Canooooopy: Disconnected Words Connect the Worlds

Japanese producer Canooooopy draws from the more mundane moments of daily life. “The sound of an air conditioner, the rhythm of a pen falling down, a conversation from other people,” are just some of the ho-hum influences on his music that he mentions in an interview with Japanese music blog Hi-Hi-Whoopee, capping his answer off with “a monotonous life.” Canooooopy subscribes to a “100% sampling” ethos, and builds every track on his first CD release Disconnected Words Connect the Worlds from noises that seem innocuous enough in their original context—an automated telephone greeting, people chatting, children singing. Yet he’s able to warp them into disjointed little worlds, and Disconnected serves as a solid introduction to one of the wonkier beatmakers to pop up out of Japan over the last couple of years.

A lot of what makes Canooooopy interesting emerged via a recent collaborative project, wherein he teamed up with fellow Japanese trackmakers Lidly and Axion117 to form Ganghouse Fungi. That trio’s work often featured experimental dashes that hinted at what Canooooopy would do on Disconnected, but his partners hailed from a more traditional crate-digging beat scene, one influenced by the sound of American hip-hop and favoring jazz samples. Canooooopy, meanwhile, appears tied to nothing—he loads up on samples and field recordings and melds them together into forms few rappers could contend with, all in Garageband (an approach he shares with Grimes, who along with James Brooks of Default Genders have shared Canooooopy’s music online).

Despite the herky-jerky nature of his collage approach to music, Canooooopy shows an attention to detail on Disconnected that makes his best tracks click just right. “Viral Address Stalker” kicks off by nabbing the intro to Marnie Stern’s “Plato’s Fucked Up Cave” (“Get me out of this prison, man/ Let me run, run, run, run, run”) and looping her stuttered “run,” building a beat around it before playing with the vocal some more. “Songs About a Sunken Hope” bounces between various vocal samples of British-accented words and syllables, Canooooopy timing it just right so no voice rams into the other and everything syncs with the skittery beat. Even brief numbers such as “Kaleido World Mysty Sisters” and “Doppelinedancerstomps” treat every second and sound with care, not wasting anything during their 90-second runtimes.

Disconnected’s jagged construction also emphasizes an eerie atmosphere, the rush of voices often making for some uneasy moments. Sometimes it’s simply an unexpected sound—”Mono Montaged Oratorio” is packed with sampled dialogue, but none comes through headphones more clearly than a cutesy voice saying “baby” for a jarring second. Usually, though, Canooooopy lets the mishmash of sounds create an unnerving feel that lingers over the entire beat, such as on the bouncy “Too Long Way Home”, where voices mixed deep in the track constantly sneak into the main rhythm. The album suffers when Canooooopy strips the music down and tries to create something creepy with minimalism, as he’s at his best when sounds jumble together and unsettling moments emerge from the clamor.

Even though Canooooopy has an attentive eye when it comes to individual tracks, Disconnected doesn’t quite click together as an album, as certain stretches of it can get a little too cluttered. But then an individual track will burst through—such as the burbling “The Polygonic Spree” or clattering “The Phantom of the Gauss”—and remind how he’s able to turn a scattershot collection of samples into something otherworldly. It’s a great introduction to a producer able to alchemize the everyday into the surreal.

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Various Artists: The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume Two (1928-1932)

Money, you might have noticed, is on the mind of many musicians. As music consumption continues to shift toward digital methods of distribution, from illegal downloads that pay the artist nothing to authorized streams that pay very little, some makers are wondering just how they’ll continue to make. If the consumer isn’t willing to foot the bill by paying, how can the product exist?

Though the circumstances have changed in most every respect during the 80 years since the Paramount Records empire crumbled, this core question hasn’t: How do you keep putting music out when you’re no longer pulling money in? The success of Paramount Records, a loss-leader meant to move the music-playing furniture made by the Wisconsin Chair Company as World War I came to a close, was a surprise for the business’ leaders. The shoddily recorded and haphazardly manufactured shellac discs became a rather big boon as the ’20s roared. Hired in 1923, J. Mayo Williams, an ambitious talent scout who had headed north from Arkansas, led the pivotal Paramount charge. He assembled and managed a roster of uncontested originals, from Blind Lemon Jefferson and Ma Rainey to Blind Blake and Jelly Roll Morton. But in 1927, Williams left the label following a series of injuries and insults from the company’s white owners and officers. That’s where the first volume of The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records—a massive two-set collaboration between Jack White’s Third Man, John Fahey’s revived Revenant and a fleet of researchers, writers, graphic designers, fabricators, builders, archivists, printers and collectors—closes.

Williams’ departure, though, isn’t the end of Paramount’s rise, even if it might denote the start of the fall. The second volume of The Rise & Fall is instead a catalogue brimming with genius, no matter that the label’s scouts in fields and offices alike didn’t carry the same historical clout as Williams. Charley Patton and Son House, Lottie Kimbrough and Dock Boggs, Geeshie Wiley and Skip James, Thomas Dorsey and Emry Arthur: Those are only some of the names that arrive for this set, which stretches from 1928 until the label’s unceremonious end in the wake of the Great Depression in 1932. That’s when the money ran out for music.

The talent had not stopped shipping into Grafton’s record-pressing plant during that time of widespread financial woe. In fact, the 800 remastered tracks offered in Volume Two document the roots of gospel and swing and the intensification of blues and jazz through the efforts of some of American music’s formative musical minds. You can hear the earliest echoes of bluegrass, which would be born a dozen years after Paramount closed, and antediluvian traces of rock’n’roll, hot on its heels with added electricity.

The funds, however, just weren’t what they used to be. “Despite many of the great talents he helps bring to Grafton, you can’t sell the records if no one has money to buy them,” writes Scott Blackwood of the pale, bespectacled and pivotal Paramount recruiter Art Laibly. “Likely, out on the road or riding the rails across the South, Art Laibly’s anxieties about the future would sometimes get the best of him. The Crash. The poor getting poorer. A part of him knowing the days of the Race Records business were numbered.” At least they kept it going long enough to firm up the foundation for their rather young country’s recording pedigree.

You can examine that foundation for yourself on Volume Two. You can ponder the existential strangeness of Patton’s still-singular approach to the blues and his divisive belief in both religion and the bottle. (His “Prayer of Death” tunes as Elder J.J. Hadley are essential.) You can sway to the woozy, wobbly string-band fare of the Mississippi Sheiks. You can nod and shake to the delirious a cappella spirituals of the Famous Blue Jay Singers of Birmingham, particularly the delirious and pulsing “Clanka-A-Lanka (Sleep on Mother)”. Skip James’ inescapable “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” is here, as are two versions of Dock Boggs’ “Will Sweethearts Know Each Other” and Geeshie Wiley’s continually magnetic and tragic “Last Kind Words Blues”. Had the unlikely and uncanny venture of Paramount never thrived, and had these songs never been captured, it’s easy to imagine the next several decades of music taking very different turns.

Not everything here changed the world, of course, and some of Paramount’s hidden gems arrive through its most obscure oddities. Brother Fullbosom’s “A Sermon on a Silver Dollar” is a racially and religiously irreverent faux sermon on the power of that most almighty ducat. “Wicked Treatin’ Blues”, a duet for despondent harmonica and vocals that seem delivered from a deathbed, hypnotizes with sadness. George Hamilton’s “Chimes Blues” offers a delightful piano jaunt. Ollie Hess’ parlor-ready “Mammy’s Lullaby” combines arching, urbane vocals and simply picked guitar—country, meet cosmopolitan. Two of the best and most truly haunting songs in the entire Paramount oeuvre belong to Rube Lacy, a little-known blues moaner who only recorded these two cuts as far as anyone can tell. In its waning days, without Williams in command, Paramount was grasping for anything to sell. Many of these didn’t do that, but thanks to Paramount for thinking they might—they are wonderful, ponderous relics. The worst that can be said about any of these songs is that they’re simply curious; the best is that they’re landmarks.

The first volume of The Rise & Fall came housed in an impressive chestnut box, lined with green felt and accessorized with metallic emblems. Its six LPs lived in a wooden record book, and the marbled brown vinyl looked as though it had been cut from the cross-section of some grand old oak. An accompanying USB drive—a “Jobber-Luxe”, Third Man likes to call it—contained the central trove of songs and graphics in a tarnished brass device that seemed pulled from a steampunk’s wildest pipe dream. Both the design and the text were nominated for Grammys in early December, and deservedly so.

You can expect much the same for Volume Two, which steps into the machine age through an aluminum replication of RCA Victor’s beautiful Special Model K portable record player. When the outside latches are unlocked, sets of rivets on either half unscrew to reveal the contents—on one side, a packet of promotional Paramount reproductions and six alabaster white records that sparkle with holograms when lit; on the other, two dense books that detail what’s known about all the musicians involved on these tracks and Blackwood’s romantic history of the second Paramount era. A second USB drive sits lodged in this volume’s navy blue felt. It’s the Paramount eagle, wings up and cast in bright aluminum. The Streamline Moderne approach intends to pull the music from a past of rural antiquity and toward urban modernity. “The machine was the source of America’s might and standing in the world,” Blackwood told Wired in October, “our capacity as an industrial power that connected the vast plains of our country.”

Still, it’s hard to see these sets as more than museum pieces, or, at best, fetishist collector items that lock vital research, history, and context away in a private vault with actual latches. Taken together, volumes one and two of The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records are mighty resources for understanding how the near-century of music that has followed first moved. But it’s a shame that such indispensable history remains so relatively unobtainable. Issued in editions of 5,000, these bulky boxes cost $400 each; tellingly, the first volume is still available through Third Man, more than a year after its release.

The price, believe it or not, is worth it. Given the work that went into each package, it’s hard to imagine that White is building his own private railroad with the profits. The treasures in the sets are staggering and sprawling, capable of inducing laughter, heartache, belief, and disbelief. There is bedrock and bedlam alike. But as Blackwood himself writes of a different but not entirely separate era, “You can’t sell the records if no one has money to buy them.” It’s hard to believe that most people have an extra mortgage payment sitting around for this history lesson, however great it may be.

And that’s a shame, because this music still moves. Not only do many of these songs maintain a vibrancy and a spirit that function even now, but they’re part of a still-incomplete story. Paramount was infamously terrible at record-keeping and accounting, so researchers like archivist Alex van der Tuuk are still finding facts and chasing myths to build a more complete label history. “Sun to Sun”, a steady-swerving Blind Blake tune recorded in November 1931, hadn’t been heard by modern ears until a copy was found in a steamer trunk in Raleigh, North Carolina, by the collector Marshall Wyatt in 2007. And Willie Brown, who contributes some of the best blues guitar to either set, remains something of a ghost, despite his relationships with the more famous House and Patton. “No conclusive evidence has been found to prove that this is indeed the real Willie Brown,” van der Tuuk writes of Brown’s believed burial site.

Such mysteries sit close to the core of Pitchfork contributor Amanda Petrusich’s 2014 book, Do Not Sell at Any Price. “There is even a vague fear that rare-record collecting could one day become analogous to fine-art collecting,” Petrusich writes early in her book, “the obligation of wealthy aristocrats whose consumption of art is more a statement of status than a function of love or even understanding.” It’s unfortunate, then, that in an age of infinite digital replication, where media need not be scarce, these archival releases have intentionally realized those fears by turning this music into artifacts for only those who can afford it. The new Jobber-Luxe contains an application that plays all of these tracks in specific orders or at random. If these boxes ever sell out, let’s hope Third Man considers its money made and puts that player online, so that more listeners can know exactly where they came from.

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J. Cole: 2014 Forest Hills Drive

J. Cole is a student of hip-hop, the kind who moves to New York to stalk Jay-Z for an opportunity to rap for him, peppers his lyrics with nods to the greats, and pens an apology to Nas when his biggest single comes across as too poppy. Cole is aware of the structure and pace of good rap albums and anxious to apply them to his own music. For his third record, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, he channels the nostalgic self-mythology of Jay-Z’s Black Album. The cover is shot at his childhood home as Eminem did on the Marshall Mathers LP. The tracklist swaps s’s for z’s (“Wet Dreamz”, “A Tale of 2 Citiez”, “Love Yourz”) like 2pac’s All Eyez on Me. With 2014, Cole is certain he’s made his classic; he’ll tell you as much partway through the 15-minute credit roll “Note to Self”, which apes Kanye West’s joyous, candid College Dropout closer “Last Call”. Problem is, Cole hasn’t earned it yet.

J. Cole is a workmanlike MC, a good-natured populist grappling with the ridiculousness of sudden celebrity. He makes passable albums with memorable singles. He’s great at synthesizing everyman relationship woes into terse pop nuggets. He works well with guests; his collaborations with Drake, Missy Elliott, and TLC are highlights in his growing body of work, and he gets along so well with Kendrick Lamar that the duo is rumored to have clandestinely recorded an EP together. In its quest to canonize Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive eschews both singles and guests. It’s a block of Cole raps and Cole hooks served mostly over Cole beats. Bold move, and where it floats, it soars, but it flops gloriously when it doesn’t.

The laughable wordplay fails of mixtapes albums past (“My money like a senior, watch it graduate,” “Cole heating up like that leftover lasagna”) are thankfully absent, but Cole isn’t yet sharp enough of a storyteller to carry a full album on his own. “Wet Dreamz” recounts his first time having sex in lurid detail, from lying to a girl about his prowess to looking at porn for pointers to finding out the girl’s been lying, too. It’s relatable but hardly the kind of story you want to hear more than once. “No Role Modelz” parlays a suspicion about a hookup being a golddigger into a tirade about black women lacking respectable public figures, crudely suggesting that “she’s shallow but the pussy deep.” (For all the talk of Cole’s enlightenment he’s a perfect brute when it comes to women, and “No Role Modelz” is something of a tacit admission.) 2014 Forest Hills Drive often plays at a depth it never delivers.

Still, ceding an entire hour to a rapper who works best in short bursts works better here than anyone could’ve expected. “03’ Adolescence” flips the classic rags-to-riches narrative inside out as Cole starts to reminisce about how hard he had it growing up only to get a chin check from a friend whose future isn’t half as bright. “G.O.M.D.”, “Fire Squad”, and “A Tale of 2 Citiez” all flash Cole’s technical excellence, while “Intro”, “Apparently”, and “St. Tropez” emote through his gruff singing voice. The production here is never less than delightful; Cole’s own beats run coyly referential samples through milky instrumental embellishments. “Wet Dreamz” is an adept “Impeach the President” flip, and “St. Tropez” reimagines Mobb Deep’s “Give Up the Goods (Just Step)” as sedate, orchestral R&B.

2014 Forest Hills Drive is Cole planting himself in the pantheon of rap greats, a volley to the spike of Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse. He gets more than a little ahead of himself, though, claiming to be better than Slick Rick, LL Cool J, Rakim, and Big Daddy Kane on “January 28th”. Kane and Rakim’s flows were tighter, LL’s swagger is inimitable, and Rick’s stories surge with a purpose nothing in J. Cole’s canon can muster. This self-aggrandizing pageantry is a ultimately bad look on a guy who earns his keep speaking to the struggles of the common man, and these songs work best when they’re not busy telling you how good they think they are. 2014 Forest Hills Drive is a decent album selling itself as great. It wraps itself in the garments of a classic, but you can see that the tailoring is off.

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Leonard Cohen: Live in Dublin

“Are you humoring me?” asks Leonard Cohen with a warm grin shortly after the first intermission of Live in Dublin, a new concert film and triple album captured in September 2013 at the Irish venue now known as 3Arena. He’s partway into “Tower of Song”, originally from 1988’s I’m Your Man, where he plinks out a rudimentary keyboard solo over canned percussion, in between vocals about Hank Williams a hundred floors above him and being “born with the gift of a golden voice.” He adds, “If these are the crumbs of compassion that you offer to the elderly, I am grateful.”

If audiences have been humoring Cohen, who was 79 then and is 80 now, for his age, they’ve been doing it for decades; on “Tower of Song”, he also admits to having an “ache in the places where I used to play.” In fact, Live in Dublin is only the latest live album since Cohen returned to the road in 2008, having been swindled out of his savings by a manager. He previously released the closely similar CD/DVD collection Live in London, documenting a show from that first year of touring. And there was 2010’s Songs From the Road, compiling a somewhat different set of songs from various 2008-2009 performances. Whether Field Commander Cohen: Tour of 1979, Cohen Live (drawing from 1988 and 1993 tours), or Live at the Isle of Wight 1970, live material from the supposedly not-so-golden-voiced songwriting giant is hardly lacking.

There’s still plenty to recommend on Live in Dublin—in all earnestness, at that. For one, though Live in London has shipped more than 200,000 copies worldwide, odds are that for many who might like this package it will be their first live Cohen recording. Besides, compared with the already-magnificent London set it adds several songs that wound up on 2012 studio album Old Ideas, making this a closer to exhaustive document of the perhaps no-longer-touring artist’s legacy; though you’ll probably get more replay value out of the audio component, the quality of the video—billed as Cohen’s first to be shot in high-definition—is a noticeable improvement. Mostly, though, anyone curious about Live in Dublin might at least want to stream the audio or rent the video because, whatever similar releases came before, it’s one monumental tower of a song.

Nothing here changes the foundations of Cohen’s narrative, but as with any archetypal legend, it’s made for retelling. The Jewish-Buddhist poet from Montreal whose songs are often best known through others’ covers reminded crowds on his money-making tours that—despite a perhaps overstated reputation for aloofness (watch him doing standup comedy in 1965’s Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen)—he’s a gifted and generous interpreter of his own work. His speak-singing style has grown deeper and gruffer, but not unbecomingly so, particularly amid so much use. His songs, as former backup singer Jennifer Warnes once told the author of a 1994 Cohen biography, aim to reach “the place where God and sex and literature meet,” but his work since returning has had mostly just the artist’s advancing years in common with death’s-door albums such as Bob Dylan‘s Time Out of Mind or Johnny Cash‘s (Cohen-covering) albums with Rick Rubin. He’s still more of the darkly humorous standup comedian. Yes, he skips off stage.

For all the talk of literature that attaches itself to Cohen, it’s striking when digesting his work at such great length how greatly he prizes the concept of song. His most famous composition, “Hallelujah”, in a verse left out of the Shrek-immortalized John Cale (and thus Jeff Buckley) versions but kept in here, envisions standing “before the Lord of Song, with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah”; toward the end of the Dublin encore, he refers to the joy of being “united with you in the spirit of song.” Whether on 1967’s “Suzanne”, where “you touched her perfect body” (but only “with your mind”), or 1974’s “Chelsea Hotel #2”, where “we are ugly but we have the music,” physical reality can be a flawed vessel for this spirit. On “Anthem”, a song from 1992’s The Future that featured on Trent Reznor‘s Natural Born Killers soundtrack and precipitates Cohen’s first traipse off the Dublin stage, he sings, “Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack, a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.” Perfection is impossible, he explained around the time of song’s release, noting that imperfection is “where the resurrection is.”

Cohen’s fatalism doesn’t prevent him from at least striving toward perfection. Longtime collaborator Sharon Robinson, who sang backup during the recent shows along with English duo the Webb Sisters, in her new photograph book On Tour with Leonard Cohen describes the concerts as a “detailed snapshot” of Cohen’s life’s work, “meticulously put together” and requiring “a Zen-like focus.” The virtuosity of the backing band, which includes an additional six musicians along with the singers, is a further expression of Cohen’s graciousness onstage. Despite the self-conscious artifice of “Tower of Song”, the rest of the performances are based in rootsier music, whether American folk, rock, jazz, and blues or European traditions (Spanish guitarist Javier Mas also plays lesser-known instruments including the bandurria, the laud, and archilaud). Cohen’s willingness to stretch his songs to their limits with instrumental and vocal solos means these concert recordings can’t be as lean as 2002’s The Essential Leonard Cohen—the Dublin set consists of 30 songs lasting about three hours, and the video portion adds three Old Ideas tunes performed in Canada—but in ringing the bells that still can ring, it’s perhaps truer to Cohen’s philosophy.

One more aspect setting Live in London apart from studio Cohen was his joyful interaction with the audience, and if anything that has intensified on Dublin. By the encore’s opening “So Long, Marianne”, he’s eliding words in the chorus as if startled by the crowd’s jubilant belting of the 1967 song; “You sing so pretty,” he says. And much as Cohen is willing to trust his songs to cover artists and to world-class bandmates, he also brings “the spirit of song” by closing the night with someone else’s: “Save the Last Dance for Me”, most famously recorded by the Drifters in 1960 (none other than Lou Reed worked with Doc Pomus, who cowrote the song with Mort Shuman, and Reed has said the song was written on the day of the wheelchair-bound, polio-stricken Pomus’s wedding, to a Broadway actress and dancer). By this point in the recording, my first time experiencing the concert, I was expecting something sublime, and that’s what I got, though not in the way I expected: The stage lights shine on the audience members, who do much of the hook-singing work for Cohen. Forget your perfect offering.

Cohen is a genially commanding stage presence, falling on his knees at crucial moments and doffing his cap for his accompanists’ solo turns. The Old Ideas songs, sprinkled throughout the set at just the right intervals, are naturally at home, capped with the wry God-speaking-to-a-man-named-Leonard “Going Home”. Otherwise, the songs you know and plenty of songs you should know better are probably here. There’s the apocalyptic The Future title track and the organ-drenched take on 1969’s “Bird on the Wire”, the smoldering Robinson co-write “In My Secret Life”, off of 2001’s Ten New Songs, and same pair’s bleak 1988 I’m Your Man collaboration “Everybody Knows” (used by Guns N’ Roses as  intro music on some Use Your Illusions shows). I’m Your Man‘s disco-funk “First We Take Manhattan”, covered by backup singer Warnes with Stevie Ray Vaughan as part of her influential 1987 tribute album Famous Blue Raincoat, runs right into a powerfully restrained take on that album’s title track, originally from 1971’s Songs of Love and Hate (“Sincerely, a friend,” Cohen signs off this time).

Paradoxically, on the songs at greatest risk of overexposure, it’s often the instrumental interludes, not Cohen’s poetry, that make my hair stand on end, further justifying the songwriter’s faith. This is especially the case for “Hallelujah”, bringing to mind another less-covered lyric—one that underscores where Cohen differs from the trickster likes of Dylan: “I’ve told the truth/ I didn’t come to fool you.” For the last time, no, the good people of Dublin weren’t humoring him. There might not be a single perfect, all-encompassing Cohen recording, but there’s this. “You can add up the parts/ But you won’t have the sum,” he sings on “Anthem”, and despite his failed tax-avoidance retirement strategy, I’m inclined to trust the Zen priest in the bolo tie and fedora.

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Primordial: Where Greater Men Have Fallen

After two decades as a band, Primordial can be excused for taking their time to sprint. On each of their last two records, the Irish metal stalwarts lurched into motion, as though priming the engine of some great old machine. To the Nameless Dead, from 2007, reached its racing, blackened beat after a distended prelude of electric guitar haze. Four years later, Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand wove through militaristic field recordings, meandering acoustic guitar, and galloping war drums for two minutes before ripping into its melee.

The time for hesitation, however, has ostensibly passed. Where Greater Men Have Fallen, the band’s excellent eighth album, begins with a very big boom. The drums open with a heavy hit, followed by a jagged-edged riff and a countering lead that’s pulled as taut as a high wire. And when frontman Alan Averill, or A.A. Nemtheanga, screams “Go,” the beat only intensifies, with the guitars flexing extra muscle, too. In the time it’s recently taken Primordial to get into a song, Averill—one of the most captivating bandleaders in metal—is already screaming tales of pillaging armies, buried children, and massed graves. For a band that’s always paid so much attention to the end of empires and lives, the pressure of their own creeping morality seems to have induced added urgency.

Primordial have already flirted with their own demise: In 2010, after an onstage meltdown in Greece, Averill publicly apologized for the actions of drummer Simon O’Laoghaire and admitted that Primordial sought an immediate replacement. “Over the last 10 years, we have had many problems with Simon’s alcohol and substance problems,” he wrote. “We have tried many, many times to help him out, but on Saturday things reached a new low.” But the quintet persevered and summarily recorded the death-conquering record Redemption.

The survivor symptoms seem more prominent, however, on Where Greater Men Have Fallen, an eight-song set that finds Primordial more focused—but just as fierce—as ever. Primordial’s discography is a stylistic field trip. They have ventured between straight black metal homage and heavy metal heroics, but they have specialized in a mix of the two, laced with idyll accents, acoustic instruments, and the recognizable melodies of Celtic folk. There’s neither space nor time for that here. “The Seed of Tyrants” heads straight into a black metal ascent, the band easing the tension between the rhythm and riff only to pull it tight again. The song ends much where it starts, redirecting only for a brief mid-tempo midsection that serves to emphasize the ferric strength of its furious conclusion. “Babel’s Tower” locks quickly into a lumbering doom groove. Averill uses the pulpit to croon and cry his prophecy of the world’s end. At various points, the song jumps into double-time and half-time, but both instances swivel around the same languid riff-and-rhythm pair. Compared to Primordial’s past successes, the stripped-and-centered approach might seem simplistic, but the hour-long result is more immediate because of it. From beginning to end, Fallen feels like a compulsory listen.

Late-album highlight “Born to Night” does make time for a long and gentle introduction, but the magnetic tune that eventually emerges bears the theatrics of Iron Maiden and the twisting maneuvers of Confessor. What’s more, every turn of Averill’s voice here feels like a plea from some hardened soul singer, begging you to follow him into his battle. That’s an essential element of Fallen’s appeal; though Averill has been one of the most capable singers in metal for two decades, he has tapped into a new potency, delivering these tales of loss in search of redemption like Mahalia Jackson looking for her Lord. It’s surprising that, a quarter-century into Primordial, Averill is now perhaps better than ever. His performance during “Come the Flood”, for instance, is electrifying. He leaps between falsetto crests and bellowed lows during the first verse, broods and commands through the chorus, and vamps with gusto in the turnarounds like he’s the son of Robert Plant. On these eight tracks, Averill is in total control and absolutely thrilling for it. 

But none of this is to say that, just because Primordial omitted some acoustic accessories and upped the rock spectacles, they’ve turned away from their Irish pedigree, always such an essential part of the music they’ve made. Rather, the opening title track swivels around a chorus to which you might lift a pint in a pub, its sing-along swagger reinforced by shouted harmonies and guitars that aim upward. More important, though, is the way Averill questions his nationality, pride, and sense of belonging in these lyrics. There is an incensed resignation at work here, a feeling that Ireland is only another territory that forsook some of its own early virtues. “This dreadful history we have sired,” Averill offers, “is the black, bleached future that you have desired.” That suspicion exists outside of Ireland, of course, and resonates across the Atlantic right now in particularly shameful ways. It’s the right time for Primordial to push pause on their nationalist isolation—not only for their respective age, but also for our collective one.

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Supersilent: 12

Supersilent is a band built around a singular vision of improvised music without ego. The group hasn’t been very active lately—the recordings that comprise 12 were all made in 2011—but they were also never a conventional band in the first place, meeting only to perform completely improvised pieces together and never discussing their music before or after playing it. Albums are named numerically in sequence, and the tracks are named the same way. If you follow Norway’s improvised music and avant garde scenes, you likely know the work of Helge Sten, who records on his own as Deathprod and has produced Jenny Hval and Jaga Jazzist, Arve Henriksen, who records as a solo artist and session musician, and Ståle Storløkken, who has played with Terje Rypdal among many others. In Supersilent, though, the three musicians work assiduously to efface their usual identities, collectively creating music that defies easy categorization.

12, their twelfth album as the title implies, is no exception. It is at times intensely beautiful, playing like a soundtrack to footage of the frozen surface of Europa, but more often exudes a creepy, ashen vibe, as if the mission to Europa had gone just slightly wrong, leaving no way for the survivors to escape an alien world. More aggressively abstract and unsettling than most of their previous work, it nevertheless has a compelling shape, leaving the ice fields of its outer thirds for a place no less strange but more active. Storløkken’s keyboards and Henriksen’s trumpet rise out of the churning textures to become recognizable for fleeting moments, and it becomes clear just how much of that foreboding texture that greets you at the beginning of the LP is trumpet, stretched and smeared to a point where it surrenders its identity and merges with the electronics.

Direct reference points for this music are hard to come by. Pink Floyd’s most consciously out music, Iannis Xenakis’ Metastaseis, Ash Ra Tempel’s Schwingungen, Ligeti’s work with tone clusters, and Tangerine Dream’s Atem all operate in similar sonic territory, but Supersilent arrive there from a completely different direction. Whether they’re focused on a cavernous, gravelly drone or subsuming a nascent melody under a scraping wall of electronics, the results are spellbinding and make for a unique entry in the band’s already deep discography.

from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1APYRMI