This list will appear in this month's edition of the AdHoc zine. Preorder Issue 3 or subscribe.
Actress: Ghettoville [Werkdisks]
When I interviewed Actress for The FADER this year, he described Ghettoville to me as a concept album about being homeless but having a laptop with musical software on it. He even suggested that he made the album in the hopes of imparting a piece of life advice to his listeners: “If there is one sort of profound moral, it’s just to consider other people a bit more. If you’re doing alright, and you’ve got a decent job and you get paid, and you’ve got a home to go to, and you’ve got friends that you can chill out with and have a drink with and be warm or whatever, then that’s amazing. But the stark reality is that there's people out there who just don’t have that.” I was surprised. How could an album as abstract and even willfully difficult as Actress’ fourth full-length have a "meaning," let alone a moral? As I began to spend more time with with the record, though, the London producer’s words began to make sense; in fact, I think they illuminated all the cryptic doomsday proclamations that preceded the record’s arrival (you know, that stuff he wrote about Ghettoville being Actress’ last record, “R.I.P Music 2014," etc.). Ghettoville, in all it’s sketch-like, crooked, sputtering, weirdly clipped, off-rhythm goodness, felt like a bombed-out incarnation of dance music itself, battered and emaciated but determined to keep trucking along.
In the same interview I mentioned above, Actress also called the album his attempt to “crash the market,” which I think is a pretty bad-ass ambition to have when you are seemingly poised on the end of verge of a mainstream breakthrough. If Ghettoville is partly a conceptual reckoning with the failures of capitalist society to look after its denizens, and partly a musical reckoning with the intersection of capitalism and music, then it’s pretty admirable for its political intentions alone. That said, there’s also some pretty striking moments of beauty herein, such as the damaged but unwaveringly soulful vocal loop on “Don’t.” Within the context of the record’s conflicted relationship to pop, it feels pretty political too, but also touchingly reassuring: “Don’t stop the music.” --Emilie Friedlander
Andy Stott: Faith in Strangers [Modern Love]
Manchester producer Andy Stott has experimented with various shades of techno over the past decade, but his 2014 record Faith in Strangers breaks away from any single style in lieu of a unified melancholic feel. Stott’s latest has a cinematic quality that makes it difficult to just idly listen to; instead, it's best to enter into and experience viscerally these songs, which are ordered in such a way that you get the sense of having traveled through space, time, memory to get from start to finish. The slow build of opener, “Time Away,” sets the chilly mood that colors the entirety of the album, like on the very next track, “Violence,” which sustains and heightens this tone with its heavy, almost trap-ish industrial beat. This, along with the similar-sounding title track are the climactic moments that stand out amidst the more loosely structured, atmospheric unfolding of Faith in Strangers. The ethereal vocals from Alison Skidmore counterbalance the dark strangeness of the grinding loops and beats that Stott layers together. Soft vocals and machine noise combine especially powerfully on the final track, “Missing,” a simple but haunting piano arrangement that evokes both delicateness and danger, that in filmic language might amount to a shot of a lone person walking through a city at night. --Beth Tolmach
Arca: Xen [Mute]
Xen seemed underwhelming at first because of how counterintuitive it feels to the ongoing narrative behind Arca's ascent. Last year, the producer born Alejandro Ghersi pulled no punches. This was the guy who gave the unwieldy "Hold My Liquor" off Yeezus it's haunting pulse, and sent the now-ubiquitous FKA Twigs to her career-starting launchpad on EP2. &&&&&, etc. You probably know all this already. Which made Xen messing with the program all the more disarming. On this album, Arca's ever-propulsive momentum from last year now moves in start-stops, melodies traded for drop outs and half-awake chords-- the sonic results being an awkward balance between classical, trip-hop, and faded skeletons of flamenco from his childhood.
It's been cited over and over in reviews how fully in control of Xen Ghersi seems to be, and yet the opposite is true. The album sounds like how it was recorded (over the course of six months, mostly improv), unfolding in fits of introspection and spastic release, reflective of the mental state of both the tunesmith and the androgynous alter-ego it's named after. That kind of approach left Xen feeling confused, with little to grab onto as its tunes evaporated one after the other. But if the listener held on, the record deepened and gelled in a powerful way that none of his efforts have done before. It's still just as much of a labyrinth to get through as it was the day it was released, but Xen is all the wiser for letting listeners draw the map to get through it for themselves. Everyone you talk to about it is going to have a different favorite part. --Brad Stabler
Last week noise harpy Pharmakon released a video announcing the release of her follow-up to last year’s Abandon, her brutal yet brutally short debut for Sacred Bones. To date, the concept of the album teaser trailer has been something of a joke, and yet this one for Bestial Burden is a self-contained 48-second work of art so beguiling that I wouldn’t even care if the album never came out. You must witness this Jacqueline Castel-directed masterwork, this guts-filled piece of visual poetry. It’s Ingmar Bergman meets Terry Gilliam. It’s Jean-Luc Godard meets American Beauty. It’s David Lynch meets Sandro Botticelli. It’s the video equivalent of everything that is Pharmakon.
Bestial Burden is out on October 14 on Sacred Bones.
It's been a few years since I've seen people on Facebook bitching about noise “going disco.” 2011 saw the release of Container's debut LP on Spectrum Spools, Pete Swanson's Man With Potential on Type, and the early swath of Vatican Shadow tapes on Dominick Fernow's own Hospital Productions. Some, like myself, went bonkers for the propulsive, fucked up sound innovated by these artists. Whether you were a head banger or a viber, these sounds seemed to destroy all rational thought and force you to listen with your whole body. Some grumpy dudes (often dudes) saw the fusion of noise and beats as a gimmick, something trendy that merited an eye roll.
It wasn't new, and it wasn't a fad. That much has become obvious. Unicorn Hard-On had been messing with dance music in plain sight at noise shows for years, and there is an entire history of power electronics which preceded '00s American noise music. Electronic music is a continuum, on which the distance between noise and dance music seems to fluctuate over the course of time. Right now, the two are particularly close, as you are generally hard pressed to find basically any experimental electronic music without a beat these days. Even the most abstract modular synthesists tend to have a metronomic tic that drives their improvisations. People will continue to gain interest and lose interest in beats until the final humans are extinguished on an interstellar mission to inhabit a new Earth.
If you need a gateway into Abandon, it's the screams. This may strike you as strange, since screams are often an alienating device-- shrill emoting is exactly what gives so much black metal and hardcore that antagonistic edge. Back when I interviewed him as Alberich earlier this year, Kris Lapke suggested that I check out Tesco Disco 2, a Power Electronics anthology recorded at the German label's festival in the late '90s. On Con-Dom's and Grey Wolves' joint contribution, one performer howls the words “fuck you,” beautifully enunciated. This is what a scream, in extreme music, typically communicates to the listener: it simultaneously acknowledges and debases basic tenets of performance. The musician is not performing for the audience, but against. But Margaret Chardiet's screams on Abandon only half function in this way. They employ hostility, but are not in fact hostile. Pharmakon's vocalizations beg that a parallel be drawn to Prince, whose yelps and screams on tracks like “Private Joy” and “Computer Blue” serve to send the listener into a frenzy. Sure, Prince's intended frenzy may be libidinal while Pharmakon's is alligned with violence, but hers are mixed just a little too politely to be truly violent.
Pharmakon, the moniker of Brooklyn-based noise artist Margaret Chardiet, stopped by WFMU's Distort Jersey City program on April 10 to play two cuts from her upcoming album. "Ache" and "It Hangs Heavy" are about as cheery as the names suggest; Chardiet describes her songwriting as exorcising demons and that is about as apt a description for the way her music sounds as any. The utter lack of improvisation and the precision of every bone-chilling sound makes it impossible to aurally look away from these tracks. As spiritually painful as they are to endure, you come out of the experience feeling cleansed.
Along with "Crawling on Bruised Knees," these two tracks provide a glimpse of more than half of Abandon, which is out May 14 on Sacred Bones. You can download her WFMU set at the Free Music Archive.
One of the simultaneously frustrating and invigorating things about the noise scene is its constant pursuit of improvisation. While a lot of sounds are picked out way ahead of time, often the performance and recording are made up on the fly at a leisurely pace, grooves and alien sounds hanging out for many beats too long while exploring the possibilites of what can be done with them. What's especially impressive about NYC-based project Pharmakon (a.k.a. Margaret Chardiet) is how her recordings and live performances use none of the above. This is all planned and meticulously composed. "Crawling on Bruised Knees" is a psychedelic stealth bomb of a track; distant blasts give way to industrial marches and some of the fiercest low-end your ears are going to be punished with this year. Chardiet's vocals at the halfway mark only make things more intense, sealing the deal and making this a track fans will want to come back and revisit.
Abandon is out May 13 on Sacred Bones.