Alexandra Atnif – “Seekers Of The Void” (2018)

Romanian rhythmic brutalist Alexandra Atnif is at it again, dropping a new 13-track album a few weeks back called Seekers Of The Void. We’ve followed her career for about three years now and it’s been interesting to hear the evolution of her sound during that period. Her earlier material definitely lived up to the “brutalism” in her stylistic self-description, but over time the pendulum has swung a bit more towards the rhythmic part, though always retaining it’s overall feel of blocky concrete, right angles, and cold, hard surfaces. It’s oppressive not just as a matter of design, but also of aesthetic.

And that brings us to Seekers Of The Void, which is undoubtedly Atnif’s most approachable album to date. From the beat-driven “Humanophobe” to the sic-fi inspired vibe of “Departurer”, her latest work, while retaining a sharp edge, is also dance floor ready. Don’t get me wrong, though, because it’s not all fun and games. There’s still some brutalist horror to be found here on tracks like “Mating Rituals Of The Untermensch”, which will forcibly rip your soul from your body and trample it, consigning you to an oblivion of darkness.

This is definitely my favorite of Alexandra’s albums. While I appreciated the power of her earlier work, at times it could become almost too much. But that’s not the case with Seekers Of The Void. It will still challenge your perceptions, and at times your sanity, but there are some rhythmic grooves her that offer respites from the brutalism.

Currently Seekers Of The Void is only available digitally. You can listen to the whole thing at the Crunch Pod Bandcamp page HERE as well as purchase the download if you like it.

Alexandra Atnif – “Session.2” (2016)

Alexandra Atnif certainly has been prolific in 2016, dropping something like six cassettes and a CD compilation of her earlier work on us in the course of 12 months. And so far I’ve managed to get my paws on all but one of them, the most recent of which is the two-track, 47-minute Session.2.

Alexandra refers to her style as rhythmic brutalism, a perfect description of her sound which had lots of hard angles and bleak soundscapes. There’s power in her music, like 100,000 volts blasting through your body and nailing you to the floor, stunned as your hair singes. But Session.2Session.2 is a slightly different feel. Whereas earlier works were more on the brutalism side of the line, Session.2 feels a bit more rhythmic, built on a foundation of club-worthy beats overlaid with crackling electricity and concrete. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to break out some glow sticks here. But parts of Session.2 make me want to get on my feet and move around, and not with a sort of anxious compulsion, but instead flirting with the edges of EBM, a corona-like effect of the sun crackling around the edges of my mind during an eclipse.

It’s likely her most approachable work to date. If you’re some kind of a hard-core purist that might be off-putting, but I continue to enjoy hearing her work as it flows over time, sometimes hard and crashing against the shore but also capable of graceful undulation. Session.2 is a tape I find myself constantly going over to the stereo to turn up… just a bit… now another slight twist of the knob… until the entire room is pulsating with sound. You can check out half of it HERE, and also buy either a digital download ($7) or an actual cassette ($6). I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us in 2017.

Alexandra Atnif – “Asymmetrik,” “Supersymmetry,” & “FATT GRABBERS: 015” (2016)

One of our top musical discoveries of 2015 was the industrial attack of the Los Angeles-based, Romanian-born brutalist beat-maker Alexandra Atnif. Holly deciding to buy Atnif’s co-release with Constable Flavour, Alexandra Atnif +/- Constable Flavor, from Amoeba Music was a shot in the dark that hit the bullseye dead center, and I’ve been obsessively buying her cassettes ever since – she’s got six tape releases that I know of, not to mention some stuff posted online… god help me if she ever puts out a limited edition vinyl, because I might just buy every copy they make.

We’re barely into June, and Alexandra already has three new cassette releases in 2016 – the full lengths Asymmetrik and Supersymmetry, plus the two-song ten minute FATT GRABBERS: 015. And she’s every bit as relentless and brutal as she ever was.

If 1950s and 1960s style Eastern Bloc architecture had a soundtrack, it would be the music of Alexandra Atnif. It’s all concrete cubes and small windows and sharp angles. It’s pre-fab kitchens and vinyl floors and it smells of antiseptic because there’s no airflow. It will make your skin prickle and your ears ring and your head buzz. It’s not for relaxing; it’s pure, (wo)man-made, and unstoppable. It is industry. It is industrial. It is raw power.

Asymmetrik is two sides of relentlessness, buzzing and pounding, over and over and over and over… Perhaps the only thing in nature that can compare to it is a pulsar, which is, fittingly, the end result of the death of a star by supernova, when all that is left behind is a super-dense, tiny (in galactic terms) star core spinning insanely fast and pumping out perfectly timed electromagnetic pulses into the void. The best part kicks in about 5:30 into Side B. I can’t explain why. But it will bend your reality. Asymmetrik. Pulsar. Done.

Supersymmetry gives us seven independent and differing tracks. It opens with the beat-focused “Gravity Waves,” but then takes a bit of a turn with “Ephemeral Moments of Mental Clarity,” which for much of the song emphasizes various buzzing sounds before going mega-beat-heavy during the second half, then merging the two styles to bring it home. In some ways Atnif’s shorter pieces, like those on Sypersymmetry that generally run in the five to eight minute range, are some of her more intriguing works, more like specific stories or experiences as opposed to her more free-form long works. I feel like these songs give her more of an opportunity to explore.

The FATT GRABBERS tape is much shorter than the other two, giving us two songs for a combined 10 minutes of music (you can listen to both tracks HERE). Side A strikes me as being the closest to anything even remotely “mainstream” that I’ve ever heard from Atnif, a track that I could imagine being part of something by say Nine Inch Nails or maybe even Tool. The B side, though, is hyper-aggressive, the beat taking the form of a static-fueled pulse hitting you right between the eyes over and over again. It’s hard to believe how different the two sides of this tape are, and they seem to represent the extreme ends of Atnif’s music.

Atnif has been quite prolific in the first half of 2016, and even has her first live performance this month (I wish I could be there for that…). While her style is unlikely to ever be mainstream, I think there are going to be bigger and better opportunities in her future, and I for one can’t wait to see what she’ll bring us next.

The Best of 2015

Man, 2015 was an absolutely fantastic year. Holly and I got to do some traveling, going to Portland (OR) and Salt Lake City to see concerts, doing some record shopping in Ireland and Paris, and of course attending our seventh consecutive Iceland Airwaves Music Festival. We went to shows with friends, listened to new music, and discovered new bands. So with all that in mind, here’s a recap of Life in the Vinyl Lane’s musical year.

Top 5 New Releases in 2015

1. Halleluwah – Halleluwah
2. Lífsins Þungu Spor – Dulvitund
3. .A:A. Mix. 1 – Alexandra Atnif
4. II – Albino Father
5. Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – John Grant

A lot of great music came out in 2014, and I had a hard time whittling down my initial list of a dozen albums to pick the Top 5. In fact I thought I had my list ready to go until I played Lífsins Þungu Spor for the first time about two weeks ago, and it actually bumped another album off of the list. I was confident in my choice of Halleluwah for the top spot because I’ve been playing their debut (not available on vinyl at this time) a ton, and it’s actually the second time they’ve made my year end best of list, with their 10″ K2R (which stylistically is miles away from Halleluwah) held down the #4 spot on my 2012 list. Dulvitund, Alexandra Atnif, and Albino Father were all performers I encountered for the first time in 2015, and John Grant rounds it out with his second appearance on one of my Top 5 New Releases lists.

I’m particularly happy with this list because, unintentionally, all the performers fall into different genres. Halleluwah brings a sort of old school popular music sound, something that reminds me of an updated version of Edith Piaf; Dulvitund is electro darkwave; Alexandra Atnif creates some edgy experimental industrial beats; Albin Father is the second coming of garage psych rock; and of course John Grant is John Grant in all of his loquacious brilliance. There’s something for just about everyone on that list.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

1. Alexandra Atnif (US/Romania)
2. No Stayer (US)
3. Captain Moonlight (Ireland)
4. SGNLS (US)
5. Kælan Mikla (Iceland)

This was a super-tough list for me this year. The first two choices were easy. We discovered Atnif this summer when we picked up one of her split tapes at Amoeba down in Los Angeles, and acquired two more of her cassettes over the course of the year. She’s super talented and isn’t afraid to experiment with some very severe sounds. No Stayer also came to me via a cassette (Rogue) when my friends over at Philadelphia’s Sit & Spin Records sent it my way. I was down with their style of hard rock/metal, but then sort of forgot about them for a bit before re-discovering them on my iPod a few weeks back, and I’ve pretty much been listening to them every day since. Captain Moonlight’s working class, Irish-issues-themed hip hop was a refreshing return of hip hop to being social protest music. I enjoyed SGNLs synth punk enough to pick up two of their records this year, SGNLS and II (not to be confused by the Albino Father album of the same name). Kælan Mikla was sort of a darkwave dark horse on this list, because they don’t currently have any physical releases (though they do have a track on Iceland Whatever, Vol. 1), but I was very impressed by their live show at Airwaves and can’t stop thinking about them.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

1. Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1 – Various
2. Lengi Lifi – HAM
3. Hype! Boxed Set – Various
4. W.C. Monster – Bootlegs
5. Great White WonderLes Rallizes Denudes

OK, I’m cheating a bit here, because my top choice is a cassette, and my #2 pick is a CD. But both of those were important additions for me this year. Philly’s Dopest Shit turned me on to a ton of great bands like No Stayer, SGNLS, Ruby Buff, and Spent Flesh. Lengi Lifi is a very difficult to find, CD-only HAM live album and was the last one I needed to complete the HAM discography. The Hype! Boxed Set was an opportunity for me to reconnect with some great Sub Pop 7″ records and exorcise those demons that still haunt me after selling my Sub Pop singles 20 years ago. W.C. Monster is a collectible Icelandic thrash record, while the Great White Wonder box set is just a flat-out psych noise trip from Japan’s Les Rallizes Denudes.

Top 5 Live Shows

1. The Kills – Roseland Theatre, Portland OR
2. Bubbi & DIMMA – NASA, Reykjavik
3. Bo Ningen – KEX Hostel, Reykjavik
4. The Sonics – Easy Street Records, Seattle
5. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City UT

This is the second consecutive year that The Kills (right) have taken the top spot in my Top 5 Live Shows, and I kind of feel like any year that I see them live, they’ll probably be my number one pick – they’re quite simply that damn good. At Airwaves the combination of Bubbi Morthens and DIMMA was a perfect blend of old school punk rock and new school technical metal, while Bo Ningen played the most insane, high energy set of crazy that I’ve ever seen. Easy Street Records crammed 200 people into their shop for show benefitting KEXP radio, and The Sonics played along with a veritable who’s who of Seattle rockers, including Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. And BRMC… well, they’d been at the top of my list of bands I wanted to see for years and years, and this summer we were able to use some airline points to basically get down to Salt Lake City for free to see them live, and they were outstanding.

This was probably the toughest list for me to put together, because we saw so many great shows this year. Agent Fresco, Hot Chip, Thievery Corporation, Steel Panther, HAM, Halleluwah… there were just so many awesome performances to choose from. But the five that made the final cut all had something special about them that took them to that next level and made them more memorable.

Top 5 Favorite Places to Buy Records

North America
1. Easy Street, Seattle
2. Silver Platters, Seattle
3. Diabolical, Salt Lake City
4. Fingerprints, Long Beach (CA)
5. Amoeba, Los Angeles

The Rest of the World
1. Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2. Reykjavik Record Shop, Reykjavik
3. Bell, Book & Candle, Galway (Ireland)
4. Syncrophone, Paris
5. All City, Dublin

Easy Street and Silver Platters are my regular local haunts, so it will be hard for them to ever get knocked out of the top spots. The same is true for Lucky and Reykjavik Record Shop – any year that we make it to Reykjavik, these two are likely to be at the top of list. One thing that all these places have in common is that they’re very supportive of their local scenes, and that’s important to me because when I travel I like to look for local music. Plus they had some cool and knowledgeable people, people who are obviously passionate about music.

Top 5 Music Books

1. Girl in a Band: A Memoir, by Kim Gordon
2. Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs, by Brendan Mullen
3. For Whom the Cowbell Tolls: 25 Years of Paul’s Boutique, by Dan LeRoy
4. The Truth of Revolution, Brother: The Philosophies of Punk,  by Robin Ryde, Lisa Sofianos, and Charlie Waterhouse
5. Crate Digger: An Obsession With Punk Records, by Bob Suren

I probably read about 15-20 music books in 2015, and the above were easily the best of the bunch. And of these five, Kim Gordon’s was by far the most compelling, probably more so as the story of an artist’s life and struggles than for anything specifically related to Sonic Youth. Truth be told, I’ve never owned a Sonic Youth album, and I couldn’t name single one of their songs if I tried (I may have to give up my music blogging card for that admission, but whatever), so I wasn’t particularly predisposed to feel any particular way about Girl in a Band. The Truth of Revolution, Brother is a pretty unique project, one that I sponsored via Kickstarter. Part of the appeal was that a couple of OG Icelandic punks were interviewed in it, specifically Einar Örn Benediktsson and Jón Gnarr. It was an interesting take on punk philosophy, which resonated even more so after hearing Einar Örn talk for a few minutes prior to a Ghostigital show about what being a punk means to him.

 

This year Holly asked if she could contribute a few lists of her own, and it seemed like a great idea to me since her perspective is often quite different from mine. So with minimal commentary, here are some of her top musical picks for 2015.

Top 5 New Releases in 2015 (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1. Dodge and Burn – The Dead Weather
2. FFS – FFS
3. Born Under Saturn – Django Django
4. Adjust to the Light – Fufanu
5. “Inside Paul’s Boutique”

We didn’t have any albums in common in our Top 5 lists, and in fact she only had one album I’ve even written about on hers! Number five is an outlier – it’s the roughly 12 hour incredible show that KEXP radio did in which they deconstructed all of Paul’s Boutique, literally playing in full every single song sampled by the Beastie Boys on that album, in the order they appeared on it. It’s epic. Don’t believe us? Check it out for yourself HERE.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1. East India Youth (UK)
2. Islam Chipsy (Egypt)
3. russian.girls (Iceland)
4. Alexandra Atnif (US/Romania)
5. Operators (US/Canada)

Again, not much overlap between the his-and-hers lists, only Alexandra Atnif. That being said, all four of the other bands here made it to my initial list as well, they just ultimately didn’t crack my personal Top 5.

Top 5 Live Shows (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1. The Kills – Roseland Theatre, Portland OR
2. Thievery Corporation – Showbox Sodo, Seattle
3. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City UT
4. East India Youth – NASA, Reykjavik
5. Bubbi & DIMMA – NASA, Reykjavik

We actually have quite a bit of overlap her, and both Thievery Corporation and East India Youth made to to my short list. There were just so many good shows in 2015.

 

So there you have it, ladies and gents. Another fantastic year is almost in the books, and I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for us. And since we’ve already purchased our tickets for Iceland Airwaves 2016 and to see Devil Makes Three at Red Rocks in Colorado in May, I suspect it’s going to be pretty excellent.

Alexandra Atnif – “.A:A. Mix.1” and “Session.1” (2015)

Back in July I wrote about a split cassette we picked up down in Los Angeles that featured Constable Flavour and Alexandra Atnif. We were particularly taken by Atnif’s side, with it’s brutal industrial style of electronic and its repetitive, pounding beats. I checked out a bunch of stuff on her Soundcloud page and was even more excited by what I heard there, and after making a few inquiries got my hands on a couple of more cassettes of her work. Her attention to detail and commitment to vision can even be found in the packaging of these two self-released tapes (more on that later), as well as the photos on her Instagram – cold, stark, linear architectural images in black and white, the kinds of things that would have been considered futuristic or post-modern in the 1960s behind the Iron Curtain. Maybe some of the types of buildings she saw while growing up in Romania? I’m not entirely sure. But the images and music are linked together in powerful, if at times mildly unsettling, ways, using multiple senses to create an emotional impact.

AADemo

.A:A. Mix.1 is a 90 minute mix of tracks that was originally put out as a super limited number of hand made demos, but Atnif is now making a handful of these available for sale HERE for $10. The entire product is hand-made by her – from the individually painted copper colored cases and cassettes to the hand cut and stamped J card insert. .A:A. Mix.1 is a work of art all the way around – musically, tactilely, visually.

There’s no track list included, but there are 14 songs in total and you’re getting awfully close to a full 90 minutes of music. The beats are throbbing and relentless, each soundscape comprised of a limited number of repeated elements, driving and thumping. While Atnif takes a similar approach to much of the material on .A:A. Mix.1, it doesn’t devolve into repetition – there are enough differing elements to make each song a unique creation that doesn’t sound like the previous one. She does use some distortion, even on the beats, but overall the music is rich, dense, and clean, and despite it’s industrialness you can still groove out to it.

AASessions

Session.1 just came out a week or two ago, and I was excited to learn that it’s one of the official titles for the upcoming Cassette Store Day on October 17 – so I strongly encourage you to find a local store that’s carrying it HERE and pick up a copy, which will give you the chance to support both the indie musician and the indie music store. If you don’t have a participating store close by, you can order a copy directly from Alexandra HERE for just six bucks.

To my ears Session.1 takes on an even more brutal sound than Atnif’s previous work. The two 20+ minute tracks display more rawness, in a very intentional way, through the use of distortion, with many of the beats sounding as iff they were being played too loudly trough a stereo and coming out of the speakers with that sort of warbaled static distortion all of us heard at one time or another as teens when we played our music way too loud for our systems to handle. There’s a section about half way through the B side (“Session.1 (Filthy Violence Mix)”) that is absolutely some of the most pounding bass I’ve ever heard, with the effects making it feel like it’s literally crackling with raw electricity, buzzing and shooting sparks and threatening to set my brain on fire. It’s definitely the more challenging of the two tapes, and while I prefer .A:A. Mix.1, Holly said that Session.1 was hands down her favorite.

 

I can’t tell you how glad I am that we bought that first Alexandra Atnif tape, because it opened our ears to a whole different style of sort of tribal-industrial. She’s an amazing talent, one who I think has broader appeal than just the electronica and industrial fans – if you like some of the more aggressive stuff by NIN or Skinny Puppy or even certain types of more extreme metal, I think you owe it to yourself to check out her music – not because it sounds a lot like that stuff, but because its brutalism may appeal to you. She’s got quite a few compositions out there on Bandcamp and Soundcloud that you can hear for free, including this insanely good 90 minute mix for The Brvtalist. And if you like what you hear, show her some love and order a tape or a digital download to support the music.