Sunday, May 29, 2016

RAPHAEL LERAY “Solstitial Memories” (Phinery)

Paris-born, Tokyo-domiciled Raphael Leray has one of the best Bandcamp bios I’ve ever seen: “Raphael Leray is an experimental melodist, engineer, and occasional illustrator….” That description flows with a deft lyricism that’s surprising to find in an artist known mainly for wordless composition. If that were me, I’d print up thousands of business cards with that on it. It’s too good not to pass out to everyone I’d meet.

As a self-proclaimed “experimental melodicist,” there’s a lot to expect in the music unleashed upon the world by one so described. You can’t just knock out a pop tune with some warbly synthesizer and call it a day (I’m looking at you … Weezer, I guess?). Leray’s got it covered, though, don’t you worry, because his music doesn’t screw around in the slightest. It’s intensely obvious that every single note and pattern released on Solstitial Memories was agonized over, the detail scrutinized to a micro degree. In some ways it’s small, personal music, in that it feels insular and particular, a product of one person made for consumption by individuals. But just as you’d find if you bent your head to the ground and observed the great living activity there, if you bend your ear closely to Solstitial Memories, it reveals itself more clearly under examination. 

That’s the magic of the tape. Every moment is a deep, clean breath, every melody a hint of birdsong at sunrise. Even tracks with distinct percussive elements like “Dance I” and “War” invite pure immersion that leaves you feeling refreshed on the other side. I can’t get enough of it – I’ve literally listened to it four times in a row while barely writing this review, because I keep getting distracted by it, and my writing suffers. Sometimes I don’t write good, and it’s because music invades my brain’s writing parts for its own insidious purposes and makes me stupid. Of course, once the music’s off and I shake the haze, I’m back to my good old self again, ready to shout rudely to anyone within earshot how good Raphael Leray is. I get a lot of funny looks at the supermarket.

So I’ll end by shouting at you readers instead, and spare the incredulous onlookers I encounter in public. You won’t find a better entry point to the Phinery aesthetic than Raphael Leray. His work – at times music box–like, at others gloriously meditative – is cut-and-paste gorgeousness. It’s probably hard to be this inventive and still have time to do other things. Like print up business cards or shop for groceries. You know, the basics.

--Ryan Masteller

Saturday, May 28, 2016

BARY CENTER “Stop Believing” (Speaker Footage)

Like two celestial objects orbiting each other, Bary Center’s music is massive and constantly in motion. Mark Williams, Bary Center’s alter ego, sets his controls for the heart of the sun and blasts into cosmic bliss throughout his Speaker Footage tape Stop Believing, a fulcrum, a point of balance where electronic dance music serves as the central point around which all matter revolves. It’s an absolute miracle of physics. Hear that, you scientists? I said “miracle”!

But miracles require belief, and Bary Center says, “Stop that, you guys! All that matters is the lights and euphoria, the motion and the rhythm. Let’s get off this stupid planet and manipulate the universe with our minds!” I’m assuming that’s what he’s saying to someone, maybe his own subconscious, as he throws some wicked shapes in his own bedroom while composing his next great techno opus. Because that’s what Stop Believing is, ten tracks of immense dancefloor fodder that burst into color behind your closed eyelids as you lose yourself in ecstasy.

Sometimes recalling Underworld, other times Orbital, and even Aphex Twin here and there, Stop Believing plays like a tourism film for the heyday of excellent and intelligent electronic beatmakers. And it’s no wonder that the artists I just mentioned had some modicum of mainstream success – like them, Bary Center fills these tunes with accessible hooks and inventive ways to package 4/4 rhythms to appeal to the raver (not me) and the internalizer (me) in equal measure. It’s a deft trick, and one that he’s continuing to pull off – see his rapidly growing discography featuring tapes on Crash Symbols, Skrot Up, MJ MJ Records, and others. Right now, throw down your baggage and hit play, lose yourself and Stop Believing. Space magic is happening.

--Ryan Masteller

Friday, May 27, 2016

“Les Rivières de la Nuit” C50
(ERR Recordings)

There’s an ancient proverb that goes, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Those who intoned these mystical words forgot one important thing – in space, no one can hear you do anything. No one can hear you jog along the corridor of your spacecraft. No one can hear you prepare your space food in the galley. No one can hear you practice your modular synthesizer in your cabin. It’s space fact – there’s no freaking sound.

Fortunately, in space, everyone can hear Dreyt Nien for some reason, because Dreyt Nien has the ability to transcend physical limitations. Or maybe my enthusiasm for Alien references led me down a rabbit hole I’ll never escape. Either way, Dreyt Nien does have the ability to transmit his modular synthesizer compositions in a wavelength that’s translatable to the human ear, and we’re all the better for it. The mysterious French composer has a distinct and possibly disturbing fascination with the outer limits of the human ability to adapt to non-Earth conditions, and that combination of isolation and discovery serves to focus Les Rivières de la Nuit (“Rivers of the Night” – am I the only one getting the deep space vibe, then?) in enthralling ways.

Les Rivières de la Nuit recalls modular synth maestros ranging from Morton Subotnick to Keith Fullerton Whitman, and can find modern tape-scene equivalents in the work of Hollowfonts, Mortuus Auris and the Black Hand, and the White Reeves Productions crew. The tape varies within a defined space, not veering too far beyond “chilling” or “tense,” if at all. There’s the creeping miasma of the title track, the percussive dread of “Psychopods,” the decaying AI of “Ici Sont Des Dragons,” and the minuscule malfunctions threatening disaster of “Dix Neuf Abîmes.” I think it’s safe to say that Dreyt Nien has harnessed a distinct vibe.

If there was ever a moment to remind you that you should always take every precaution while on a maintenance spacewalk outside your craft, now’s the time, because Les Rivières de la Nuit is the soundtrack to everything going wrong, resulting in your permanent separation.  There’s no more safety after that. Maybe your comm will work for a little while as you drift, watching your ship get smaller and smaller as it moves away from you, and you can talk to your crewmates to give your good-byes. Or maybe you will scream, in panic, until there’s only static. The possibilities are endless! Let Dreyt Nien guide you to your doom, possibly in the form of getting hit by a passing asteroid.

Oh, uh, tapes are sold out from the label, better hit up the artist page, and quick!

--Ryan Masteller

Thursday, May 26, 2016

FWY! "San Gabriel" (Soft Abuse)

If you've been following Edmund Xavier's music then you know he's a genius chameleon, taking on outsider folk (Skygreen Leopards, Thuja) catchy lo-fi art pop (Art Museums, The Reds, Pinks & Purples) & minimal post punk (Teenage Panzerkorps, Walking Korpses) since the early 00's, & I think out of all of his amazing bands, FWY! might be my favorite. He's been trading in soft focus kosmische synths on top of languid post punk rhythms for a minute now, but i think here he has reached his full power. If Michael Rother had played with Movement-era New Order, you would be getting close to what he's driving at. San Gabriel is the perfect encapsulation of hot hazy Southern California afternoons spent on the beach followed by the interminable gridlock getting home.

-- Ryan Durfee

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

“Mutus Liber” (No Problema Tapes)

The Philosopher’s Stone. Many have yearned for it, as its possession would surely entail untold riches for its owner. It could even extend life. Some may have fleetingly been in its presence. I have. How do you think I’m still alive after all these centuries? You should have seen the Middle Ages. Absolute nightmare.

That’s where the Mutus Liber comes in. You can imagine how someone would try anything, desperately, to harness the power of something like the Philosopher’s Stone. Lord Voldemort sure tried. The Mutus Liber, published in 1677 in La Rochelle, France, purports to be a guidebook on manufacturing the Philosopher’s Stone via alchemical means. Take it from me, from experience, that this book knows its stuff.

Anyway, batcrap mysticism aside, Giulio Aldinucci (Siena) and Moon Ra (Florence) represent two of Italy’s most exciting sound artists working within the experimental and found-sound idiom. What they’ve done on their respective sides of Mutus Liber, their split cassette on Santiago (Chile)’s No Problema Tapes, is take the concept of the cryptic tome and applied it to their sound design. Meaning, they’ve concocted, via literal alchemy (right?), music that turns metals into gold and grants eternal life. Meaning also, if I keep listening, I don’t have to keep drinking this awful stuff that I make from the Philosopher’s Stone. (You get that I’m implying I have a Philosopher’s Stone in my garage, right?)

Aldinucci’s side focuses on the wonder and excitement of creation and discovery. There’s a palpable joy in his four tracks as the surprise of scientific breakthrough occurs after a lengthy period of experimentation.  Moon Ra’s on a different track, though – she realizes that playing with alchemy is like playing god, and in doing so they’ve gone too far, unleashed something too powerful and uncontrollable. The playing of Mutus Liber is like opening up Pandora’s Box, and there’s no way to get that lid back on. Her tense pieces belie this sense of “Oh no, what have we done?”

Which is where I come in. Somebody’s gotta clean up this mess, and since I’ve got a little bit of experience in this area, I’ll see what I can do. But don’t let all this stop you from grabbing yourself a copy of this tape – I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to you.

--Ryan Masteller

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

“Songs from a Wooden Bell, Vol. 1”
(Meliphonic Records)

Midwestern dustbowl vibes where crops were king, once, and now strip malls rule life and choke soil. That’s how it is in Tennessee, home of Meliphonic Records and its stable, offshoots like vines from a sturdy trunk desperately trying to reclaim some semblance of history. Offshoots like Pumpkinseed, aka Daniel Gardner, and Wica Intina, aka Dakota Brown, neither content to be forgotten fragments cast by global tremors. It doesn’t matter how loud they shout it, or whether they shout at all – they’re still cogs in the machine, whether they like it or not, as we all are, but they’re much better at making us feel OK about it. There may even be some glimmer of hope there after all, in the end.

Immediately calling to mind lo-fi mavens Barlow and Pollard but settling into a world-weary folk tableau recalling Dylan, Guthrie, and even Leonard Cohen, Pumpkinseed and Wica Intina are a perfect match for one another. And yeah, Songs from a Wooden Bell, Vol. 1 is 1960s American Dream-y to its core, which of course is cast in the harsh light of what passes for optimism these days. Meaning it’s pretty fucking un-optimistic out there in good old 2016. Pumpkinseed is the bedroom tape rocker, drenching his recordings in hiss and moving about from one lo-fi style to the next, even stumbling into the 1970s a little bit on “Dickey’s Fever Dream,” a little CSN action amid the GBV worship. It’s good worship, and he even manages some found-sound cutup work on “Yanga Yanga.” And like Pollard, Pumpkinseed is a middle finger against the darkness and a Bic lighter raised high in solidarity with the young, ready masses. Take it over, baby.

Wica Intina, fresh off work with his band Sheep Bella Tine, is more deliberate, more intimate, and more willing to embrace melancholia. It suits him, as his lengthy ballads dissipate like wistful vapor in the ears of the longing. Did things really used to be so simple? Is the absence of that simplicity what’s driving us all closer and closer to the edge of the cliff? Taking a step back, breathing, communicating, communing – Wica Intina absolutely invites these activities. He stretches his lengthy tracks like Dylan, telling stories about other people and bringing them to life. He reminds us that Tennesseans are people too, not just specks on the ground as viewed from airplane windows by people on their way to bigger and better cities. Those passengers forgot that we’re all from the same place, when it comes down to it.

These two musicians are at the forefront of a burgeoning Tennessee music scene, and Songs from a Wooden Bell, Vol. 1 is as good a first impression as you’re gonna get. But hey, don’t just take my word for it – Meliphonic has a fairly deep catalog, so check the rest out too.

--Ryan Masteller