Here at Don't Count On It Reviews, you can read reviews from different artists from different styles.

Friday, August 2, 2013

2013 - The Work of Utech Records

In my opinion, one of the most interesting labels working today is Utech Records. I'm not going to claim I've enjoyed each and every release that they've put out because I haven't but there isn't a release from the label that I would ever claim is unworthy of attention. Each album/tape/CD/etc. is interesting and unique in it's own way. Along with the always fantastic album artwork that each release entails is some of the most interesting music. From metal to drone to ambient to avant-garde to jazz to whatever, each and every release is impossible to predict what it will sound like before reading or listening to it. I haven't given the label as much time as I would have liked to in the last year or even in the first half of this year so I wanted to do this little write up about what they've put out so far this year. Hopefully it entices at least a few of you!

Pan Gu - Primeval Man Born of The
Cosmic Egg 
The first of these albums is the release from Pan Gu, a duo who I was not familiar with until being sent this release, which is a trend you will notice throughout this post. As I mentioned above, I was not sure what to expect from this, I skimmed through the press release when I first got it a month or so back and thought it mentioned ambient and electronic work so I linked it immediately to the more power electronics and drone fields. In a way, I was right, a track like Fleas Were The Ancestors of Mankind certainly does keep in line with my train of thought, but there are other tracks, tracks I actually found much more engaging. When I looked up the album to perhaps gain a bit more info as to what I was going to get myself into before actually listening to this I saw the genre "electroacoustic" which sort of surprised me. But listening to a couple of tracks on here and it rang true. Those tracks that take acoustic instrumentation and transform it into more ethereal, lo-fi ambient drones definitely appeal more to me than the more blistering noise pieces. I don't know if I would call the noisier parts to the album bad, but I certainly enjoyed the ambient drones more. The harsher aspects definitely don't keep in line with harsh noise and are definitely a bit more "avant-garde" in the sound choices. There aren't so much blasts of distortion as much as there are waves of altered sounds. It's cool, but at the same time it can get to be a little bit too much for my own tastes.

Keiko Higuchi - Ephemeral As Petals

It's strange, of all the releases I'm covering here, I feel like this one is the most controlled. Even though this is still very strange and unrestrained (contradicting I know), it still feels like it's reigned in so as not to just become a series of musicians trying to outdo each other. Instrumentally, the band are definitely well contained. Musically it's definitely in the veins of jazz and at times channeling a bit more of an almost classical vibe through the piano playing, but jazz would be the simplest term. At times the music is very minimal, with only piano acting as the main instrument besides the vocals while other tracks are just off-the-wall pieces where drums, bass, guitar, and piano all clash with each other for space. Then there are the vocals, and let me tell you, Higuchi is one strange vocalist. Her vocal acrobatics are awe inspiring to say the least, it's like Bjork had a mental breakdown to be honest. Though, it goes without saying that this is far less accessible than anything Bjork has ever released. Then, most notably on the My Funny Valentine cover, she channels the spirit of Nico strangely enough. There were points on here where the vocals are so bizarre sounding that I found them offputting (and that's coming from someone who's favorite vocalists do such acrobatics with their voices as well). I think that most could probably tolerate it musically but the vocals would be the main cause of any trouble.

K11 - Another Temple to The Great
Beast 666
This was a strange little album for me. I've listened to several records over the years that I have said sounded like a ritual or some sort of sermon of sorts, whether it be a metal record, a drone record, or an ambient record, but this was one of the first times I can remember being genuinely shocked by how ceremonial a record came across. Granted, this record is definitely based within the world of drone music, but its use of organ and various droning sounds definitely lends to it a quality of authentic monasticism that is not found in many other records. Frankly, I just thought the title was just another title, it can have its own meaning and whatnot but it wasn't really going to have any impact as to what the record really sounded like. This is one of the few cases where the title of a record really lets you know all you need to know. It's ritualistic but also very dark and introspective. Like most of the other records found in this list, you have your ups and your downs on this record, parts that are straight ambient while others that are blasts of noise. It can be incredibly simple while at other times very overwhelming with its layers. Of all the records on here, I would say this is one of the more accessible ones.

Jacob - The Ominous
The Ominous from Jacob is another instance of me not being aware of the artist's style before listening to the album. I figured from the cover it would be dark, though that's probably a given, you just never know when it comes to a label like Utech. When I pressed play for the first time and began hearing these odd sounds soon followed by very strange string work. As the album escalates and decelerates it really does create a sense of tension through it's use of reverb and other spaces. At times it borders on being dark ambient through its use of silence and spacing between parts of a given piece of music while at others it can be extremely loud and overwhelming in its intensity, both of which can be heard marvelously on The Ominous II. The description for the album said that both members, David Cordero and Marco Serrato, were inspired by a mutual love and adoration for sci-fi and horror films and their accompanying soundtracks. At times that comes through very clearly and there is, as I mentioned above, a very knowing use of tropes and tricks of the trade on here. A track like The Ladder is extremely disquieting in it's use of intense string playing and feedback and can easily become quite hard to really take in. For myself, it was sort of hit and miss, some pieces worked better than others, none were bad, but pick and choose, definitely one you want to experience for yourself.

Burning Tree - Lammergyer

Goddamn it this was a bitch of an album. The first time I pressed play and that saxophone blasted into my eardrum I just about jumped out of my seat. This saxophone and drum duo really play with just as much intensity as almost any metal band I've ever heard. It's seriously enough to give a guy a heart attack after hearing that first track, Red Mercury. The rest of the album follows suit with tracks that really blur the lines as to how intense jazz can be before it becomes something else. It's frenetic and aggressive with drums that are just all over the place. Seriously, Dag Erik Knedal Andersen not only plays with as much intensity as any metal drummer I've ever heard, but is utilizing techniques that you would almost never hear in the genre. He can blast but instead he rolls over and over and over again until you're basically out of breath just listening to him. Dag Stiberg keeps up with his companion by just squawking his saxophone over the whole damn record. At times, I'm not gonna lie, it recalls some of what I found annoying about John Zorn's improv pieces, but at other times it just enthralling and exhilarating to listen to.

Away - Cities 
Of all the records I'm covering on here, Cities by Away was the one I knew would be the hardest to really write about and express a view on. I've heard several people praising this album as well as read a couple of reviews praising it as well. Being done by Michel Langevin of Voivod is easily how people gain an insight as to what background this album is in. Listening to it almost instantly throws any of conceptions out the window. This is music concrete, if you come expecting metal you will be sorely disappointed and be left scratching your head as to what you're even listening to. While I didn't expect this to be metal, the ladder statement definitely did apply to me. Over the years I've come to appreciate noise, power electronics, ambient, drone, and many other genres I previously thought I would never be able to enjoy, but this is just something else. Field recordings in those genres (among others) is fine, they add a characteristic to the sound that is unique and distinct, on their own, I'm just left wondering why I even listened to this in the first place. Listening to the sounds of a city like Chicago or Mexico City or Montreal can be sort of interesting on first listen but after that I just don't get it. I'm lost over why this is getting the reception it has been getting, it's not bad, but to be honest, it really isn't anything. It feels more like a novelty item than a real record. That's just me, give it a listen and you decide for yourself, but this just did nothing for me at all.

Dead Neanderthals - Polaris 

On the other side of the intensity of Burning Tree you have Dead Neanderthals jazz pieces. While it's clear that this duo also strive to achieve a similar goal of blurring the lines between jazz and metal (or at least that's what I'm assuming their goals are) they definitely do not achieve the same level of intensity or maddening abrasiveness of the aforementioned band. That being said, this album is much more palatable by comparison. Not only are the pieces shorter (for the most part anyway) but there is much more graspable quality to what these two are playing. There's definitely a better use of dynamics on here, with clear levels of contrast between aggressive bursts, more subtle low-key moments, and then much clearer jazz (in the traditional sense) sections. The parts are a lot easier to distinguish from each other and it isn't as constant an assault on your ears as the other album was. So in that there is praise to be served because this duo may blur the lines but they also know that they are trying to keep a listener's attention for more than short intervals of time. So, I would definitely check this album out before diving into the Burning Tree album, if only to act as a taste of what you'll experience above. It really is its own unique thing, but hopefully you got that as well.
The Stargazer's Assistant - Mirrors & Tides,
Shivers & Voids
Ok, of all the groups I've covered so far, this is the only one I've had any prior experience with. I have listened to this band's last EP, 2008's Shivers and Voids about a year or so back (so it has been a while), but that did allow me to feel somewhat more warmly towards this album before I actually listened to it than if I would have just come into it cold as I did with the seven albums above. Though, obviously as you could probably see, that EP is half of what's on this new album. Seeing how this was the last album I actually listened to for this set, I was hoping for something a little less intense and that's exactly what I got. This is easily the most accessible release of these eight. Sonically, it's much more ambient, and at times very psychedelic as well. When vocals are used, while the melodies and vocals are certainly abstract and strange, they are graspable and palpable to even the average listener, or at least I would like to think so. I found the melodies on opener Coral Butterfly quite memorable, and while the entire album is not a monastic chant (vocally) they certainly aren't using pop melodies to appeal to you. There are also a couple of instance where the album really knocks you down with a burst of noise or some almost industrial beats. You can probably tell by now that this album was my favorite of the bunch by now, and hopefully if you do nothing else, please check this album out. Though really, all of them are worth a listen if you're a fan of experimental and avant-garde music.

1 comment:

  1. I've read a lot of comments about how Away's 'Cities' is a great record, it really didn't impress me either. However back in the day I come across at a similar record, but consisting only of field recordings from LO, a very special place located between Nepal and Tibet. I've wrote my experience here http://heathenharvest.org/2013/02/05/svaixt-lo/ maybe it will be interesting for you to hear, for me it certainly was, even though it's indeed a weird 'musical' experience.