Mark Van Fleet – Alien Versions (C122, Little Miracles)

alien versions

Mark Van Fleet’s Alien Versions is an ode to Ridley Scott’s film Alien, a film-length alternate soundtrack to the film meant to be played at the same time with the volume of the movie turned down. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to actually listen to it with the film, and instead listened to it alone, but it doesn’t seem to matter much: even without the film’s visuals, the atmosphere of Van Fleet’s release is more than enough to evoke the stimulation and tension of Alien.

Alien Versions contains a lot of ambient noise that sits very well within the film; bleeps and bloops of space computers pair with quiet backdrops of electronic dread. Van Fleet often allows his soundtrack to thud along patiently, quietly droning with an ambient pounding or a subtle buzz. Side A’s 60 minutes often pair the ambiance with the alien growls and clicks, immediately visualizing Scott’s intense drama.

Side B’s opening pounds along with a soft feedback squeal behind it, the kind of muffled sound expected from a space shuttle. Without seeing the alien at all, the threat is there; and with this kind of alternate soundtrack, I think it’s just as important to listen to it without any visual aid as it is to listen to the two paired together. The effectiveness certainly comes from both combined, but Van Fleet is just as impressive at crafting intensity from sounds alone. In general, the cassette builds and builds without end, only multiple recesses before the next terrifying encounter.

The dark, somewhat muffled aspect of the approach is important to the soundtrack, too. The listener feels completely alone in its confining structure, subject to whatever horrors await. It’s a testament to what Van Fleet can do, and I certainly look forward to other re-imagined soundtracks because of this. Alien Versions is tense but also very much in line with Alien‘s atmosphere and mood, a difficult thing to re-enact but something Van Fleet is very good at.

Whether you’ve seen Alien or not (you need to rectify that though, really), Alien Versions is an important listen. Van Fleet effectively transitions between quieter moments and swelling, climactic encounters, forcing the listener to engage just as the characters in the film do. It’s a tight soundtrack full of dread, and one that shouldn’t be missed.

recommended

Bryan Lewis Saunders & Arvo Zylo – The Pleasure Tunnel/The Temple of Paradise (C40[?], No Part of It)

pleasure tunnel

Bryan Lewis Saunders has been documenting his dreams for some time now, and The Pleasure Tunnel/The Temple of Paradise is a combination of those dream recordings, a lucid write-up of two events occurring back-to-back with similar lengths and sounds. It happened to be when Saunders had a lung infection, so there’s a breathless, nearly wheezing quality to his recordings that tend to make the listener feel a little claustrophobic. Arvo Zylo, runner of No Part of It and noise magician, decided to lay down a couple of tracks along with Saunders’ breathing, crafting a tense surreality out of Saunders’ dreaming.

Side A of the release starts with quite a long passage of Saunders’ breathing, somewhat spacious in its approach because of the way the channels have been mixed. It’s difficult to listen to; it sounds like someone struggling to breath, wheezing in gasps. It isn’t until a few minutes in that the noise begins to build, a slow droning cacophony that picks up depth as it grows. The whistles and wheezes of Saunders are still there, but the noise is enveloping, a bassy drive that closes in on the listener. It eventually comes back down again, like the end of a dream when it starts to fade away just before waking.

Side B starts a bit more abrasively and then settles into some whirring, echoing drones – dreamy, then collossal bass. There’s a disconnectedness to the sounds on this track, often cutting in and out between heavy and soft, jolting and mesmerizing. They’re punctuated by spaces of silence, the embodiment of a dream that continually fluctuates in setting, tone, and mood until it has completely shifted itself. Eventually the sound morphs into a repetitive spring creak, as though a door is continually opening, leading to the spoken word moments of the transcript. The static crash at the end is another moment of dream-like surrealism, the lull before the fall from a great height.

The Pleasure Tunnel/The Temple of Paradise is an intriguing listen from start to finish, and there’s a lot of things worth returning to in this package. Both artists have notes about the making of this tape, as well as a full transcript of both channels of Saunders’ dreams. It means spending time reading each transcript, allowing the noise to envelop in the process – perhaps then, one can very nearly enter the dreams of another.

recommended

I.G.M – Virgin Skins (CD-R, Pidgin Records)

virgin skins

Ian McColm’s project I.G.M is his solo work, but on Virgin Skins it sounds like there is at least a duo working to produce the noise/music on these ten tracks. Virgin Skins is a mixture of percussion and free jazz elements, noisy but also significantly rhythmic in its use of drum elements. It makes for a pounding, relentless release, the frenetic percussion melding with quieter repetitive moments for a wonderfully unique concept.

Virgin Skins is bookended by “Punctuation Alpha” and “Punctuation Omega,” two drum sequences that highligh I.G.M’s style of jazzy, sophisticated, and complex rhythms. The fills are fast and furious, and the chops are fantastic; this is playing at a high skill level, and the album never descends into boring drum solo territory because of the alternations in each song. “Plus/Minus” is a good example, a track of drumming that speeds up and subsequently slows down a tough beat.

Likewise, “The Wind That Blows the Birds” and “Blood Memory” take a different approach, using bells and chimes to create an ambient aura. “Blood Memory” is probably one of the most hypnotic tracks on offer on Virgin Skins: it’s the soundtrack to a horror film, combining a couple different instruments into a chilling song.

Virgin Skins is quite lengthy too, but it never feels that way. The album swiftly moves through tracks, often blending them together to the point where it’s easy to get lost in the repetition as though it’s a just a long song. That’s not to say that Virgin Skins doesn’t have distinguishable tracks; they just work well back-to-back together, alternating between poly-rhythms and droning elements.

It’s an intriguing listen, and one that works on all sorts of levels. I.G.M brings in noises along with his percussion, but there are also moments of great jazzy drumming too; this isn’t the kind of album that would be reserved for noise fanatics only, and those dabbling in free jazz or the avant garde would certainly find elements that strike. There’s one thought the listener is left with after Virgin Skins, though: McColm isn’t just a good drummer, but a great performer in general.

recommended

Dead Body Collection – I Praise the Scars On Your Body (C30, Noir Sur Noir)

i praise the scars on your body

By now, after a vast number of releases in the harsh noise wall genre, most people know whether they like Dead Body Collection’s version of mostly unchanging static. He’s been so prolific under this moniker that there are very few HNW labels that have not put out a DBC cassette. On I Praise the Scars On Your Body, the formula doesn’t change – just the sounds the go into the wall.

On the first side is “Your Pure Incorruptible Pain,” a searing track of fuzzy static that mixes with a bass rhythm deep in the mix. This isn’t a standard whitewash of sound, though; the static does have its own subtle nuance to it, and the bass in the back has a semblance of change throughout the nearly 15 minute running time. Dead Body Collection allows this track to feel stoic, although the close listener may be able to discern just the hint of alteration within the sound, almost like a song of its own attempting to escape a noise prison. Or that could be imagination.

“Kill Anything That Walks” is the second side, a surging track of up-front static and a roiling bass background. It’s difficult to tell what exactly is doing the shifting in this piece: it could be the static itself, but I almost believe that the bass has a wavering to it that causes a very interesting blur within the wall. I think this one is even better than “Your Pure Incorruptible Pain,” with the semblance of movement very apparent even when the wall itself doesn’t really shift at all. It does feel like the ending of this track cuts out some of the background texturing, but this could also be oversaturation to the sound.

Both tracks are really quite good on I Praise the Scars on Your Body, and if you’re looking for a quality Dead Body Collection tape and not sure where to begin in the vast collection, this is as good a place as any to begin listening. The textures are strong, and it also sticks sounds right in line with other releases.

recommended

Matthew Akers – A History of Arson (C36, Out-Of-Body Records)

a history of arson

Matthew Akers explores both the digital and analog side of synths on his tape for Out-Of-Body Records, A History of Arson. The cassette features a match that comes with inside the case, in case one decides that the music makes them want to go and commit a crime; but Akers’ music swells and vamps, instrumental songs that capture a light, or a flash in the darkness.

The first side of A History of Arson is somewhat uplifting. The rhythmic vamps of synth work in “A History of Arson Prologue” wash over the listener, a soundtrack to a climactic act to come. Akers works with repetition but adds key riffing to the context late in the track, a new synth beat that works off the staccato punctuation. It’s at odds with the opening to “Bad Wolf,” a melancholy dirge, but that quickly picks up into a Zombi-esque prog-synth rock session, completely with some fantastic programmed drums with just the right fade into the mix. “Bad Wolf” would fit right at home on an Italian giallo soundtrack from the ’80s, and indeed Akers’ work seems to hit that nostalgic itch.

Side B is the darker part of A History of Arson, opening with “Voyeur”‘s minor chord swells and a slight martial beat from the drums. “A History of Arson Epilogue” continues the brooding atmosphere with Akers’ sustained synth notes, while “Midnight in October” features a dance beat and busy note alternations.

A History of Arson is one of those rare gems, the kind of thing you might happen to stumble across on accident but get hooked on immediately. Matthew Akers’ synth scores – because that’s what they are – are suited for the movies you’d watch on a late night, with the wind blowing outside your door. The compositions are refreshingly original, and I look forward to hearing more of the artist’s work.

recommended

Mulo Muto/B E T A – Tape Crash #11: The Examination (C60, Old Bicycle Records)

mulo muto beta

Mulo Muto is the duo of Joel Gilardini and Attila Folklor, a project of synths, guitars, and drones; B E T A is from Michele Basso and Marcello Bellina, and they mostly utilize guitars for a hypnotic, psych-y trance dance. Old Bicycle Records’ Tape Crash is a series of cassettes seemingly matching up artists for a split, and really The Examination could not have worked out better for two alike projects.

First up is Mulo Muto with their side-long droning piece “When the Sounds of Nature Collide With Our Inner Selves and Resurface As a Stream of Noises.” It’s about a half an hour long and sees Mulo Muto combining dark synth tones with a wall of buzzing rumbles. Beginning with insect chirrups, the track picks up into a droning crescendo, offering up the collision of the title for chants and radio transmission buzzes. Eventually we come down again after a glorious high, coming back to more nature sounds and some wind chimes.

B E T A offer up five songs on the second side, often of thick reverbed guitar and noise effects. “Pluto is a Planet to My Heart” gives a quick summation of what’s to come, a short track of soft guitar plucking, climaxing up until a “Shhhh…” quietens everything. “The New Order Song” starts with a guitar track and some junky electronic crackles before becoming a spacey jam of dueling guitar riffs. “Kill Collins!” shimmers, then rumbles, with a ton of reverberation leaving the ears tickled, until the Death in June cover “Behind the Rose” calms things; the original song is preserved, but under a heavy dose of echo that more resembles Boris at their noisiest. “Karma, please” is a sinister guitar riff, one taking the lead while the other strums out backing notes; “A (Ha Ha)” rounds it out with a crunchy, modulated riff and some moaned, ghostly vocals.

If Tape Crash is meant to be a way of seeing how two artists sound mashed up onto one cassette, then Old Bicycle Records have done a fantastic job on The Examination. Either way, this is a solid cassette all around from two very capable artists; Mulo Muto starts things with a lengthy, ambient drone, and B E T A provide a soundtrack of guitar manipulations. If you can’t find this tape, then just listen to the thing on Bandcamp.

recommended

Vinland Special Services – The Articles of Confederation (C80?, Red Light Sound)

vinland special services the articles of confederation

Vinland Special Services is a from the same artist who does Ilsa Koch and runs the label Winter Solace Productions. On this release, Red Light Sound collects various recordings from Vinland SS, either compiled from small-quantity demos or other tapes the project has put out in the past. Because of this, the title The Articles of Confederation is fitting; these are old, somewhat outdated tracks for the project, yet still important to its history.

The first side starts off with the three tracks from the demo tape Vinland Protection Squadron. They’re mostly very quiet, confined cuts, beginning with the marching procession of “ZB Delirium.” The soft patter of footsteps continues to the tune of whistling feedback, which begins to open up into louder and more insistent noises later in the track. At over 20 minutes long, this track is the longest on the cassette but also has the most depth, often pushing the boundary of what the listener imagines the sequence will do. It’s followed by “The Patriots March on Washington,” with sizzling electricity and an constant whirring/churning texture that grows throughout its ten minutes. Ending side A is “Imposters in Glory Suits,” a very quiet echo of voices with soft feedback.

Side B features some of the B-sides of Vinald Special Services’ output, including “People’s Radio,” which did not make the cut on Vinland Protection Squadron. This is another lengthy track of repeated whirring, eventually morphing into what sounds like a distorted scream intentionally becoming static crackles. Eventually the track returns to its whistling alarms, and starts the process over again. Towards the end, it starts to become too repetitive, alternating between textures too quickly.

“Untitled” is the unique track on this release, tremendously different from the rest with its free-form ambient drones because it was not originally a Vinland SS track. “U-Boat Resistance Campaign” rounds out the noisier aspect of The Articles of Confederation with quiet feedback whistles and what sounds like a buzzing of strummed guitar in the background. Lastly is “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye,” Vinlad SS’ take on the traditional Irish song. It’s a creepy crackle of electronics and soft whistling drones, set to Vinland SS’ own vocals.

This is a nice release from Red Light Sound that compiles some of Vinland Special Services’ older tracks into a generally cohesive album; these tracks are often quieter yet still quite difficult, and certainly worth a listen.