Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Richard Pinhas—Tikkun and Welcome in the Void (Cuneiform)

It’s release day for these two albums (already in my possession through the magic of mail order). Both are demanding listens worthy of your attention. Richard Pinhas is a French guitarist/synthesizer guru probably best known for Heldon, who released seven albums in the ’70s, each one searching for the ideal blend of man and machine…and often finding it. He’s continued along the same ferociously experimental path, and has been incredibly busy lately, touring and recording with kindred spirits everywhere. In fact, he almost played down the street at the Fox Cabaret last summer, but the show fell through. (The Fox wasn’t quite ready to reopen, unfortunately, but it’s too bad the Western Front or VIVO didn’t step in, as either of those would have been an ideal venue.) These two new albums, both on Cuneiform, document two of Pinhas’s latest collaborations. Together they paint an expansive, vivid portrait of his globetrotting, playing-in-the-moment modus operandi.

Tikkun pairs Pinhas with Oren Ambarchi, a multi-instrumentalist who has worked with SUNN O))) amongst many others. It’s a CD/DVD set, with the audio portion consisting of three tracks over 69 minutes. The DVD captures a further 41 minutes of duo madness on stage in Paris. The liner notes are rather cryptic, but from what I can decipher, the CD includes contributions from Joe Talia (track 1, I think), Merzbow, Duncan Pinhas and Eric Borelva (tracks 2 and 3, I think). Track 1, “Washington, D.C. – T4V1,” has some of the relentless, industrial qualities of Heldon, with its sequenced foundation. The guitars don’t waste any time; they raise a storm almost immediately. Ecstatic noise rains down while the drummer bides his time, finally crashing in after about 10 minutes. By now the trio have almost obliterated the sequencer’s pulse as the chaos climaxes. The final 15 minutes see the storm dissipate—the guitars become more spectral, the drums die down to the ticking of the ride cymbal, creating an almost unashamedly beautiful denouement. The feedback that returns just before the end carries a definite threat, though. The next two tracks are little more static. Ambarchi (I believe) lays down some solid beats on “Toyko – T4V2” overtop a subtly shifting drone of guitar, loops and electronic sorcery. Eerie insectoid sounds dominate the opening of the final track before it all rushes headlong into a vortex of transmissions from beyond the cosmos. Overall, these dense pieces are not for the timid or overanxious. It’s music you need to sink into with a generous spirit; it rewards careful listening.

Welcome in the Void is a strange title. In my mind I always correct it to "Welcome to the Void". But this isn’t about what I want, so Welcome in the Void it is. It sounds inclusive and reassuring: “(We are all) Welcome in the Void” is one interpretation. The album fills that void with 68 minutes of free-flowing music from Pinhas and Ruins drummer Yoshida Tatsuya. There are two tracks. Part One is a 4-minute preview or overture for Part Two, which sprawls forth over 64 minutes, which may be a new milestone in my music collection (it outlasts Dopesmoker, but just barely). Pinhas’s tracks of “stereo loop guitar” and “loop stereo guitar” create almost choral melodies. The way sounds emerge and overlap reminds me of No Pussyfooting at times. Yoshida’s drumming brings out the wild side of the music—pushing and pulling with respect to tempo, or appearing in boisterous, freeform bursts—yet he gives Pinhas a lot of space. He even drops out for the final eight minutes of Part Two to let the guitarist bring the track to a soaring conclusion himself. Compared to Tikkun, Welcome in the Void is the easier listen—being strictly a duo recording with a distinct division of instruments, it’s not so much of a challenge to pick out what’s going on—and right now it’s my favourite of the two. Admittedly, this is just after a couple of listens, and my second pass of Tikkun was far more rewarding than my first.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

A Difficult 2013—Part Three

The Fierce and the Dead—Spooky Action (Bad Elephant)
I came to this British instrumental quartet by way of guitarist Matt Stevens, whose clever, loop-centric solo albums I got into last year. The Fierce and the Dead aren’t simply a showcase for Stevens; they sound like a proper band…they are a proper band, dammit. All four musicians hit it pretty hard. TFatD do their own thing within the prog-instrumental realm, exploiting a variety of dynamics and styles. Spooky Action kicks ass with a sly smile on its face. Sometimes they’re heavy and mathy; often they’re playful. Bits of King Crimson and Voivod (if I didn’t already know these guys are fans, Kevin Feazey’s bass tone would give it away) vie with Shadowy Men and Cuneiform stalwarts Forever Einstein to provide the crucial crunchy/catchy balance. There’s a post/alt/noise-rock streak running through it too. It’s an entertaining listen and one of the most immediately appealing albums I heard all year.

Teeth of the Sea—Master (Rocket)
 The eclectic ecstasy that is Master provided one of my more memorable first listens of 2013. The dancefloor machine beat of “Reaper” had me wondering what I’d gotten myself into. Who was this band that dared commit electronica in my household? Then the live drums arrived, along with a female chorale and a ripping guitar solo beneath a barrage of synths. What the almighty hell was this? “Reaper” is the album in microcosm, though—a cunning, shifting construct that dares you to follow it to an alien destination. By the end of side one, Teeth of the Sea become an evil metal band, grinding away on a slow-mo Slayeresque riff like some project on Southern Lord. Teeth of the Sea are free spirits; you can project anything on them and they’ll reflect it back in a jillion different wavelengths. A lot of bands get the “new Pink Floyd” tag, but I think Teeth of the Sea deserve it. They capture the eccentric essence of their nation, as a collective of grim fantasists leaving psychedelic murals on damp concrete.

Gorguts—Colored Sands (Season of Mist)
Speaking of Voivod, they weren’t the only legendary Quebec-based metal band to undergo renewal in 2013. Band leader Luc Lemay assembled an avant-death metal dream team for Gorguts’ first album in 12 years. On drums, John Longstreth of Origin. On guitar, Kevin Hufnagel of Dysrhythmia. And on bass, Hufnagel’s bandmate, Colin Marston. It takes a special breed to keep up with Lemay, and these guys are well up to the job. The production and mix show some nice touches, with Lemay’s vocals mixed way back and the drums sounding quite natural for a DM album. At over an hour in length, it does lose me a couple of times, but I’ve found that, given many months to absorb it all, the songs are well structured. Certain tracks, like “Le Toit du Monde” and “Ember’s Voice” do get stuck in my head. Brutal, disturbing and haunting, it delivered exactly what I’d hoped for—a masterclass in visionary death metal in a field that has become overrun with Gorguts disciples since their 1998 masterpiece Obscura.

Voivod—Target Earth (Century Media)
Voivod invented music, pretty much. I reference them probably more than any other band. Jarring rhythms and Piggy chords follow me everywhere I go. After two albums of material built from the tracks left behind by Piggy (RIP), Voivod return as a working band, featuring the original three members plus Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain on guitar. The results are, for the most part, glorious. Mongrain is immensely skilled, and his riffs, chord voicings and use of effects indicate that he’s clearly the man for the job. Away is there with his characteristic loose-limbed thrash beats—Abaddon by way of Bill Bruford. Blacky’s bass sound? Check. Snake, as always, excels at draping powerful, memorable melodies over a complex framework. But Target Earth is a complicated album, not just in the “difficult music” sense. It should have been my favourite album of the year. Instead I’m featuring in the middle of the pack. I’m not sure why. Some days I feel that it’s a couple tracks too long, and that certain songs, like “Kaleidos”, get bogged down in recycled, post-consumer Voivod motifs. On other occasions, I’ll have shuffle mode on and some previously dismissed Target Earth track will come on and completely redeem itself. Anyway, it’s good to have Voivod around still, and I hope with Chewy on board they’ll find new ways to be weird on the next album.

VHOL—s/t (Profound Lore)
VHOL is a Ludicra/YOB alliance, and it does not mess around. This debut album engages in sustained savagery at RSI-inducing tempos. I hear echoes of early Voivod in John Cobbett’s combustible and discordant guitar playing, not to mention the blower bass tone that is revealed on “Grace.” Vocalist Mike Scheidt’s always had a versatile voice, and here he alternates between a T. Warrior bark and his higher-register mode. He does an amazing job with such caustic material. When he launches into the first verse of “Insane with Faith” the urge to break stuff is strong. And he takes a soulful turn during a moody section of “Song Set to Wait Forever” that’s very impressive indeed. These longish songs (five to eight minutes) reach terminal velocity quite quickly; however, the plateaus of noise are dotted with moments of intrigue and excitement, like the smooth, Brian May-like lead breaks in “Plastic Shaman” or the phased drum roll that takes “Illuminate” over the top. It’s great being loud and fast, but I want personality above all, and VHOL certainly have it. Such well-developed material elevates them well above the black/crust mire and makes me hope that this album won’t be a one-shot deal.