Celebrating Headphone Commute’s 15th anniversary, I am highlighting albums that I covered 15, 10, and 5 years ago. [And in this instalment, I’m even starting with the one from 20 years ago!] I do this by going back through my archives and selecting a favourite for the current month. But I’m not just copying and pasting the words here; I’m also refreshing these write-ups a bit to bring them up to date, and, of course, I’m listening to all this music! And so should you!
I know that it’s important to keep up with the evolution of sound, music, and genres, but why can’t I stop listening to Harmonic 33’s Extraordinary People, which, as of this writing, is more than two decades old? Did the common folk forget about the light, spacey, and spy-sexy trip-hop sound, or am I just not looking in all the right places? Even the project’s follow-up album, Music For Film, Television And Radio Volume One on Warp Records, did not satisfy my cravings for a similar sound. Out of fourteen tracks on this first full-length Alphabet Zoo release, every single one is a standout! The label owner, Danny Breaks, even contributed a few cuts and scratches to the record with his turntablism skills. So who’s behind this project? The Harmonic 33 is Dave Brinkworth and Mark Pritchard, producing under various pseudonyms since the 90s. Brinkworth has previously contributed to Capio and the duo’s early drum’n’bass outlet, Use Of Weapons. Pritchard’s discography, on the other hand, is almost impossible to trace and cover, with his numerous aliases and group collaborations, most notable among them with Thomas Middleton under Global Communication [note to self: revisit 76:14] and Jedi Knights. Although I can also appreciate Pritchard’s gravitation towards a more Detroit-influenced hip-hop sound with his Harmonic 313 moniker, I still turn back to Extraordinary People time and time again. This was one of the albums that made me want to write music reviews, simply for the sake of spreading the good word about awesome music!
Fifteen years ago, I discovered a new artist. Barry Lynn has a few monikers, the most known of which is his Boxcutter, under which he releases for Planet Mu and, most recently, on his very own Kinnego Records. For this 2008 debut under his real name, we find Lynn on Planet Mu again. Well, Barry, what have we here? A delicious collection of abstract glitchy IDM, with an occasional dub track and even some breakcore. Must I drop a reference to Squarepusher in this write-up? Ah, but I guess it all makes sense: Balancing Lakes is a collection of previously unreleased material produced in the four years prior to Boxcutter’s LP, Oneiric (2006, Planet Mu). It’s no wonder that I hear influences here from all of my favourite Warp artists. And in my opinion, some of the drill’n’bass tracks don’t even feel that dated [even as I re-listen to the album in 2023!] and are instead very welcomed by a nostalgic ear. It almost feels like discovering an accidentally missed artist [that very first thing I alluded to in this writeup]. In fact, we could pretend that it is true – and that artist is Barry Lynn. There is a wide range of styles on this hour-long release, and somehow Lynn manages to tie it all together. It’s a wonderful flashback into the era of post-IDM sound, where only a few standout albums persevered. One of these is definitely Balancing Lakes. This album is still available as a digital download and on a compact disc directly from Boxcutter’s Bandcamp. Recommended for a revisit if you like The Flashbulb, Aaron Spectre, Aphex Twin, and Clark.
There is tension in the very first note… What is that growling bass slowly rising through the building, rhythmic percussion? What is that uneasy feeling of a swelling sound that takes up all of the oxygen in the room, leaving you gasping for breath? What is that strong presence that seeps through each pore of its textured coating, raising the sound on a soft pillow of sculpted dynamics and a perfectly designed atmosphere? It is the culmination of all previously stored energy releasing itself through Matthew Collings‘ debut album for the beloved Fluid Audio. And I am immediately in love… The music on Splintered Instruments is both rough and beautiful. Like a fragile rose, it’s ready to puncture your skin with its thorns while intoxicating you with its scent. The strings uncoil, and the hammers break. The metal is twisted over the splitting wood as the harmony shatters and pierces with chords. This is not about noise or the decibel levels (although I do recommend you listen to this album loud) – it’s about the sheer uncompromised approach to raw sound as if extracting an essence with a masticating juicer from each acoustic instrument in play. The final result is somewhat unclassifiable. It’s peppered with an eclectic array of later manipulated acoustic instruments and field recordings. The structure is very organic, breathing like a heaving animal, transforming build-ups into collapsing drops, and resting softly on the space in between. The vocals are not distracting and instead add an element of humanity towards this instrumental requiem of artistic expression.
Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto
Instantly grabbing a spot on my Best of the Year lists in 2018, Glass is a recording of an improvised live performance, which took place in architect Philip Johnson‘s 1949 home, “The Glass House”, in New Canaan, Connecticut. Using the entire building as its own instrument Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto released the vibrations of sound waves to resonate the structure from within, as an aural portrait of the architecture in its ambient, minimal, and contemplative design. “This is the sound of glass and of glistening condensation. Pristinely fresh audio stratus float amorphously by, unfurling from a meditative calm into an evocation of sparkling wonder, like a baby observing raindrops on a nocturnal window for the first time.” Although many were unable to attend this amazing live performance (and I know a few lucky souls that have!), we nevertheless can be extremely thankful for its sonic archival on the NOTON imprint. I can only imagine the awe and sensations that surrounded the crowd experiencing the vibrations of the building as the occupants of the whole. Listening to this 37-minute single piece, I often get a sense of floating, with the beads of high-frequency pin-drops piercing the harmonic fabric of time and of space and that very special third place where neither time nor space exists. “Although the work is largely atonal, textural and spatial, fleeting moments of melody appear towards the end, which despite their scarceness, achieve a profoundly moving effect.”