Ad Noiseam/Very Friendly :: Review 6-pack

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1238 image 1 LARVAE :: Empire (12inch)

We know Matthew Jeanes has a predilection for Godzilla; his previous
EP for Ad Noiseam was a collection of drum ‘n’ bass leitmotifs for
monsters in the Godzilla milieu. On Empire, he admits to his
fascination with Star Wars, and never more clearly than in “Empire,”
which sets his furious beat banging against 8-bit Star Wars video game
soundtracks, orchestral loops sliced off the old vinyl of his Star
Wars soundtrack records (and, I have to admit, I wore out my copies
too as a kid), and a couple of choice sound samples from The Empire
Strikes Back
. It’s a delirious dance-floor mashup of childhood
Jedi fantasies, the Imperial March, and the giddy thrill that raced up
your spine when you heard Solo shout, “You’re all clear, kid; now
let’s blow this thing and go home.”

“Solo Shoots First” considers (rightly so!) the original
characterization of Han Solo: a mercenary who had no compunction
about using his pistol when a conversation went bad. Before Lucas
yanked Solo’s teeth in the “New Edition,” we all knew and loved Solo
as being the dark rogue. Jeanes remembers, and “Solo Shoots First”
grumbles and shivers with dark bass beats and a hard chop of metallic
percussion. “Sith Witch” wanders into the unexplored territory of
Star Wars mythology where the atmosphere is tight and claustrophobic
and the rhythms are jagged knife-edges.

Bong-Ra and Enduser contribute remixes (to “Hayden’s Ghost” and
“Empire” respectively), churning Jeanes’ already tight beat production
into grimier mixes, scattering more samples and spastic breakbeats
into the mix. Empire gives Star Wars a bit of spine, a bit of
hard edge which the movies have been lacking. When you watch them at
home, do yourself a favor and let Larvae be your soundtrack. They’ll
seem so much better when set to a dark drum ‘n’ bass beat. Excellent.

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1238 image 2 BONG-RA :: Grindkrusher (12inch)

A love-song to the massive guitar noise of the Earache roster of his
youth, Grindkrusher celebrates Bong-Ra’s love for grindcore
metal by sampling a wealth of furious guitar shreddery for textural
material against Bong-Ra’s blistering and abrupt breakbeats. “Bloody
Cenotaph” uses samples from Ridley Scott’s Legend as a
statement of purpose (“black as midnight, black as pitch”) before
throwing a few thousand beats against a wall of speed metal guitar
noise. “Jo Bench,” named after the female bass player for Bolt
Thrower, is the new anthem that will bring metal headbangers and
spastic drill ‘n’ bass aficionados together — pitting speed guitar
against 200 BPM rhythms in a mosh pit battle to the death. “Ram
Waster” pummels Emperor-style vocals and a bruising guitar line with a
battery of pristine hand claps and a crushing maelstrom of bass beats.

Not to be outdone, Doormouse and Sickboy contribute remixes that
manage to even further mangle and eviscerate the metal guitar parts
into chattering, shrieking cut-ups that are ground into paste by beat
frenzies that make your lower intestine constrict involuntarily.
They’re competing to out-program one another and make music that will
simply cause you to break a bone by listening to it.
Grindkrusher is as it sounds: massive and destructive.
Bong-Ra celebrates the past by demolishing it with a jackhammer and a
steamroller.

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1238 image 3 LAPSED :: Lapsed (CD)

Jason Stevens’ second outing as Lapsed (and titled just as simply as
that — Lapsed) is a record for headphones and dark winter
nights when the skies are empty and there is no company but what you
can find in the glitch running through the wires. Stevens breaks down
hip-hop for the small, electrical spark which causes those beats to
jump in the first place and he touches his fragmentary glitch and
breathless ambient music with these stolen sparks, making quivering
music filled with organic life.

“De-Constructed Failure” layers a hip-hop hiccup over an ambient wave
of sound like Amon Tobin crashing a Robert Rich Sleep Concert. He’s
the kid over in the corner who didn’t bring his own sleeping bag and
just will not shut the fuck up. The warm funk of “Hapless Plastic”
has been slowed and decompressed into sprawling hip-hop noises like a
tape unspooling all over the floor. “My Final Breath” is glitch dub
where brittle melodies mate with subterranean percussive noises in an
empty cavern filled with wind.

Stevens’ dives deep into the dark-hop aesthetic with “Beath to Death,”
though he breaks it down from the inside (much in the same way that he
deconstructs hip-hop) and reveals tiny spaces where delicate melodies
grown and fragile percussion makes little eddies with its sound.
“Fateless Drift” moans with the miasma of the grave, the sepulchral
groan of old ghosts that have been forced to the surface by hard beats
as Stevens’ turns up on the knobs on the subs and rattles the ancient
gravestones.

What makes me lose track of time while listening to this record is the
miniscule noises Stevens packs into the songs. “‘Till the Break of
Dawn” hops along like a small party of nocturnal animals, a growing
procession of hopping, squirming, leaping, bouncing animals that each
have their own signature sound and, together, make this rollicking
piece of road music. The delicate melodies of “Cracked Mirror” create
an atmosphere of airy phantoms, and I get lost in all the tiny
cracklings and static whispers that creep about underneath the
downtempo percussion. If I listened to this record while smoking a
blunt, I’d probably forget to breath for being so entranced with the
little details. Stevens’ second record is even more dynamic and
fascinating than his first (Twilight, 2004). Very nice.

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1238 image 4 AZ-ROTATOR :: Science of Change (CD)

Az-Rotator’s debut release, Science of Chance, is a glittering
cascade of electronic fragments. Micro-melodies squirt and die under
flurry of digital blades, tone poems are marred by spectral dust
storms and beats burp and collapse like cellular movement in a chaotic
biological system. The title of the record is appropriate: everything
seems carefully calculated and yet still left up to complete chance.

Reminiscent of a laboratory love child between Boards of Canada and
Autechre as if midwifed by Otto Von Schirach, Az-Rotator’s music whirs
and clicks with a cacophonic procession built by a thousand system
processes all executing simultaneously. While less chaotic than his
Clorometiconn EP, Science of Chance is still several
iterations away from the four on the floor rave-up trance of our youth
(oh, the days when 4/4 was quite enough to get down to). An
undulating tone poem sails through “Genolom,” a thread which we can
hang onto through the chaotic sea of Az-Rotator’s microscopic clatter
and rattle. When the poetry vanishes in the middle of the song, we
are adrift in a bubbling and burping pandemonium of digital
percussion. “Hemonem” shivers with slices of melody as if everything
comes with the middle third missing (all that lives in that emptiness
is an echo) and the programming tries to compensate for the hollow
beats by tightening the rhythms, by binding elements together into a
fusion of skittering signals and breathless metallic noises.
“Empsaver” is a jumbled radio transmission from a distant quasar,
warped from the light years it has had to travel so that the data is
bent into strange echoes and juddering beats while a distorted voice
is spread out across a bed of hiccuping notes.

I feel like I’ve discovered new elements, strange new isotopes which
exist in theoretical space for the duration of a few heartbeats. The
electron patter of “Actinome” is the sound of an exploding atom, a
gurgling explosion of microscopic points of light that increases in
complexity and force as the experiment continues. There is a rapid
fire electron pulse coming off “Omatron,” a machine-gun spatter of
hard light that warps as we try to observe it. Filled with
Heisenberg’s Uncertainy Principle, the elements of “Omatron” caroom
and cavort with utter abandon and our attempts to find a center, find
a regular pulse, are met with confusion.

Az-Rotator’s rhythmic chaos is a gentle sort of anarchy and doesn’t
have the blistered edges of Squarepusher and other adherents of the
drill ‘n’ bass aesthetic. Az-Rotator is charting chaos by examining the
dust patterns raised by a single breath, not a gale force. This is
microscopic bedlam, localized whispers of turbulence. Science of
Chance
is the first few hours of cellular division where chaos
still rules but more structured organisms are starting to grow.

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1238 image 5 BONG-RA :: I Am The God of Hellfire (2LP/CD) on Very Friendly

After getting my skull pummeled by Grindkrusher and my brain
tossed in a blender by Monsters of Mashup, I was
expecting a full-length release by Bong-Ra to leave me in a small
puddle of bone meal and tenderized fat. Surprisingly, I Am The God
of Hellfire
doesn’t trample the listener as much as I expected.
Sure, I wish I had a better sub-woofer on my system so I could really
shake the neighborhood, but it wasn’t the insane beat-down I had
prepped for.

Which isn’t to say that Bong-Ra has gone all soft on us. No, he’s
just mercurial, difficult to pigeon-hole and hell-bent on shaking the
dust off all these genre markers we’ve gotten so complacent with that
we’re not quite sure what to do with a guy who so gleefully runs them
together. “Skool Ov Violence,” for example, stomps in as a downtempo
piece but has such a ginormous bottom that it can barely fit through
the door. Coupled a claustrophobic density of percussion and a
profusion of wailing guitar lines, it knocks a hole in the genre
classification and lurches through dark-hop and electro-rock on its
way out. “Redrum” and “Pop That Cristal” are ostensibly rap songs
(both feature Mike Redman on the mic) but are filled with such a
howling low-end and heavy drum ‘n’ bass vibe that they make East Coast
rap about as dangerous as getting slapped by a piece of limp celery.
Hanin Elias’ sex-kitten howls in “Go Tiger!” is an anthemic call to
arms for dominatrixes — a ‘get your whips out, girls!’ rallying cry
— filled with the sonic thunder of a dungeon full of sweaty slaves
banging on drums.

“The Claw” takes down Shaggy and eviscerates him in a very messy way
as Ras Bumpa rides the Bong-Ra thunder into the dancehall. While Ras
undulates with the vocal slipperiness of a well-blunted reggae singer,
Bong-Ra mixes heavy beats, the barking growl of a tiger and skittering
drum ‘n’ bass into a suffocating dub plate of heavy menace. “White
Horse Come Soon,” one of the purely instrumental tracks on the record,
riffs around a sample from a Clint Eastwoof film while churning metal
guitars into slow motion Godflesh noises and applying IDM propensities
to a clattering rhythmic structure. Its the sound of Death, galloping
down on you, all THX-ready.

I Am The God of Hellfire isn’t about beating you to a pulp with
BPMs in the 200s. It’s about choking you with heavy rhythms and a
dense cross-pollination of dancehall, jungle, downtempo, rave and
metal. It’s about making you beg for the sting of the lash and a boot
to the ass. “Rave you fuckers!” is the primal commandment printed on
the inner sleeve. Bong-Ra wants you to move with such complete
abandon that you sprain something. Anything. Just stopping sitting
there. Being dead won’t save you. I Am The God of Hellfire
will dig up your coffin and make your skeleton dance. Buy it at Amazon.com

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1238 image 6 EXILLON :: The Keening Dithers (CD)

And now for something completely different. One of the fascinating
aspects of Ad Noiseam is that each release can be widely divergent
from the previous record. On The Keening Dithers, Exillion’s
playful electronic compositions are filled with eager melodies and
sprightly beats, tiny little digital constructs built from arrays of
sparks and fine wire. Virtual instruments echo their wood and metal
counterparts with a polished spiritness and his rhythms have more in
common with the ebullience of fizzy water than the relentless thump of
a metronomic drum machine.

“Moonlight Sinatra” is a soft-shoe duet between a metallic drum kit
and a piano, a Fred and Ginger dance across moonlight rooftops where
the drum kit lifts the piano over the stubby heat vents and ragged
pieces of broken tar paper. The kit shuffles against the hard roof,
skuffing and tapping its toe with an abrasive timbre to its beats
while the piano swoops and darts with a flurry of diaphanous melodies.
Synthesizer melodies play hide and seek behind a charged drum kit in
“Termit,” laughing like a bit of space music as they dance just out of
reach of the heavy stick work of the percussion.

“Cadi” tugs at your heart with tiny strings of bird-like melody,
playing you for a sucker while atmospheric drum programming dithers
about in the foreground, building tiny microcosms of beats and kicks
that dissolve into elusive mist. Exillon includes his remix of Meat
Beat Manifesto’s “Horn of Jericho,” a version filled with electronic
cacophony — squelches and barks of fat digital sounds that turn the
organic flavor of the original into a robotic dance-floor
reconstruction. “Dtofu3” shivers and gabbers like an Aphex Twin
experiment with stretches of ambient space where steel gongs are
elongated into hollow echoes; while “Kollipy” hops onto stage like a
one-legged bit pirate, hawking illicit DSP patches and black-market
field recordings of mournful tones (the time-delayed keening of widows
at funerals, the slow exhalation of steam boat whistles at dusk, the
reverberant echo of a soprano’s voice as heard through water-logged
pipe — that sort of thing).

I love the title of this record: The Keening Dithers. It’s a
meaningless phrase until you hear the album and realize both words fit
the mood perfectly. Oftentimes emotionally melodic and playfully
rhythmic, Exillon’s first release on Ad Noiseam (his debut full-length was released on Component in 2005) keeps with the label’s
aesthetic of releasing engaging and genre-independent material.
Melding ambient soundtracks to idyllic dance music with a neural web
of virtual patch cables and clever programming, Exillon engages the
head and heart nicely. Buy it at Amazon.com

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All releases above are out now on Ad Noiseam and Very Friendly.

  • Ad Noiseam
  • Very Friendly
  • Az-Rotator
  • Bong-Ra
  • Exillion
  • Lapsed
  • Larvae
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