Album of the Day: Xiu Xiu – A Promise

Even leaving to one side its recurrent use of dissonant synths and forebodingly driven electronic beats, Xiu Xiu’s A Promise shares with a highly select handful of records, including Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked At Me, or Giles Corey’s eponymous debut, the capacity utilise crushing sadness in such a way that it is at least as effective as distorted atonality, run through a looped effects chain.

Though it may appear a less than obvious comparison, A Promise bears to me a striking similarity to D.o.A: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle. Both albums display a remarkable variety in generic format and instrumental content, whilst this panoply of styles feel linked enough to function as chromatic dimensions to the prismatic event of a single origin. Both albums make use of lifted conversations between clandestine queers: where Throbbing Gristle used actual audio recordings of gay sex workers, dealing with and discussing rough trade in “Valley of the Shadow of Death,” in A Promise, many of the lyrics in “Sad Pony Guerilla Girl” are ostensibly lifted directly from the conversations of an oblivious lesbian couple, meeting above Jamie Stewart. That such lyrics as

You leave me out on the steps
You dress me up like a boy
You say that I am your secret love
you say to be quiet but
I want to tell the whole world

We do it in the back of our little car
Pull up my pants and fix my bra
Go on home, go home to your kids
I’m not going to be quiet and
I’m going to tell the whole block

Clearly indicate the nature of this relationship – closeted, divided by at the very least age, responsibility and class – we can ruminate on the ethics of the archive of queer experience, at a level of recording (in one mode or another) secret conversations and secret identities, when we can also recognise the extremely disparate desires in relation to the secrecy, itself.

Just as D.o.A had “Weeping,” A Promise has its own heart-wrenching acoustic number: a cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” Stewart’s mode of address, so often placing himself in the feminine position as he – a queer man – repeats the words of queer women, speaks at once to the paradoxical potentials for unification across all manner of social lines, through isolation, hardship and despair. It is as such that, for all the challenging alternativity of A Promise and Xiu Xiu’s output throughout their career, it is abundantly clear there is not a hint of irony in this song’s rendition. The capacity for finding similarity within difference, through surprising requisition, reappropriation, recontextualisation and reconstitution is, I believe, an expressly queer one.

The vinyl edition I have of A Promise is relatively unique in its design, lacking the infamous candid photograph of a nude Hanoi sex worker by the name of Hang, holding the baby doll that remains in this alternative cover, upside down. Stewart’s own account of the photographs provenance is a remarkable mixture of moving, comedic, uncomfortable and frustrating in its simultaneous presentation of self-consciousness and insensitivity. Stewart’s ultimate philosophy regarding his decision to take the photograph in question, “sometimes, you’ve got to do the wrong thing,” is by no means a denial of the slight sickening response many may have to it. Whether the alternative cover here is the result of bowdlerisation is difficult to determine, but the spartan abstraction of my own edition does bring to mind Tony Just’s series of photographs of empty, sanitized restrooms that were sites of cruising – what Muñoz considered to be the spirit photography of the “ghosts of public sex.” The spectral presence of Hang remains, noticeable in his omission.



Album of the Day: Keiji Haino / Jim O’Rourke / Oren Ambarchi – In the Past Only Geniuses Were Capable of Staging the Perfect Crime (Also Known as a Revolution) Today Anybody Can Accomplish Their Aims With the Push of a Button

The ninth, (as time of writing) most recent and perhaps most successful of their seemingly annual collaborative releases thus far, Keiji Haino, Jim O’Rourke and Oren Ambarchi’s In the Past Only Geniuses Were Capable of Staging the Perfect Crime (Also Known as a Revolution) Today Anybody Can Accomplish Their Aims with the Push of a Button feels like something of a throwback, in the best possible way.

The comfort the three artists clearly now feel with one another allows for the dynamic to depart from the typical mode in which Haino-san forever appears as the master, supported by artists who in any other context would be top-billed as giants in their field, now dwarfed by his singular presence (indeed, the only time this dynamic has ever felt reversed was in Haino-san’s collaboration with Derek Bailey). This is not to caste Haino-san as an ungenerous improvisational partner, but to acknowledge the extent to which co-conspirators, particularly those playing instruments that qualify as the typical rhythm section can find themselves naturally aiming toward the subordinate position, especially when faced with such an icon as Keiji Haino.

Nevertheless, here, the degrees of space and engagement afforded to and between each musician feels to be of the utmost equity. The often grippingly pensive ambiance effected by the piano skittering of Ambarchi’s cymbals and the deliberate yet restrained sporadic chords on O’Rourke’s six-string bass / Hammond organ don’t simply leave a gap that is forcefully pervaded by noise emanating from Haino-san’s guitar, electronics or vocals. Rather, there remains for the grand majority of this ~90 minute piece a tangible lacuna, a great unsaid. At certain points, above all in the second track “Decorously Decorously Decorously Decorously Decorously Decorously Decorously Decorously Decorously Decorously To Make Something Beautiful And Then Smash It Decorously,” this takes on an element of blues and jazz-fusion, with a generative bass hook on the part of O’Rourke that may only be rivaled by Michael Henderson’s on Miles Davis’ “Sivad” in terms of cool, that feels entirely reminiscent of the greater degree of rock’n’roll orientation in 不失者’s first eponymous release, not least of all とどかない. At others, it achieves the manifestation of Schopenhaueran nihil negativum with which Eugene Thacker attributes such solo Keiji Haino records as So, Black is Myself (I would personally proffer I Said, This is the Son of Nihilism).

In the latter half of In the Past…, we do, slowly and with great trepidation, build to a crescendo. Haino-san’s reverb-drenched guitar, in conjunction with his vocals, deliver an oneiric quality that is both sonically and affectively reminiscent of Kevin Shields and Patti Smith’s performance of The Coral Sea. Similarly, the only impression we really have of the build here is for it to become subject to absolute entropy and dissipation. That the accompanying video Black Truffle Records have released for the YouTube promotion of the second part of the titular track is compiled stock stills and footage of domestic vignettes, giving way to imagery of apocalyptic planes, subject to the Push of a Button to which the title alludes is entirely apposite. Throughout his decades of unchallenged avant-garde oscillations between precision and chaos, Keiji Haino has forever manifested as the paradox of the being so detached from the world, that he feels and expresses all its emotions at once. Such a phenomenon has the effect of flattening time to a degree that each record in which he is involved is a uniquely world-creating-and-destroying experience. And yet, though there (gratifyingly) appears to be no indication of Haino-san stopping any time soon, In the Past… has a peculiar sense of the ultimate in its finality, and therein lies its remarkable success.


Album of the Day: Richard Ramirez – Amplified Tactics


Noise’s capacity to make itself known through its own violent radical alterity allows for it often to reshape its own contexts. Accordingly, a series of live recordings reissued on vinyl, twenty years after their initial performance, and eighteen after their original 2xCDr release, neither commands nor is commanded by the same engine of cultural nostalgia that drives most such artifacts. The vibrancy and dynamic queer energy of Amplified Tactics, however, elevates these recordings to a dominating affective immediacy that fully realises the corporeal dimension of the genre. Contrasted to the greater degree of punishing consistency in Ramirez’ best known projects, Amplified Tactics oscillates at times wildly between ranges , timbres and sources – moving from high-EQ hissing to pseudo-melodious low-end rumbles from what sound like an electric drill, reminiscent of Sunn O))). By halfway through the final track, that effectively collapses space and time, creating an almost seamless blend between a performance in Monterrey and a performance in Reynosa, we begin to have intrusions of clear vocal records from gay porn, and eventually a genuinely funny gay radio talk show, listening ten overtly lascivious reasons “to go to the rodeo,” the celebration of Southern queer disregard for decorum feels entirely consistent with everything else we have heard for the past hour. An essential document of the North American queer underground, toying with conventions of masculinity

Album of the Day: Les Rallizes Dénudés – Cable Hogue Soundtrack

Audio from the eponymous 8mm/SOV compilation VHS released in the early 90s, Les Rallizes Dénudés’ Cable Hogue Soundtrack operates rather as a sonic comparison to Kurt Kren’s “Action Films” of the 1960s. Just as Kren’s silent video documentation of Otto Muehl and Günter Brus were not simply a beginning-to-end static recording of the performance, but rather engaged in volatile motion and violent jump cuts in an attempt to communicate the affect of the pieces, rather than just the content. It was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful. Here, listening to Cable Hogue Soundtrack, there is no meaningful beginning or end; everything is in media res. Indeed, various songs are repeated, it feels ad infinitum, but in accordance with Les Rallizes Dénudés’ mission statement of never playing a song the exact same way, from one gig to the next, it allows for the entire experience to be one of tracking variations on a theme, in the thick jungle of bootleg (/ quality) production values.

These two factors’ combination results in simultaneous impressions of the band’s ubiquity and obscurity, all the more bolstered by the fact that Les Rallizes Dénudés always appear to be far more invested in an accommodating pop sensibility than many (if any) of the Japanese psychedelic rock bands with whom I would most associate them (i.e Fushitsusha, Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O, YELLOW or Speed, Glue & Shinki). Then again, this pop sensibility – such as it is – cannot be understood as being at all akin to that of 60s Japanese bands such as The Jaguars, Savage, The Voltage or The Out Cast (of the G.S I Love You series fame). This is not necessarily approachable from the perspective of garage rock, surf or British invasion. It is pop music, but amongst whom it is popular remains unclear.

Accordingly, Cable Hogue Soundtrack, as with (or perhaps even more than) their other celebrated records, such Blind Baby Has its Mothers Eyes and Heavier Than a Death in the Family, does not give the impression of being at a Les Rallizes Dénudés show. Rather, it gives the impression of entering their space – a space you don’t quite understand. It gives the impression of a life defined by this band who fascinatingly seem to be so important and so ephemeral. This is as good an introduction as any to the invisible mark Les Rallizes Dénudés have left on rock music.

Album of the Day: Ghostwriter – Burial Grounds


The first release from the new gothic folk project of Kalee Beals, of dungeon synth act Mors Certa, Burial Grounds feels at times like an experiment with song structures, inasmuch as the presentation of relatively conventional song structures strikes the listener as something of an experiment. Compared to “No Shore” from witch house progenitor oOoOO’s Untitled demo CDr – an acoustic (ish) song from an electronic musician who claims to have initially played, and hated playing, guitar music, there is no quality of the begrudging distortion of the medium, here. Rather, Beals’ commitment to modes of ambiance translates harmoniously into swells and sighs that produce a sense of resonance far beyond what anyone might expect of a lo-fi debut such as this. “Lampshade” was the track that got me to purchase Burial Grounds before the song had even finished, and it certainly remains my favourite. Nevertheless, this whole album is well worth exploring fully.

Current projects 1: And the Maiden

And the Maiden is a moniker I recently began using whilst creating material (such as the first two tracks below) solely out of manipulated youtube audio rips of tourist and local footage of the waterfalls and gorges in and around Ithaca and the Finger Lakes area. This original project, titled Obstructing Egress will be my final submission for my current Environmental Humanities module. I’m excited to see where it will go beyond that in 2020.

Album of the Day: Slint – Spiderland

There are exceedingly few reissues that could justify an accompanying introduction / photo album, let alone a documentary DVD. Perhaps what makes Slint’s inimitable swansong album warrant such attempts at contextualisation – even explanation – is the abundantly clear self-evidence of their inevitable frustration. There is no satisfactory context for Spiderland‘s conception. No credible delineation for its genesis. Whilst it certainly instigated a genre, known as post-rock, which has spawned masterful, political, affective, affirmative pearls, amongst a great deal of self-serious glorified-jam-band dreck,  the term “post-rock” when applied to Spiderland is not that of a genre. It is that of a spatio-temporal outsideness. A knowing, yet entirely genuine, form of disconnection that is held by the very smallest number of artists. Indeed, it is such a profoundly burdensome isolationism, the only comparisons that leap to mind are of solo artists such as Keiji Haino or Jandek (both, ironically, defined by a staggering prolificity – quite the opposite of Slint’s two albums and one two-track EP).

Spiderland truly is post-rock. Indeed, when scrabbling for effective subgeneric terms of classification, one cannot help but start landing on “new weird,” “southern gothic,” “dirty realism” – as much an audiobook that comfortably cohabits with various literary works of Thomas Ligotti, Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver, I dare suggest Spiderland may constitute post-music, itself. Whilst the natural immediate comparison to make, with regard the juxtaposition and at times transmogrification between spoken word / short story and experimental rock song is The Velvet Underground’s White Light / White Heat, the distinction in their respective production has a profound effect on one’s interpretation. Whilst tracks like “The Gift” and “Lady Godiva’s Operation” have verbal/vocal narrative and song structure in many ways competing for prominence (consider the left / right audio split in the former, and Lou Reed’s jolting intrusions on the latter), in a manner Slint themselves more or less emulate in their first album Tweez, particularly with songs like “Darlene,” which makes allowance for the pleasingly alternative cognitive dissonance of experimental chimp rock bands of the era, such as Polvo, Heatmiser, Kudgel and Swirlies, Spiderland is an album with virtually no fight left, and thus, no competition between juxtaposing elements.

Rather, both the short fiction format and the proto-math progressions address an abundance of power, but one would be hard-pressed to say the power is that of Slint’s themselves. The music often drowns out the vocals, and thus we try and listen through the music, to hear them. Thus, despite the dark exhilaration of some of Spiderland‘s doomy distortion, every aspect of the record still ultimately takes a seat in the back, allowing the crackle of the needle and the reverberations of your own thoughts to fill and become the zone of precarious, interstitial liminality between the real world and the titular Spiderland. Everywhere and everything is reticent pulsations of agitated depression, sporadically giving way to explosive cries of desperation. Every question asked of a void, every proclamation a suicide note. Spiderland is an assemblage of mortalities. It is eternal in its fatality, it is perfect in its entropy. Albums like it are few and far between and, for that, we can be grateful.

I’m trying to find my way home

I’m sorry
And I miss you

I miss you
I’ve grown taller now
I want the police to be notified
I’ll make it up to you
I swear, I’ll make it up to you


Album of the Day: [Richard Ramirez] – The Machines Will React

A predominantly subdued collection of tracks from various Richard Ramirez outfits (almost entirely duo / solo efforts), The Machines Will React is, despite the multicephalous variance of the album, the closest I have thus far heard Ramirez reach drone. Favouring reverb in a lot of these tracks, listening to Machines, I am transported back to London, and the various churches, temporarily converted into noise/drone venues in Hackney and Bethnal Green. Perhaps due to this live-performance association, there is a greater sense of the deliberate, even the human, in Machines than so much of Ramirez’ work. Though never as forlorn as Yellow Swans’ Going Places, there is a pensive presence that feels particularly reminiscent of Dominick Fernow’s work as Prurient and even some of the crunchier sides of Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement. There are of course, exceptions to be found – most notably in the tracks performed as Werewolf Jerusalem (regular readers of my blog will be less than surprised to hear this is my favourite) and 12 Yr Old Proud Parent, both of which blast violently through the profound and thunderous fog.