Six Noises’ 2015 Extravaganza: Eccentrics and Experimentalists Part 2
Welcome to the second post of Six Noises’ end-of-year shenanigans. This year, as usual, I’m letting fly with a bunch of lists cataloguing first-rate metal, punk, eccentric and experimental rock releases from 2015. As well as a bunch of riotous New Zealand albums. None of the posts are ranked, because all I want to do is recommend a whole heap of great music. So I hope you discover a few gems below.
Many thanks for stopping by Six Noises in 2015.
Here is Part 2 of my favourite experimental and eccentric rock releases from 2015. (Part 1 is here.)
Second Son: Hopp/Förtvivlan (Electric Assault Records)
Tribulation’s latest album, The Children of the Night, has featured on plenty of metal-focused end-of-year lists in 2015. However, Tribulation’s drummer, Jakob Ljungberg, released an infinitely more interesting album, Hopp/Förtvivlan, via his psychedelic rock project, Second Son. That album dealt in red-hot acid rock, and hook-laden melodies, and Ljungberg pointed to bands like Hawkwind, Eloy, and Jethro Tull as his prime influences. All the songs on Hopp/Förtvivlan were sung in Ljungberg’s native Swedish too, which only added to the album’s (silver-toned) Scandinavian retro-rock charm.
Pinkish Black: Bottom of the Morning (Relapse)
Music writer and podcaster Erik Highter told me in advance that Pinkish Black were cooking up something special on their third album, Bottom of the Morning. Highter was bang on the money too. Bottom of the Morning was magnificent and, in many ways, totally unclassifiable. I guess Bauhaus covering Rush covering Goblin covering Tangerine Dream covering John Carpenter, in a haunted studio, at 3.33am, might get close(ish) to Pinkish Black’s sound. But, ultimately, Bottom of the Morning was simply sui generis and uber-genius.
Expo ’70: Kinetic Tones (Oaken Palace Records)
Justin Wright has released over 60 recordings under his Expo ’70 moniker in the last decade or so. Many of those works have been outstanding. Kinetic Tones was among Wright’s very best. The album featured four colossal psychedelic drones, shrouded in a dark aura. Best of all, Kinetic Tones was recorded on analog reel-to-reel, and featured no overdubs, which meant the album felt like an organic, intimate and very honest creative statement.
Årabrot: You Bunch of Idiots (Fysisk Format)
Norwegian noise rock band Årabrot was founded in 2001, by vocalist and guitarist Kjetil Nernes, and the group was named after a garbage dump near his hometown. Fittingly, sonic filth has defined the band since day one, as well as a fair amount of surreal lyrical finesse. Årabrot’s 2015 EP, You Bunch of Idiots, was the final release in a three-part EP series, following on from 2013’s Murder As Art and 2014’s I Modi. Like those releases, You Bunch of Idiots was equal parts dark, deranged and debased––exhibiting every element in Årabrot’s subversive arsenal once again.
The Inward Circles: Belated Movements For An Unsanctioned Exhumation August 1st 1984 (Corbel Stone Press)
The Inward Circles (aka Richard Skelton) delved into death and disrespect on Belated Movements For An Unsanctioned Exhumation August 1st 1984. Skelton’s thematic focus was on the unceremonious removal of an Iron Age man dug up and removed from a peat bog in the north-west of England in the mid-80s. Fittingly, for an ambient/drone album endeavouring to evoke solemn scenes surrounding the “transgressive nature of … exhumation”, the album’s three lengthy tracks maintained a very sombre mood. Yes, the music throughout was grim. But then, so is the reality of wrenching a resting soul from its home soil.
The Orb: Moonbuilding 2703 AD (Kompakt)
I gave up on The Orb years ago, firmly believing that the band had left their best work far behind them. However, 2015’s Moonbuilding 2703 AD was a huge return to form. It was The Orb’s most captivating record since their heyday as leading lights of the ambient house scene in the early 1990s. Plus, for those looking for a little chill-out music that’s infused with meaning, Moonbuilding 2703 AD had a cinematic tale to tell.
Amber Asylum: Sin Eater (Prophecy Productions)
This year marked the 20th anniversary of Amber Asylum, the chamber doom ensemble founded by multi-instrumentalist and soprano vocalist Kris Force. Sin Eater, the band’s stunning 2015 album, was a soul-stirring and majestic release that drew from post-rock, dark ambient, neo-classical and avant-garde influences. Framing all that was Amber Asylum’s usual sense of haunting gothic ambience. Making Sin Eater a heartbreakingly beautiful and brooding release.
Lightning Bolt: Fantasy Empire (Thrill Jockey)
Another band hitting their 20-year anniversary in 2015, and releasing one of their very best recordings yet, was noise-rock duo Lightning Bolt. The band’s Fantasy Empire album was the perfect storm of relentless bass mayhem and pounding percussion. Admittedly, ‘pop-friendly’ probably isn’t the first thought that springs to mind when Lightning Bolt’s anarchic oeuvre is mentioned, but Fantasy Empire featured some of the most downright anthemic pandemonium I heard all year. Chaos never sounded so good.
Flying Saucer Attack: Instrumentals (Drag City / Domino)
Shoegazers/space-rockers Flying Saucer Attack returned after 15 years in the wilderness in 2015 to release their breathtaking Instrumentals album. The tracks therein ranged from gentle and blissful drones to full-blown feedback and distortion hurricanes. And every single one of those tracks––calm, squall or tempest––was spellbinding. Think of an autumnal twilight in an abandoned industrial estate or quarry. Think of the sun rising over mist-shrouded fields. Think of the beauty in isolation.
Awake was a stunning collaboration between long-time noise-maker Mike Shiflet and guitarist John Kolodij (High Aura’d). Recorded over three days, with both Shiflet and Kolodij feeding off each other’s energy and ideas as they played together at the same time, the six distorting drones on Awake thrum with a shared sense of exploration. Awake was described by the label as a “direct descendent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor or even Glenn Branca”. But there’s really no need to point to any influences here. Awake, all on its own, is magnificent enough.
Zombi: Shape Shift (Relapse)
Long-running American duo Zombi (featuring Steve Moore on synthesizers and bass, and Anthony Paterra on drums) have released some of my favourite electronic/neo-prog albums of all time. The band’s 2015 release, Shape Shift, was apparently inspired by Zombi’s touring with cult Italian prog/soundtrack icons Goblin (one of Zombi’s clearest influences). Shape Shift certainly featured a wonderfully dark and cinematic horror/thriller ambience, and it wasn’t the only 2015 release where Steve Moore got to toy with sinister synthwave: see also his OST for horror film Cub.
Gnod: Infinity Machines (Rocket Recordings)
Infinity Machines was the latest colossal work of sonic mastery from the Arch Druids of audio sorcery, Gnod. The triple LP featured over two hours’ worth of gigantic drones, with five of the tracks on the album each pushing past the 15-minute mark alone. Gnod touched on everything from avant-jazz to industrial metal to ambient electronics and free-noise on Infinity Machines. All of Gnod’s previous releases have been mammoth works of art in their own right, but Infinity Machines was a gargantuan display of eclectic and eccentric sounds, and creative lunacy and outright genius combined.
Ian William Craig combines his operatic voice with tape loops and effects to make some of the most heavenly and beguiling music you’re ever likely to hear. Just like his stunning 2014 debut, A Turn of Breath, Craig’s 2015 album, Cradle for the Wanting, featured lush tracks that were bathed in both blazing sunlight and other-worldly shadow. Haunting. Moving. Poignant. And utterly beautiful. Cradle for the Wanting must be heard.
I’m no expert on the newfangled retro-synthwave movement. I’m old, and I still get plenty of pleasure listening to synthscapes from electronic pioneers. But this year I also totally got hooked on the slinky synth of whippersnappers like Carpenter Brut, Gost, Dan Terminus, and Gunship (and a couple of remastered and reissued efforts from Perturbator too). That said, the best retro-synthwave in 2015 was still found on Lost Themes, the first stand-alone studio album from veteran soundtrack electronics wizard John Carpenter.
Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin has released a lot of critically lauded experimental music, and 2015’s Garden of Delete was another certified and certifiable futurist gem. Never one to let you get too comfortable, Lopatin ensured that Garden of Delete remained imbued with a sense of cerebrally enhanced surprise by constantly tweaking the album’s tone from aggressive to scintillating to mind-warping to punchy to propulsive. Madcap delights, guaranteed.
William Basinski: Cascade (2062)
Experimental composer William Basinski is famed for his classic ambient series, The Disintegration Loops, released in the early 2000s. Basinski released three albums in 2015, and the moving and solitary piano treatment Cascade was my favourite. Sounds dissolved and reformed as Basinski toyed with loops and delay to reshape the track into ever more contemplative form. Like much of Basinski’s work, Cascade felt like an open-ended invitation to meditate on life’s greater puzzles.
Chelsea Wolfe: Abyss (Sargent House)
Singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe has a significant following in the metal community, chiefly because of the dark and gothic accent of the music she creates. On Wolfe’s 2015 album, Abyss, she invited members of Russian Circles and True Widow to contribute to the album, which certainly brought a heavier metal tone to proceedings. Still, it would be a mistake to call Abyss Wolfe’s metal album, per se. Because she followed her muse into pitch-black corners, and wound her unsettling folk tighter and tighter around chilling electronics as well.
Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld: Never Were the Way She Was (Constellation)
I almost skipped listening to saxophonist Colin Stetson and violinist Sarah Neufeld’s Never Were the Way She Was, because I’ve never really been a fan of Arcade Fire, Neufeld’s main band. What an idiot I almost was, because Never Were the Way She Was has been rightly acclaimed this year. The album was framed by the “metaphorical narrative of the life of a girl who ages slow as mountains” and Stetson and Neufeld’s haunting suites (captured live, with no loops, overdubs, or studio trickery involved) took in some of the most breathtaking and poignant scenery in 2015.
Pekak! Indonesian Noise 1995–2015 (End of the Alphabet Records)
Indonesian noise musician Indra Menus spent five years compiling Pekak! Indonesian Noise 1995–2015: 20 Years of Experimental Music from Indonesia. As an introduction to Indonesia’s avant-garde music scene, the compilation is essentially perfect, highlighting two decades of maverick musical experimentations from all corners of the Indonesian archipelago. That said, as much as it crucially shined a light on myriad musical strains from a little-known scene (in global terms, that is), Pekak! Indonesian Noise 1995–2015… was a magnificent cultural voyage as well.
The Necks: Vertigo (ReR / Northern Spy / Fish of Milk)
Vertigo was Australian trio The Necks’ 18th release, but the band sounded anything but tired or lacking in ideas. Like many of The Necks’ previous releases, Vertigo featured a single lengthy drone. However, this time, the band also added guitar, electronics and synth to their usual bare-boned piano, bass and drum arrangements. Those extra instruments added flesh to The Necks’ sound. But, more impressively, it was great to hear The Necks still making vital music, still pushing forward into the hinterlands of avant-garde sound.