5.15.19 by Ryan Masteller
That frickin’ orb, like a fully black eye above the pyramid, peers out at us like an even more evil Sauron, but from Central Pennsylvania instead of Mordor. Can somebody please put a lid on that thing? Let it close once in a while? I’m sort of exposed here, petrified by its gaze.
However, it is also the ancient hieroglyph for, “Hey, Orb Tapes has some new releases.” So … here you go.
PHONED NIL TRIO – Gets Nasty
“Gets Nasty” indeed! Each track is a dick joke, and I try to choke back my laughter as I listen. But then, maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe “Gets Nasty” is a commentary on the current state of the “penis,” the oppressive male organ on which we can pin an entire species’ worth of hardship. (Although let’s not literally pin anything to anyone’s penis.) If so, “Gets Nasty” should instead be read as an indictment, a reflection of the “creeping moral decay” of human society toward its inevitable end. Isn’t everybody in power a giant dick-swinging monster whose raging ego and inflamed desire spell utter disaster for anyone who crosses their path? Does the Phoned Nil Trio’s sickening nihilistic manipulation of objects/tapes/electronics/whatever point an accusatory digit at the status quo? I think it does … until I read “I had transported my mismanaged and ungratified and engorged penis across the frozen sexual moonscape of the 1940s” and immediately laugh at the images of Sci-Fi Boner that jump into my head (although I know you’re not going sci-fi here, Phoned Nil Trio!).
BUTOH SONICS – Butoh Sonics
Not straying far here, “Butoh Sonics” starts with “Human Rehabilitation,” a long live track that takes up the entirety of side A. Rehab is the worst. I tore a ligament in my ankle once, and coming back from that was the total pits. Granted, I was (am) an athlete, so I was attempting to get back into playing shape, but still! Humans too need to get back into playing shape, maybe playing with each other shape, cooperation shape, kindness shape. It’ll hurt. Butoh Sonics provides the soundtrack, the trio scraping and creaking and clanging as the aches and pains dull and sharpen over time, always in a constant pattern. “Lush and Spare,” another live one on the B-side, blazes out with the heat and intensity inherent in heat/ice treatment, a constant stream of radiant sound threatening to overwhelm you. Imagine the pain of a deep tissue massage, but also that it feels good. This is kind of an aural equivalent.
LEDGE WALKER / MISNOMR / MISERY RITUAL / BURIAL WEAVINGS – split
Oh no, four of you? That’s not fair – it feels like I have extra work to do or something. OK, enough complaining, let’s get it moving. Ahem. Ledge Walker jams the sound of distant trains down your earpipe while subtly teasing rhythm. The timbre changes and shifts in intensity challenge the listener to keep quiet and still and not scream as it overtakes all sensory inputs. Misnomr forgot the “e” but NEVER FORGOT the “Head on the Tracks” – and who could blame them? Five pieces devoted to an unthinkable discovery, each more terrifying than the last, especially with all that synth and static and disembodied voices piercing the synth and static. And speaking of terrifying, is there anything more dread-inducing than a Misery Ritual? No there is not. As such, Misery Ritual fires walls of unreal sound that splinter and shatter into millions of hellish fragments that pierce your mind like digital shrapnel. And of course there’s Burial Weavings wrapping the whole thing up like a funeral shroud, creeping up like a distant whirlwind, getting ever closer like an approaching funnel cloud, its roar increasing as it comes closer. By the time it’s upon you the klaxons and alarms are sounding, but it’s too late. It rips the roof off your mind and scatters your brain to the four compass points. How’s THAT for a wrap-up!
BUBBA CRUMRINE – How Brightly Can You Burn? (The Death of Youth)
Like I needed the reminder that I’m getting old, that my youth is receding faster and faster by the day (no hairline jokes – mine is still pretty good). Clearly referencing the “burn out” / “fade away” fork in the ol’ life-choice road, Bubba Crumrine wonders that about himself. And although I answer the question with “Not very brightly – I’m doing the sloooooow fade thing quite well, thanks,” he may have a different take on it all. In fact, he may be fading too if this dark take is any indication. Comprised of what sound like a six mini hymns (indeed, one is even called “Returnal Hymn”), “How Brightly Can You Burn?” is a methodical approach to self-dissection. You can even hear Crumrine sawing away between introspective haunts, as indeed “Burial of Ridges” sounds as though he’s sawing away at his own head to literally get at what’s inside there. But beauty often intrudes on the violence, even if it’s cathartic or decaying beauty. And you gotta take the bad with the good anyway. Maybe the question is, why even burn or fade? Just frickin’ light up the night sky with your internal beacon – we’ll observe and report back whether it burns you up or you survive it.
LEAAVES – Death Metric
I feel like I haven’t heard from Nate Wagner in a while, and I’m not sure if that’s my fault or his, but it’s sure nice to see a Leaaves tape in this set. And as I’ve come to expect, Nate bridges this world and the next in effervescent and radiant synthesizer. This is a departure from the rest of the Orb Tapes ogres noted earlier, with the exception of Bubba Crumrine perhaps, but Nate’s delicate touch stands in stark contrast to the heavy metals dripping soullessly down the fronts of your speakers. I don’t mean for that to sound like a bad thing, it’s all just … different. And so “Death Metric” confronts death too, the rapture, drowning (ahem), being lost, and, how can we ignore them, chemtrails. Everything takes on a dizzying spectral hue when Nate Wagner’s around, even when he’s “Drowning the Neighbors Out” with his Unikitty version of unceasing noise. Who am I kidding – the only thing drowned out by Leaaves is unpleasantness, and I just want to hug “(I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for) Chemtrails,” not only for its delightful title but also for its sheer overall delightfulness. Those synths are just gorgeous, like rainbow-colored clouds across the pinkest sky. Or like chemtrails.