Autechre – Garbage EP (1994)

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I told you I was going to go the route of the filthy casual in future Autechre coverage (even though I ended up listening to Confield too); and to be honest, I went on a huge binge after experiencing LP5. This longer-than-some-studio-albums EP is certainly interesting, and it falls straight into a brief period of especially ambient and downtempo work by this band. Given that Garbage is supposedly culled from the detritus of Autechre’s 2nd studio album (1994’s Amber), you can imagine how this content might share some mood and mind with its full length counterpart, but where Amber was occasionally too subdued for its own good, the balance here is better.

Garbage is vintage accessible Autechre at their finest, even managing by virtue of its reduced length to avoid the filler problem that plagues most of the band’s full lengths. Everything here is warm, analog flavored, with plenty of the reverb and delay effects that seem to be emphasized on the band’s early material. Like your average Autechre album (or for that matter, a nice swathe of electronic music), the tracks here rely very heavily on their choice of sounds to distinguish themselves; compare this to musicians who don’t change up their instrumentation on every track. Furthermore, the average track here yet again emphasizes slowly evolving soundscapes over especially rigorous sound structure. In general, you should not expect huge sound/structural differences from Autechre’s trademark sound.

If you ask me, Garbage also features something of an inter-track narrative that isn’t present on most of the band’s material. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but over time the material on here progresses from being rhythm and progression oriented to complete ambience and repetition by the time the last chords of “Vletr” fade away. I can’t really think of any other albums by the band that have that level of long-term cohesion, although some of the EPs come close (1995’s Anvil Vapre in particular). This makes for a very different experience than the rest of their discography when you listen to it in full. This is, more than anything else from Autechre, something you should sit down and listen to in one go, which at the very least is more convenient than otherwise due its compactness.

To be fair, Garbage‘s strengths do run kind of exactly counter to my expected tastes, but given how often I’ve been praising music for doing things I wouldn’t expect myself to stereotypically like, I might have to say that my interests are broader than they first seem.

Highlights: Everything. Maybe “PIOB” in particular.

Incantation – Onward To Golgotha (1992)

Folder.jpgNow this is a monolithic slab of death metal, arguably as far removed from early foundational extreme metal like Celtic Frost and Bathory as those are from the styles that spawned them. On the other hand, it’s not too difficult to hear their legacy in such a work as Onward to Golgotha. Besides its clear influences (and murkier imitators, we’ll get to that someday), this album also has the honor of having one of the slowest burning fuses of understanding in my library. Unlike many an album in my library, it just keeps coming back for more and more plays, and it has yet to give up all of its secrets.

Enough is apparent from what I have absorbed – Onward to Golgotha is a particularly dense sounding and atmospheric work of death metal for its age, but not quite in the way that a roughly contemporary Autopsy or Obituary would lead you to expect. Like many a formative work of death metal, this album is yet another exaggeration of its predecessors, with even more reverb and distortion infesting its production, but it’s surprisingly clear and intelligible in spite of this. It’s probably because rest of this album’s sound is stripped down to the absolute minimum you can get away with – nearly complete monophony, limited variation in drum and vocal texture/rhythm, and so forth. It sounds simple enough that you could punch out an album in this style this weekend, and I’m pretty sure a couple of people have.

The problem with doing that is that you have to do something to distinguish it from all the other weekend caverncore death metal albums out there. Onward to Golgotha, as the granddaddy of them all, earns its seniority by maximizing the complexity of its song structures, which also has the bonus effect of providing good contrast to the relatively basic instrumentation. None of the songs here are particularly lengthy, but they pack in plenty of well-related riffs in a way that makes sense if you take the time to think about it. Incantation also has the sense to occasionally add in some instrumental variation when it would benefit the structure of the song, such as the bass lead in “Blasphemous Cremation”. That’s a more basic songwriting technique than most of the ones on display here, but it does need pointing out that Incantation isn’t just relying on a few gimmicks to differentiate their works.

I suppose that in the long run, it was how I kept noticing this album’s small details that ensured it would be a reliable staple of my listening rotation. Maybe I should check out the rest of the band’s discography when I get the chance?

Highlights: “Devoured Death”, “Unholy Massacre”, “Christening the Afterbirth”

Samael – Passage (1996)

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One of the big themes of my own musical career has been fusing elements of electronic music with heavy metal, to the point that I have embraced many an album for doing the same. Less honorably, this means I don’t projectile vomit every time I hear “Destructos Vs. the Earth“, but let’s not dwell on that. You could easily convince people that Passage was an influence on my own personal style just from its overall aesthetic. In fact, when I first listened to it, I was amazed by the similarities and particularly interested in applying some lessons from it to my own work.

Before you get any ideas, though, I should warn you that this was only a few months ago, so if you actually did rush to tell your friends without reading the rest of this review, you probably look very silly now.

Passage serves as a useful demonstration of Samael’s transition from their earliest black metal sound and whatever the heck it is they do these days (although Ceremony of Opposites is closer in style to Passage than you might realize). Most of the old grime has been wiped clean, although Vorph’s vox remain harsh and abrasive, and the guitar tone remains quite distorted. On the other hand, the drum machine and shiny (if cheap) synthesizers exert significant influence. I figure Samael wasn’t alone in this sort of experimentation, since even within the constraints of Invisible Blog I’ve managed to snapshot a few other bands evolving in a similar fashion. Why the “gothic metal” boom came in the mid-1990s is a story for another post, but Samael did well to grab onto it.

Ultimately, Passage is straight up industrial metal pop, but it’s at least as accomplished a work of synth rock as the last example of such I featured here. This is another case of an album benefiting enormously from being as melodramatic and pompous as possible within their chosen substyle. The songwriting’s dynamics allow this album to wax and wane as needed, which is especially important since the harsh guitarwork that ties everything together places limits on what Samael can reasonably sound like. Even the iffy keyboard sounds are used to great effect. It might be that they’re backed up by a fine production, but given that the mixwork here isn’t enormously dense, they do help add extra depth to relatively simplistic riffing. It’s the instrumental interplay that makes Samael pop in all senses of the word, and if that sounds like something you want in your life, you probably should get your hands on this album.

Highlights: “Jupiterian Vibe”, “Liquid Soul Dimension”, “Chosen Race”

Rush – Signals (1982)

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Reviews are back, man! The members of Rush should be honored that I started with their liminal point, since many bands would kill to make an album half as good. Signals definitely expands on the streamlined, slick, synthetic ’80s pop side of Rush; those seeking another progressive rock album may be disappointed. Then again, they might not – Signals is also the culmination of 14 years of Rushwork. If you’re as long-lived a band as Rush, you eventually begin to figure out what you’re doing at some point.

So I mentioned that Signals was synth heavy, and that’s true, but it still takes the overall form of a rock album, with Alex Lifeson’s guitar work muted but not entirely overwhelmed by Geddy Lee’s growing army of synthesizers. It would be pretty easy to swap out the synthesizer parts with other instruments if you felt the need, since Geddy’s arsenal tends towards warm, even soothing analog pads and leads. To be fair, Rush has used synthesizers in other roles, such as for sound effects on their earlier albums, but you need a greater variety in order to not waste everyone’s time when they’re as prevalent as they are here. Luckily, we have it, and combined with the more acoustic (or at least merely electrified) instrumentation of the rest of the band, it makes for an aesthetic that’s aged well over the years; this is always something I have to consider with keyboard heavy music of this vintage.

If you’re acquainted with this blog, you’ll know that I tend to focus heavily on an album’s aesthetics when I figure it’s not particularly complicated otherwise. We went into this knowing that Signals was a step down in complexity from Rush’s “progressive rock” era, but to simply stop there would be a terrible blunder. This album does make the case that if you want to create good pop songs and were previously the band that wrote 2112, you shouldn’t entirely abandon your previous strengths, no matter what Phil Collins insists. Signals continues to showcase excellent musicianship and ensemble playing from the rest of the band, but that’s not why it’s worthy of attention, since that’s a given with Rush. For the most part, it successfully adapts that part of Rush’s legacy into the new ’80s pop sound. This sort of thing also provides Neil Peart with a more prominent role for his always important role as a lyricist, although it does lead to the occasional weird misstep (Read: “The Weapon”) when he’s not careful.

Therefore, Signals is another one of my recommendations; a dignified stylistic transition for the band and a continuation of their proficiency. Be thankful that it isn’t quite as pretentious as that last sentence.

Highlights: “Subdivisions”, “The Analog Kid”, “Losing It”

 

Flash Fiction Month #5: Lone Wolf On The Battlefield

Flash Fiction Month comes to an end with this installment, but the concept of flash fiction lives on! You might see more of it in the future. Read the previous installment here.


Excerpts from an anonymous letter:

Inevitably, historians will claim my downfall came at the moment I managed to weaponize student loans. I’m surprised nobody had the idea back in the days of metal currency, or even paper currency (which is obviously lighter, but it wads up well), but it turns out that even a simple credit card can wreak havoc, as long as it’s fired at relativistic velocities. The first shot wasn’t merely liberating. I imagine conventional gun owners enjoy the first shot beyond all the others for the power it unlocks within them, but when your first shot tears a hole in a mountain and keeps going, unscathed but for the trail of a superheated shockwave it tears across the sky, you would know you’ve come upon a weapon of immense power.

The targets, on the other hand? I initially wanted them to believe that I was simply trying to make them wealthier, but no matter how much I preloaded the charge cards with cash, none of them really had the manual dexterity or heat resistance to snatch my ammunition out of the air, at least not in a form that the average ATM would accept. My aim wasn’t very accurate, but it didn’t really matter since even a near miss was enough to turn anything nearby into a dark shadow on the ground. Incidentally, I feel like I’m running out of things to shoot at, but even now I occasionally see a tank or a helicopter on the horizon. I think they’re out to get me, and I keep trying to bribe them to go away, but I’m running really low on wealth and I’m afraid my bank won’t offer me a loan so I can keep going for a bit.

I actually managed to catch some emergency broadcasts early in my travels. They’d already labeled my efforts a “mad rampage” and were telling everyone to get as far away as physically possible in order to avoid being vaporized. I realize that my actions have cost some lives, but frankly, the media has some really messed up priorities. At no point did anyone discuss the economic aspect of what I was doing, and even I can think of a few consequences – mostly related to deflation and the other effects of a reduced money supply. Still, a few hundred thousand dollars of debt multiplied by a few hundred shots, while enough money that you shouldn’t scoff at it, is a drop in the bucket compared world currency reserves. Things probably won’t get that bad.

Anyways, I think I see another plane on the horizon. I hope it’s not a passenger jet; I’ve already set a dangerous precedent by firing at one and I would hate for Boeing or Airbus to lose even more of their assets.

Flash Fiction Month #4: Religious Epiphany

I know little about the readers of Invisible Blog, and their browsing behavior, but they can always read the 3rd installment here.


“What’s that on the road? It looks sticky,” my daughter Anna said to me one warm, sunny day when I was supervising my childrens’ play time. She was pointing at a dark red discoloration towards the center that was roughly aligned with our driveway, perfectly placed for cars to repeatedly run over it. I sighed – with her fifth birthday a few months behind her, she was beginning to notice things about the world that I could not leave unexplained lest she begin to develop some dangerous ideas.

“That, my daughter, is God. You must treat it with the utmost respect and reverence,” I explained. She raised an eyebrow; meanwhile, her twin brother George waddled over to listen; even though he’d asked the question a few months earlier, his presence, knowing grin, and overfed mass would help drive in my points.

“Mommy told me that there are many gods, like Odin, Thor, Loki, Freya, and others. Is that Loki?” Anna asked me. This presented something of a problem I had to deal with before I could continue.

“Your mother, as a devout Odinist, will never agree with me on religious matters. We promised not to argue about it, but just between you and me… well… I don’t believe in those gods and never will,” I responded. As I spoke, I got out of the lawnchair I’d been reclining in, walked over to our cooler, and picked out a sealed vial of chilled blood. It was about a day old (I’d drawn it personally from a passing solicitor), but the cold had kept it reasonably fresh until then.

“By far, the most important part of worshiping God is feeding it, so that it may manifest more powerfully in our world. I will demonstrate.” I walked over to the stain, and after making sure there was no oncoming traffic, I unsealed the blood and slowly dribbled it onto the red stain in the road.

“How often do you do this?” Anna asked.

“No less than every three days, and preferably more. God is hungry and must feed until the great awakening… which could even be today, if we’re lucky.”

And then we were lucky, for the blood-stained asphalt began to glow bright yellow. Eerie multicolored runes and sigils appeared in midair, tracing an elliptical orbit twelve feet tall and perhaps half as wide. I gestured for Anna and George to stand back as the air between the corruptions faded to a dull brown, interspersed with a foul gray smoke that was beginning to expand out towards us. I remembered this from my training – any moment now, something would emerge from the coalescing portal to reward my efforts in tending to it!

“ARE YOU THE BEING WHO SUMMONED ME?” a voice called out, seemingly from everywhere and nowhere, although most likely still on the other side of the portal.

“Oh great master from beyond, it is I who has brought you forth into this world to do as you please! What is thy bidding?” I shouted back. Usually, I wouldn’t be so obsequious, but I had to set a good example for my daughter.

“DON’T OPEN THIS PORTAL AGAIN. I’M TRYING TO FARM PRESTIGE IN BLACK OPS III.”

With that, the portal popped out of existence with none of the drama that had heralded its initial appearance. The red stain on the ground disappeared. Anna raised an eyebrow.

“So… uh… is your mother taking converts?” I asked Anna, but she ignored me as she went back inside to play with George.

Flash Fiction Month #3: Everything But The Taste

It never ends… until the end of the month. Read the previous installment here.


There’s this new restaurant in town that specializes in flatbreads. Every type you could think of – pizzas, pitas, paninis, pancakes! …I guess that’s not exactly representative, and many of those aren’t exactly flat, but I had to alliterate. So many styles from all over the world, every possible filling I could imagine, Yelp reviews claiming good prices and large portions… needless to say, I had to give it a shot. Perhaps it was a bit out of my comfort zone when it comes to food, but sometimes I like to experiment. What could possibly go wrong?

Flatland (interestingly named) was built at the intersection of Elm Avenue and Steel Street, straight in the middle of a half-gentrified neighborhood that’s seen some pushback from the more impoverished of its artsy hipster inhabitants, as they seem to prefer inexpensive housing to luxurious shops. The frontline of the construction projects is about two blocks away at this point, so my dining experience was fortunately not dulled by sharp, ear-piercing noises of construction. The interior decorator must’ve had Edwin Abbott on the mind, because the furniture and decorations were rather more abstract and angular than the food. Upon arrival, I was immediately tended to by a polite and attentive set of staff, who saw to my orders and requests in a timely fashion.

Now, judging from the service, you would probably guess that I was quite impressed with Flatland as a whole. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I ordered some miniature pizzas as appetizers to hold me over for my main course – a dish of Ethiopian wat made with fresh chicken and served with injera. This was when my entire experience fell apart. Bear with me for a second – I’m not saying the food was bad, because to be honest, it actually wasn’t. It might’ve been a better experience if it was, though – I can remember almost nothing about my meal other than that it at least resembled what it was supposed to be. I guess the real problem is that I, a middling cook at best, could’ve prepared the sort of dishes I saw for about the same price and investment of time. If I’d done that, the flatbreads would at least be tailored to my personal tastes. Instead, I ended up wasting gasoline for a surprisingly… flat experience. I guess you can’t get lucky every time.

Needless to say, I can’t recommend Flatland, but it troubles me greatly that I can’t honestly condemn it.