Alone – “Unyou” Cassette (2016)

Alone is Serb electro-wizard Nikola Vitković. He’s performed under a variety of names over the last three decades or so, but Alone appears to be the most prolific. As near as I can tell Unyou is his most recent effort, a cassette-only release on Chondritic Sound in a limited edition of 100.

Unyou is some trippy stuff. According to Nikola’s website, with the exception of some drum patterning on “Prison Built of You” there are no studio tricks here – it’s all basically recorded live with his hands on the synths and pushing the buttons to make it all happen. Musically it’s a combination of dark and spacey. The songs have flow and structure to them, a liquid mercury kind of consistency, something that is both liquid and solid at the same time, but really neither. The vocals, which I believe are in both Serbian and English, have an exaggerated haunting quality to them, feeling theatrical like the way a person might sing on stage in a musical or an opera as opposed to more typical album-oriented vocal approach. I initially took this to be a bit of camp, but the more I listen I get the sense that it’s both very intentional and very sincere.

“X-Ray of Dorian Gray” is the densest track on Unyou, the synths taking on a stabbing quality and bringing sharp edges to the song that aren’t found elsewhere. The vocals are brought to the forefront (and in English on this one) and carry a moaning quality to them. Whereas much of Unyou takes on a dark ambient feel, your brain won’t allow “X-Ray of Dorian Gray” to fade off into the background. Something deep inside at an unconscious level forcibly pulls your attention toward what is coming out of your speakers.

The album is available for streaming at the Chondritic Sound Bandcamp page HERE, and it appears that at the time of this post they still had a few copies of the cassette available for sale as well. Note the cassettes are hand-painted and stenciled, and my copy came with a download card as well. I’d also encourage you to check out Nikola Vitković’s website HERE, as he has a lot of info about his other releases.

Believer/Law – “Matters of Life and Death” (2014)

I initially dropped the needle on Matters of Life and Death with my Rega set to 33 1/3 rpm and thought to myself, “huh, this has a bit of a Tangerine Dream quality to it”. Then I realized it was meant to be played at 45 rpm (♠) and started over.

It doesn’t sound that much like Tangerine Dream any more.

OK, so the synths could be Tangerine Dream-ish, though at the proper speed they’re much more deliberate and less dreamy. The vocals, however, are very insistent, like shouting from a distance, straining the vocal chords but not overwhelming to the listener. While the synths are a bit retro, the complete package has an IDM kind of urgency to it, particularly “The Task At Hand”.

This is another title from the batch I recently bought from Chondritic Sounds. It’s available online HERE for listen and purchase. I have the gray version of the vinyl (edition of 200), which sounds great. I can’t speak to the other two pressings, white (100 copies) and black (300 copies).

(♠) Why oh why do they sometimes not tell us the record is supposed to be played at 45 rpm? It’s been a pet peeve of mine for a long time.

Bad News – “No End” (2012)

This is my second dip into the Chondritic Sounds pool, and so far the label is two-for-two. Unlike the previously reviewed JFK, however, Bad News’ No End provides plenty of sonic structure, a nightmarish brand of IDM with lo-fi vocals and multi-layered beats. “Typical Illusion” truly takes the term industrial to heart, with metallic, factory-like blasts of sound overlaid on top of the bass, the pace increasing like a runaway locomotive before Bad News bring it back in check to start the process over again. By the time the song peaked a second time I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen the turntable itself picking up speed, sparks and smoke flying from where the stylus touched the vinyl. The label makes some general comparisons of Bad News to late 1980s era Skinny Puppy, and I can’t argue with that.

My only complaint whatsoever with No End is that it left me wanting more – at four songs and about 25 minutes, I could have used one or two more tracks. But better to have felt it too short than too long, because I can easily flip it over and play it again. As for you, you can listen to all four songs on Bandcamp HERE and buy the digital version for just four bucks if you like what you hear.

JFK – “Nganga” (2017)

I just started reading Fight Your Own War: Power Electronics and Noise Culture, and it’s a complete coincidence that one of the first artists I came across in the book was Ramleh, a project that includes one Anthony DiFranco, who also happens to be the solo mastermind behind JFK and who’s album Nganga has been on my To Listen To shelf now for a few weeks. Sometimes it’s a very small world.

While I enjoy industrial, I admittedly lean towards the more musically structured (and dare I say commercial) artists. JFK is not that. At all. JFK is tearing the paint off the walls of the room that is your consciousness, that little safe place you hide deep within your ego. JFK kicks in the door, hoses the place down with turpentine, and throws a road flare in on his way back out. I can’t get into all of it, but “Machinen” and “Nganga” may have altered my consciousness in such a way that I’m no longer entirely sure what constitutes “music”. My favorite track is “Zarathustra”, which sounds like Vangelis working with Tangerine Dream while the whole lot of them are tripping on ayahuasca, spacey and with the electronic buzz of high-voltage power lines right above your head and the occasional beats that will make you think the Hueys are coming in for another pass at Charlie’s beach.

This was one of the titles I picked up recently from the label Chondritic Sound, and if it’s any indication of what I’m in for, it should be an interesting ride. You can listen to all six tracks on the JFK Bandcamp page HERE, as well as purchase the vinyl, which is also available directly from the label HERE.

“Live At Maldoror: Volume One” Compilation Cassette (2015)

Amoeba Music has a cool YouTube! series called “What’s In My Bag?”, where they take musicians and other assorted interesting people into the back room to show us what they just bought at Amoeba. Some of these episodes are pretty fantastic, and they serve the dual purpose of both being entertaining while also sometimes turning you onto stuff you’d never heard of before. And it was while watching the Henry Rollins video a few weeks back that I first came to hear of the label Chondritic Sound. That led me to its Bandcamp page, which in turn led me to the PayPal login page as I threw a bunch of money at them for some of the crazy sounds I heard on Bandcamp. And the other day a box of vinyl and cassettes arrived at my door, making me as giddy as a kid who just got a package in the mail for their birthday, anticipating something awesome but also secretly hoping it doesn’t contain a sweater.

The Maldoror is a club/bar in Los Angeles that, once a month, does a showcase of dark electronica, and Live At Maldoror: Volume One collects nine of those artists on one tape. Stylistically there’s a thread of bleakness running through all the performances, but there’s a lot of variety here as well. Inhalt’s “Vehicle” is reminiscent of Warsaw, a sort of electronic post-punk, while Burial Hex’s “Fire Sign” is dark-goth-industrial, a bit more Bela Lugosi’s Dracula than Freddie Krueger, but still plenty frightening. As for Victor Portsmouth’s “March 27, 1895”, well, this is purely distilled nightmare juice. This tape is like a black hole, sucking all light from the room and leaving you with only uncertainty and dread as your companions.

Live At Maldoror: Volume One is available for listening on Bandcamp HERE, and you can also still pick up copies of the cassette (edition of 250) for just eight bucks – and the tape comes with a download card, so it’s definitely worthwhile.