Magic Fades “Eye 2 Eye” (exclusive)

31 Oct 2014 — Henning Lahmann

Last time we heard from Portland's Magic Fades was when the duo dropped their massive (and criminally overlooked) collaboration with fellow Oregonian post-internet hippie Soul Ipsum, Zirconia Reign, earlier this year. Only a few months later Mike Grabarek and Jeremy Scott return on their own again with follow-up full-length Push Thru, a release that's every bit as timely as Zirconia Reign. Relying on their signature tropes of glossy hyper-R'n'B, the music sometimes gets eerily close to what's actually hot on top-40 stations in the United States. The stellar "Eye 2 Eye" is a case in point: channelled through painfully crisp autotune, no one would probably notice if someone dropped this after any other generic pop tune. Which has to be intentional. Too sleek to be completely taken seriously yet too aware and crafty to be brushed aside, Magic Fades again fuck with our expectations regaring "underground" pop in the second decade of the 21st century: too post to analyse.

Push Thru is out November 25 via 1080p.

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Jire “SSTNSLNC” (exclusive)

30 Oct 2014 — Henning Lahmann

Again proving their immaculate knack for unearthing the finest talents of tomorrow's popular music canon, the folks over at No Pain In Pop present their latest gem Jire aka merely 18-year old London-based producer Nathan Geyer. More than just another gifted beatsmith, Geyer's upcoming four-track debut Kiowa Polytope is a supremely elaborate piece of music, built from intricate, deconstructed rhythm patterns, noise and found sounds, as well as interspersed tonal structures. Despite showing off a dizzying level of playful sophistication and hardly ever resorting to comforting payoffs, the tracks unfold an astonishing emotional warmth that fits right into NPIP's catalogue (think Ukkonen or Karen Gwyer, but above all Forest Swords). EP centrepiece "SSTNSLNC" revolves around a bunch of samples that Geyer recorded with an old dictaphone at the Sistine Chapel in Rome (hence the title: "Sistine Silence"), where the artist found himself alienated by "the noise and lack of general respect in the chapel" that had led to the loss of "any sense of spirituality or emotion" the chapel once might have had, having turned into a purely commercial commodity. Take a listen to the stunning piece below.

The Kiowa Polytope EP is out November 11. Order now over here.

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Stream: Lotic at Unsound (exclusive)

29 Oct 2014 — Henning Lahmann

Of the three different stages inside Krakow's decaying late-communist Hotel Forum – the venue where Unsound's main club nights are staged on the festival's closing weekend – Room 3 is probably the toughest to unleash a proper party in, at it's essentially a large bar by design, not exactly a dancefloor. Which is why, I'd argue, it takes some particularly talented or rather ruthless DJs to keep up the excitement for a whole night. Enter Berlin's Janus crew, who took over the room on Friday night, running on a bill programmed by Unsound together with CTM's Berlin Current project, as reported earlier. Unsound's Polish and international crowd didn't hesitate to buy into the vibe, providing a setting that in its best moments at least came very close to the most relentless nights at Janus' home base Chesters. As per usual, Lotic's hour was especially marked by a dazzling, unapologetic yet infectious eclecticism, and we're happy to exclusively present the live recording of his set below, which was kindly provided by London's NTS Radio.

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Review: Arca “Xen”

29 Oct 2014 — Henry Schiller

Xen is the debut album from London-based Venezuelan producer Arca (Alejandro Ghersi), a follow-up of sorts to last year’s self-released mixtape &&&&&. Just like &&&&&, Xen might be described as a rollercoaster ride. Xen is a twisting, sputtering loop-de-loop of an album, a structure you cannot appreciate until the harness comes down and the wheels start spinning, with jolts and jumps that cannot be anticipated until it's a moment too late. But Xen differs from &&&&& in a very significant way: Xen has a palpable element of relaxation.

Not to say that the music of Xen is itself particularly relaxing. If anything, Xen is more anxious and discomfiting than its more aggressive forebear. But Xen is an album produced by someone who is comfortable enough to step slightly away from the vicious – and brilliant – style of production that got him work on albums by heavy hitters like Kanye West and Bjørk. To bring yourself down from that takes a heaping of “Zen” most people do not have access to.

Xen is not, like the also excellent &&&&& was, a literal projection of tension and hunger. But it does meditate on these and similar topics. Xen is thoughtful and thought-out, at times even solemn (see “Failed” and “Wound”), coming closer to the work of Tim Hecker or Oneohtrix Point Never than the maddash hacking of Ghersi’s earlier work.

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Album highlight “Family Violence” is a soft calamity of synthesized strings, each distinct track of which slithers separately, unsure of which direction in which to pull another. “Family Violence” plays off of the quiet discomfort of its own title remarkably well. Though initially evocative of the kind of thing you might imagine takes place between belligerent spouses in the foyer of a stately home, circa 1915 (think Downton Abbey with more drinking problems), I could imagine the track being remarkably effective set to a particularly brutal scene in a British kitchen sink drama. Like the rest of Xen, “Family Violence” takes an uncomfortable topic and presents it in all the disturbing ease with which it invades our daily lives.

Tracks like “Wound” and “Held Apart” also play around with the unaltered use of synthesized classical instruments. Instead of warping these parts with massive amounts of distortion and technical trickery, Ghersi lets them slide off the rails on their own. On each track, as with “Family Violence”, the instrumentation is offset only slightly, but in a way that still manages to disturb its own civility enough to suggest a depravity lurking underneath the surface.

“Sisters”, another personal favorite, is more of an explosion. A grasping, lashing evocation of some Christmastime frenzy. A ducked head on the London underground, on its way home; dreading the cold, dreading, perhaps, getting home in time to find a scene of chaos. Xen speaks up for the soft insanity of the everyday, which cannot find its own voice. To the madness and rapturous chaos that lurks beneath relaxing, enjoyable things.

No track on Xen is over four minutes long, suggesting an air of creative agitation even in the midst of obvious and profound personal comfort. The contrast, which serves as a foundational basis for the album, is an important and brilliantly utilized one. The album seems to draw heavily from underscore music, television programs of the early to mid 1990s transferred onto VHS by hapless parents.

Arca’s debut full-length is an excellent display of versatility from the producer. From the hectic bombast of &&&&& comes a calculated, composed ode to what lurks under the skein of banality. Xen is an album built on polarities. It is complex and heady, but Xen is also an easy listen, and a very navigable album. If &&&&& is the striking of a match then Xen is the candle slowly burning. If &&&&& was the blister bursting, then Xen is the callous that slowly builds around the raw skin it left behind.

Xen is out November 3 on Mute.

M B Baker “Cairns”

29 Oct 2014 — Evelyn Malinowski

Canadian cooperative label Heretical Objects' latest release Cairns by M B Baker is a slow-burning acoustic guitar long night in the woods. Its dreamy aspects might arrive from cricket sounds, or likenesses to Animal Collective's Campfire Songs. Mostly, the ethereal vibe derives from patient chord progression which is at times beautiful and otherwise dissonant. "Two," the aptly titled second track on the album, bears this quality the most. "Six," another aptly titled track as it is the sixth track, is a raw, ambient scene, shimmering like a winter morning, complete with an effect which resembles snowdrift carried by bitter winds as heard from inside of a dwelling. It is indeed a beautiful track. "Sinister Purpose" is an experimental Cash-esque revenge track, and more straightforwardly structured than most of the other songs. The album as a whole is both vocal and instrumental, folky and psychedelic; I believe Baker's focus really is in delayed guitar cadence and the space between accentuations, the moments of silence between crackling wood. 

Cairns is out now and you can download or buy the limited edition cassette here.

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Review:  Kinlaw & Skyler

28 Oct 2014 — Richard Greenan

London's Joane Skyler and Bristol's Hamish Trevis, aka Kinlaw, join forces on another fine record from Reckno (and the UK label's first vinyl release). Skyler & Kinlaw finds the producers gleefully one-upping each other in a sort of affectionate sonic tussle. Skyler's fragmented rave sketches are present, as are Kinlaw's more murky, pummeling driftscapes. But the real magic of Skyler & Kinlaw emerges when we lose track of who's doing what. This happens during the majestic, sickly wooz of "くコ:彡", or the triumphant Bollywood daydream "RIPE". There's quite a lot of tape manipulation going on here, and maybe it's Skyler's hand on the speed dial that causes snares and breaks to ebb and flow like a spluttering two-stroke engine. And perhaps the fistfuls of trappy hi-hats, clustering weirdly over snippets of distorted conversation, are hallmarks of Kinlaw. But, as the project sets out, this is less a split, more a combining of powers. Droll as ever, Reckno kingpin Chris Catlin sums it up:

Apparently at one point during a difficult bit of drum programming Joane's skull turned to smoke, Kinlaw inhaled it and blew it back into the mixing desk then poured black syrup over the keyboards while Joane's hands hooked up the perpetual sunset plugin and turned the rainbow filter up to infinity. But I digress...

You can get hold of Skyler & Kinlaw digitally or in the form of a 12" vinyl LP via Reckno.

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Review: Panabrite “Pavilion”

28 Oct 2014 — Dave Power

A large amount of current ambient/electronic music consists of beautiful slow-moving chord progressions on processed strings like Stars of the Lid or more experimental/noise mediums like Tim Hecker. This is not the case for Panabrite’s newest album Pavillion as it is heavily made up of new age-style synth lines and, according to the man behind the Panabrite, particularly influenced by the minimalism and prog of 70s-era Italy. Panabrite is the solo project of Norm Chambers based out of Seattle. Similarly to M. Sage, Chambers melds together electronic soundscapes of synths and electric keyboards with organic instrumentation like acoustic guitar, xylophone, and bells. Panabrite’s main sound combines that late 70s synth sound with heavily tangible instruments to create a very ambient, new age landscape.

Pavilion blends electronic and living worlds. The opening track “Veil” begins with the sound of steady rain while sparkling synths gradually join the mix, echoing and bouncing off of each other in the background. A slowly moving line is added, reminiscent of Gregorian chants of 10th-century Europe, causing the album’s opening to convey a steadily sacred and solemn atmosphere. Another notable track is “Memory”, which starts with a continuous Rhodes piano line that gives way to vocoder-effected vocals that loop and pan into a tremendously ethereal synth drone.

The whole album invariably floats through space as a slow, methodic drone. At the end of “Balsam” we are momentarily dragged out of this extraterrestrial world and back to our own planet where a distantly running industrial fan is heard underneath echoing wind chime bells. Pavilion moves in waves, rising with the electronic architecture and falling back with earthly transitions. The closing track “Quartz,” ends with an incredibly emotional pad of synth strings, maintaining and solidifying Chambers’ love for new age ambient recordings. It’s a short track that ends in decaying, warbled synth whistles, abruptly ending the 44-minute journey through the cosmos, 1970s-era Italian minimalism, and synthetic new age soundscapes.

Step onto the Pavilion that Panabrite has meticulously constructed, out now on Immune Recordings.

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Interview: Sound Locking With Katie Gately

27 Oct 2014 — Evelyn Malinowski

The atmospheric sounds of a dentist's office are comparable to the metallicity and searing audio mutations of Katie Gately's work. Her new movement, "Pivot," out on Fat Cat October 27th as a part of the Split 12" Series, displays the usual Gately melodies which lead listeners to unexpected places while being followed by surreal lyrics and indiscernible buzzing that originated with Gately singing into her at home studio microphone. Around eight minutes into the track, we are left alone to some dissonant timpani-sounding drum being struck at a rate that reminds me of the ticking of a giant universal clock, before medieval vocal cadence enters, followed by all kinds of silly blaring horns and rhythmic banter. Just let it suck you in.

Since the FC Split 12" Series focuses on emerging artists, and because we've been interested in Katie's style for some years, I felt that this elevation would be a great opportunity to sit down with the artist and pick her brain. As it turns out, Katie is a friendly, funny, and exceedinly cunning individual. Here's our conversation held via Skype chat.

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We really need to get you to Berlin for CTM or something!

Oh yeah CTM invited me last year! They are so nice but I'm not a performer, more a studio person. I really aspire to be in the studio twenty hours a day!

Are you in the studio right now?

Yeah I am at home, just working around the clock on some music as I have a week off from more film editing [and bill] paying duties.

It must feel good, though, to do artistic clockwork.

Yes, when it is going well! most of what I spend time on though is the technical tweaking which isn't very artistic but it's good to get in those 10,000 hours!

Do you always decline playing live?

Yeah I've declined to play for everyone - my focus is the studio. After being at USC, the most important thing I learned was to identify my goals and stick to them and not get distracted even if there is pressure to. Does that make sense? I have a few records that are so time-consuming to make and with no budget and no help. All I have is my own slave labor to push myself along!

That does make sense, and I feel like it's a very self-respecting rule to have with oneself.

I listen to a lot of Aretha Franklin.

And this is where the whole "I feel like a cave dweller" bit comes from, right?

The cave part blows…so now I try on/off weeks instead of months at a time. Just dig in like crazy for a few solid days and then retreat a bit (get some sun!).

Sun is very important, and those shadows in the cave can start to get freaky! The world of seeing live music is so poignantly different than private listening. Similarly, the act of performing music really has nothing to do with the act of writing and tinkering with music in the private sphere, in the studio, because the latter doesn't involve performing. People still think the ultimate music experience has to be a live one. What do you think? And do you have any feelings about performance in general?

Yeah I completely agree. Performance blows me away but I also think of it as using a different part of the brain. I am more prone to listen to records (I cannot afford to see live music or movies or anything these days….loans!) Since I trained in film….I'm also just prone to think of sound as fixed and "locked." Literally, when you finish editing you say "picture lock" and "sound lock." So I draft and draft and edit and edit and do pass after pass until I'm done. Then, I honestly never want to hear my music again! I spent insane amount of time hearing it loop and loop as I mix!

Oh interesting! That's how a lot of people feel about writing, and once they submit/publish, they don't want to see it again, or maybe they're even scared to read it because they're brain will go back into editing mode or something. I mean that's how writing my thesis was for me. I'm trying to reengage with it, but I still can't get passed page three of the introduction.

Yes! I've always felt that what I'm actually doing is writing. Or editing in the same way a writer self-edits. Just because there are no instruments. Watching someone play an instrument is totally beautiful and mysterious to me. It's obviously the normal/sane way to make music, but I just can't play anything beside the computer and assortment of weird plug-ins. I have a friend doing her PhD right now and we find millions of parallels between trying to structure a record and writing a huge essay like a dissertation. It's a nightmare! But a self-inflicted joyous and indulgent one totally worth the effort.

So you said that, for you, sound is a rather fixed medium, one that you lock and save. Does that rule out other observations about sound being as fluent as water, spooky, and fleeting?

No! I don't rule out anything! I've just found this one way of making music to be right for me as a solo producer. I know it will morph and change. It's just where I'm at now, still a bit of a beginner with making tunes after all.

The process is still fluent, but the process at this point entails that the sounds you record and edit are to be contained and perceived as fixed? That's a weird half question.

Yeah, coming up with ideas is fluent - anything goes – then when I finish a song, because I make everything via editing techniques (no midi controller, no real-time singing but heavily processed voice-as-effect) it's just literally beyond me how I'd perform this kind of stuff! My computer crashes all the time because of the CPU i'm hogging to process this way you know? Imagine me live. I'd need three computers and like ten people helping me! it's totally worth exploring for sure….it's just that i have zero time! I am trying to work in film and make records and it's already like 90 hrs of work a week.

I totally just had an image of that being your live set. It'd be so trippy omg – instead of backing musicians you'd have a back up tech support choir moving around you while you sing and splice the real-time.

I just hope I live until I'm really old so I can do everything I want to do. That's my constant anxiety. Like 'please don't let me get the first case of Ebola in LA so I can release these six songs first. Then give me Ebola! I don't care!'

Aww you'll be fine! I want to back up again to something you just said – you feel like a writer though you're a producer. Virginia Woolf, who was a massive music listener, who took listening and representations of listening to a new level, famously wrote that she "pens to a rhythm," and that she felt like her novels were movements of music. Have you ever come away with any inspirations from reading VW, and do you think that crossing media (writing fiction like it's music, producing music like it's fiction or polemical), is especially important nowadays?

I remember falling in love with VW at a very young age and then well, I found out she killed herself (alongside a disturbing number of the people I've found so moving!). I wrote much more as a kid than music...I didn't make music at all. Reading was such a huge part of my childhood. Sometimes I think it's those earlier memories than most seeped into my mind and changed me – that awe at someone building an independent universe and just with text and structure!

So awesome, yes. Microcosmic construction.

Yeah I liked that she would spend obsessive amounts of time on a single sentence. I relate to that deeply. It's not even an aspiration for getting something "right" for the reader but just getting it right in the sense that it perfectly communicates something specific about how you feel. I don't know if there is even a difference. Her and Kafka and Herman Hesse were my favorites. Also, duh, Nancy Drew books. I read 100 Nancy Drew books. She was a cute little role model. I'm pretty sure all those books were ghost written and formulaic to a T but comforting for a little kid.

Holy smokes there totally is! Curating how you want your work to be for yourself is utterly different than making things as clear and stiff as possible for faceless readers. VW wrote about that, too. Do you have any thoughts on the popularity of synaesthesia/intermedialty in art nowadays?

Gosh I don't know much about that – do you mean the self-diagnosis of it? Or an intentional practice of bringing this into artwork and music?

I guess more diagnosis, and seeing it in other artworks too – what has accelerated its popularity?

Haha, I don't know. Self-obsession? There are a lot of gluten allergies in LA. I tend to veer away from diagnosis and categories just as a knee-jerk bias.

Labels, categories, contagions.

Yeah they're so comforting but often just not even remotely accurate. My brother the other day asked how I'd describe my music and I said 'I have no clue. listen to it and decide for yourself. I'm just as likely as anyone else to totally describe it incorrectly!' It's not easy describing things. Thus, this is why I did become a writer!

That anecdote reminds me again of how superficial the uses of categorizing are – it's just for short answers and explanations.

As long as someone doesn't compare me to Lil Wayne or something I'm like 'oh I can see how that description makes sense' – ha! it's incredibly hard to talk about abstract art (i.e. music and sound are literally invisible to the eyes!)

Exactly! That brings me to the next question: I usually like to ask artists what their aural, as opposed to musical, influences are; but, since your work is already quite abstract, broken, and heavily coded, I want to ask what your musical influences are, as they are not very evident in the music. Besides Aretha Franklin.

[At this point we go off on a long tangent about sonic torture and Satan and Katie doesn’t end up responding to this generic question which I respect]

Hey how was the dentist?

Oh, great. I wish I could go every day. The dentist is like fun to me. I wish I could afford weekly bone scraping and feel newborn every day.

You like the sounds of the facility? Have you ever had an MRI?

Yes i love the sounds! Servos are beautiful. I have had an MRI and I was furious nobody warned me how incredible it sounded because I did not have a recorder with me! One of my biggest sound regrets and sadnesses. I guess will have to get injured again soon.

Haha, 'sound regrets.'

I try to be zen about it like 'don't become attached to things. it's all good' but I am essentially lying to myself when I do this. Just hard to carry a recorder at every moment.

Are you attached to sounds? Love at first listen?

Yes for sure. Some get made out of nothing, they start dull and then surprise me (it is so exciting when it happens). Others are like heart-stopping and just just draw-dropping out of the gate. And then there are childhood sounds which have a whole other comfort and association.

Can you give me an example of a childhood sound?

Oh damn, I walked right into that one! Let's see…well the sound of my childhood bathtub when you turn it on. It makes this crazy hyena wailing sound because the pipes are from like the 1800s or maybe even earlier! Also we owned a really old stool…my parents furniture growing up was like very very creaky and old! And we had a stool that when you stood up…the sound of it scraping against the wood floor was almost like a whale bellowing in pain or something. So dramatic! Especially with reverb.

So childhood sounds that remind us of wildlife, all contained within the walls your childhood home?

Yeah things that feel too exceptional to be from the mouth of something so mundane! Sort of teaches you to not judge a books by its cover!

One more thing super duper important: Do you know your astrology at all?

I don't at all! I am a Cancer though, which always sounded like such a bummer. But crabs are cute (and sassy!). 

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Fat Cat Split 12" Series #23 with Katie Gately and Tlaotlon is out now and you can order it here.