Tag Archives: Best of 2K11

The Best of 2K11: Sean McCann and Fabio Orsi

You know I hear a lot of talk
So I’m headed to the stereo store
To get a white noise maker and turn it up to 10
– Frank Black – White Noise Maker

Fabio Orsi and Sean McCann are merchants of drone, a love-it-or-hate-it offshoot of ambient that traces its footsteps back to field recording experimentalists/ambient artists like Alan Lomax and Brian Eno, tracing through the post-rock drone of Labradford and Flying Saucer Attack, and making a stop or two for some textural scrapings from various krautrockers and minimalists.

While the lack of propulsion may give the appearance of ambience, the music itself raises hackles rather than soothes dinner guests in well-appointed lofts or impatient art dealers in well-appointed elevators. If ambient is “wallpaper,” the sounds of Orsi and McCann are “insulation”: warm, gauzy and thick. It sounds like the perfect place to curl up if you don’t mind suffering from a million tiny abrasions.

Fabio Orsi – Papa, Show Me Your Blues LPs

The form of “ambient” McCann and Orsi craft bears more resemblance to Richard D. James’ unsettling antidote for a speed freak-infested techno scene (1993’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92) or The Orb’s cranky fuck-off to the ambient house scene it created (1995’s Orbus Terrarum) than anything as non-committal as mere aural landscaping.

Orsi’s abrasions are delivered with muted drumwork and some unexpected, but welcome, guitar textures. The white noise heat is still omnipresent, but rather than providing a comfortable place to nod off, it only adds another layer of tension, giving the impression that the whole musical works (so to speak) is coming to a head, and not in a particularly pleasant way. The drums themselves are distorted to the point of abstraction and the tonal edges of the guitar work do a pretty thorough job of scraping away at your inner ear. Orsi’s “ambience” is as far away from nondescript (and hence, non-threatening) as possible while still utilizing the same tools.

Fabio Orsi – Ghost Track

McCann forgoes any noticeable guitar work for engulfing washes of noise, some malevolent, some merely discomfiting. “Auditorium” delivers the faint ghostly sound of a female voice, heard through several walls, like a distant opera from a half-remembered dream. The track can best be described as “Lynchian” as the whole thing starts to fade to black (aurally speaking), slowly devoured by the near-industrial sound of the encroaching blackness as only Lynch (and now, McCann) can do. It’s a blackness that settles like a blanket of thick, choking ash.

Sean McCann – Auditorium

McCann may or may not claim Lynch as an influence, but the oppressive, steadily building thrum of all-encompassing forboding tones will cause fans of David’s to flash back to the Black Lodge or the filthy bedroom in the shit part of town with the haunted radiator or any time when bad things start going worse. It also bears some resemblance to the unholy noise that accompanies a switch of realities (again, from simply bad to horribly nightmarish) in the Silent Hill games. Part mechanical, part ambient gone wrong, McCann delivers tonal aberrations unlikely to stay quietly seated in the corner while party guests chat over the muted tones.

Sean McCann – Saints of the Capital

/s/CLT

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The Best of 2K11: Soft Moon – Total Decay EP

One of those (often pointless) rhetorical exercises music reviewers engage in is asking themselves this question: “What would [album under review] be the perfect soundtrack for?” Hopefully the answer presents itself quickly in the form of a pithy pull quote to lead off the review (“the perfect soundtrack for an overcast day burying bodies at the beach”). If the resulting answer is not pithy enough, it can usually be squeezed in towards the end as some sort of summary to go along with the arbitrary scoring system (“the perfect soundtrack for those tired of perfect soundtracks… 8/13”).

The point of bringing up this pointless exercise is this: what do you do with a band whose recorded output would seem to lend itself to soundtracks but defies being pigeonholed into that vague area so many electronic artists find themselves in, which is often defined as “soundtracks for movies that don’t exist?”

The Soft Moon (Luis Vasquez) debuted last year with a self-titled album that sounded miles away from the sort of imagery that “Bay Area artist” would tend to bring with it. It sounded less San Fran than overcast Britain, home of a million post-punkers shedding their 90-second anger for the less immediate thrills of claustrophobic goth clubs and the expansive progressions of Can-blasting and space rocking.

But the “soundtrack” aspect keeps rearing its malformed and non-descriptive head, if only because the Soft Moon make music that, while having a distinct beginning and ending, does not really fit the narrative description of a “song,” which is usually a self-contained unit of music (for lack of better terms).

Saying Vasquez is conveying “moods” or “atmosphere” tends to lump him in with a million ambient artists, many of whom are interested in nothing more than wallpapering your brain, rather than engaging you at any point. But the Soft Moon does engage. It’s phenomenally evocative music. Sure, it does most of its evoking in dimly lit areas under the cover of fog, but still, it’s far from being just another coldwave construct that’s heavier on minor chords than ideas.

Total Decay is only 4 tracks but it covers a lot of ground. Repetition rides a bassline into Killing Joke territory accompanied by various noise clawing their way to the surface, culminating in an all-hell-breaking-loose-possibly-directly-underneath-you sonic assault.

Alive nods towards Joy Division with bass that could only be considered “portentous” and a drum machine that could only be considered “mechanical,” much in the way that Joy Division’s actual human drummer often resembled an implacable cyborg of ruthless efficiency.

Total Decay lives up to its name, painting a sonic picture so bleak you’d immediately bury the artwork deep in the attic and hope that it didn’t start aging on its own. The vocals are a washed-out scream delivered via wormhole and the electronics slowly gather their forces and cut the power before storming the gates.

Visions wraps up the EP with the kind of drum circle you’d actually like to see gather on your lawn, if only because they’d disembowel the original protesting drum circle which reeked of patchouli and Sharpies. If your resistance hasn’t been worn down by now, the Soft Moon ensures that the closer will beat whatever life was life right the hell out of you. The near-tribal beat gathers layers and layers of rhythmic noise before coming to a complete halt as though someone concerned for your well-being had pulled the plug somewhere.

All in all, it’s the perfect soundtrack for a movie I wouldn’t want to be the protagonist in because if the sonic cues are any indication, it’s all going to end very badly. 9/10 (Canadian).

/s/CLT

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