Along with the lovely chaps here at Both Bars On, the Brainwashed Radio Podcast has been a fantastic source of new music for me. My tastes could be said to have calcified in recent years, but a lot of the plaque has been shaken loose by this podcast. While I was riding the Transbay from Oakland to San Francisco every day, it was a regular accompaniment, and now that I’m taking the E12 from Al Reef via Yas Island, it’s back in rotation.
The format is pretty straightforward. The excellent host Jon Whitney gives just enough information about each piece of music, with a little bit of chat, but never enough to make me switch off (and believe me, it doesn’t take much). He will churn out a bunch of episodes in quick succession, then go quiet for months. But the episodes are about an hour long, often have great replay value, and the archives are quite extensive, with over 300 episodes so far. Plenty to dig into.
Some of the artists that have appeared on the podcast are; Klara Lewis, Steve Hauschildt (new album coming soon – watch this space for review), Suicide, The Legendary Pink Dots, Broadcast, The Haxan Cloak, Factory Floor, the list goes on-‘n-on-‘n-on-‘n-on-‘n-on-‘n-on-‘n-on.
Klara Lewis’ debut release on the excellent resurrected Austrian label Editions Mego is made up of found sounds, processed and looped and washed through with pad and soft industrial ambiance. There is drone here, and noise, and clouds and rhythm. It came out in April 2014, but I only caught up with it over the last few months, and I’ve been enjoying it greatly.
I hesitate to use the term ambient. After all, “Brain One” himself made ambient music to be as “as ignorable as it is interesting”. This is anything but wallpaper music, although you could certainly use it like that (music as a resource or tool to be “used” – discuss).
As far as the “industrial” influence goes, there are metal things being banged here, but you’re not being showered with flakes of rust. You’re standing on a green hill overlooking a factory city, with the oppressive noise softened to melody by the distance, mixed with the stormy weather and tape noise. That said, it’s not all listening to surf wash up on the rocky shores. There is some rhythmic input as well. Percussion is rarely used, rather the deep throbs of the effected sounds act as pacemakers, and the sudden end of a sound can act as percussion.
‘Shine’ is a standout track. A bass throb, with the resonance turned up to give a high pitched distortion, and an echoing synth stab, before the heartbeat resolves. Then the breathing starts, along with a suggestion of a distant tolling bell. End of the shift in the factory, perhaps.
‘Muezzin’ had me looking at the clock. Living and working as I do in Abu Dhabi, the voice of the muezzin, calling the faithful to prayer via the subtle medium of roof-mounted tannoys on every minaret on every mosque on every block, is a regular and familiar sound. This is a sound with such meaning for some, that it could be used as a cheap shorthand to make a piece of music more “ethnic”. But here it is simply a sound that has been captured, and used as a looping foundational phrase, before the hovering machinery approaches to spray down the dust. As such, the heavy meaning it could be said to have is replaced by a purely musical and structural effect, and a beautiful one at that.
Another personal fave, ‘Untilted’, is definitely percussive. Competing pulses of sonar, the closest thing to a drum on the album, a scraping as if you were brushing your teeth in time with unheard marching feet. The sonars allow you to home in on a single bass note, and a single repeated spoken phrase, and the track ends.
‘Altered’ is a 12 minute walk down a tiled corridor, carrying a Geiger counter to measure the effects of some disaster on the final residents of this abandoned tower block. Construction sounds (or the opposite) echo down stairwells, snatches of gentle music leak under doors as you pass. The hum of the building services shows that things still work here. It’s not oppressive, you know you’re welcome, you see and hear the residents as they watch you walk by. But when you complete your pass, you’ll be glad to drive back to the lab with your findings. You just don’t know if anyone will believe you.
It’s strange to think that a stark, almost cold album like this could simultaneously be warm and almost comforting, but somehow Klara Lewis has achieved it. A great album and a great debut. Buy it here.
I heard ‘Untilted’ originally on the Brainwashed Radio Podcast Edition, which (along with BBO itself) has become a reliable source of new and fresh vibes for me over the last few years, vibes which have done a pretty good job of acoustic lithotripsy on my calcified tastes, and for that I thank them. I’d also like to thank the BBO boys for the opportunity to write for them. I hope I can contribute.