is this the best name ever for an industrial/EBM band? It’s a perfect representation of what you’re getting here, at the very least. Synths, samples, drum machines, and, in a nod to the organic, gruff vocals all mesh and interlock perfectly to deliver razor sharp, relentless, powerful electronic music. Lyrically, Maquinaria Mecanica address what the album notes refer to as “social and labor rights,” and I can’t think of a more apt way to musically talk about labor issues than with songs that sound like the inside of a factory. Like most bands from this genre, there’s a close adherence to the genre’s ‘80s roots, but it’s not strictly nostalgia worship. Maquinaria Mecanica join contemporaries like Poland’s Robodrum and NYC-via-Australia’s Multiple Man in forging the future path for EBM.
EBM, or #electronic body music has been around since the 80s, but the genre is still going strong. Our next featured release involves an international collaboration between two artists influenced by, but not strictly adherent to, this style.
“Okay,” I thought when the opening bass rumble and dancefloor beats of “Color a Dinosaur” jumped out of the headphones. “I know what’s going on here.” But I was wrong. This collaboration between Boston’s The Gothsicles (lyrics and vocals) and Jyväskylä’s NightStop (all of the music) is big, loud, silly, and fun. It’s in no way “serious” electronic music. “Color a Dinosaur” is, for example, literally about coloring pictures of dinosaurs. “Gunk Punk” (one of two songs on this EP about sentient slime) is literally about slime, and those lyrics (“A sentient vat of chemical slop got really into Iggy Pop and spawned a breed of mucusy misfits…”) are accompanied by appropriately gurgling, murky beats, with synth stabs spiking out of the ooze, ominous, sharp and threatening. This isn’t for everyone, sure. It’s the 2020s equivalent of the polarized opinions people had on Atom and His Package. Like the far-too-serious punks of the turn of the century, people who take their spooky dance music a little too seriously may be slightly turned off by this collaboration, but the rest of us, we’ll be blasting the chiptune-adjacent melody of “Raptor Right Behind Me” (these people love dinosaurs) and having the time of our lives.
As mentioned, one half of The Nightsicles reside in #Jyväskylä, Finland. Although I’ve never been there, it seems like a good place to finish our travels this time around.
Alas provides soaring, anthemic post-hardcore (trying hard not to drop “emo” into the list of descriptors here, but oops it looks like I jkust did it) with distorted, raspy shouted vocals (that are never overpoweringly loud in the mix, a trick many bands in this genre seem to find difficult to pull off). All of the genre influence touchstones are here. There’s a little Braid, a little Planes Mistaken For Stars, a bit of Knapsack, but there’s also some unexpected touches, like the country-tinged guitar solo on “Odottavan Aika,” and the guitars in the tension-building pre-chorus parts of “Muisti On Oikukas Kone” that sound more like a brass section than a stringed instrument. Alas knows what they’re doing, and they do it extremely well. The tempos range from idle, almost ambient passages to all-out “everybody play as fast as you can” fury, often within the same song. This is a dynamic, intricate, well-crafted album, full of tension, beauty and—yes—emotion.
From science-fiction inspired synth music to emo-influenced punk, we’ve covered a lot of ground this time around, but there’s still an almost infinite map left to cover. We’ve got time to do it. Let’s meet back here again soon and see what else we can find.