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Freak Scene: New Sounds From Way Out

One weird thing about Freak Scene is that because of the constantly shifting nature of what we define as weird music, things that normally would fit perfectly here suddenly seem like they should be part of a wider world. I blame Animal Collective. Or Gang Gang Dance. Or Throbbing Gristle. Or Autechre. The point is, this isn't a new thing. It's been happening forever; it just happens faster now. In recent months, a few releases and individual songs have come out that point to something in the air. They're all different—some veer toward beautiful ambient techno, others mark a resurgence of harsh noise in the public consciousness. All of it is weird, not because of how it sounds, but because it just gets sucked up into this soup where it seems perfectly reasonable to transition from the new Strokes album to the new Wolf Eyes album. Whatever.

Rainer Veil, Struck (Modern Love)
Modern Love has been a great label for awhile, but last year's release of Andy Stott's phenomenal, game changing Luxury Problems has shined some new light on their output. Serendipitously, they recently dropped the Struck EP by Rainer Veil, who take the murk that Stott so expertly made pretty and flip it on its head, creating a series of songs that sound like they're molded from white light. Every song is blindingly bright, but soft, too. The drums sound virtually amniotic, and every vocal bit feels angelic. But the great thing about Struck is that for all its gorgeous moments, it's never predictable. "Bala," the EP's highlight, ends with multiple minutes of ambient wash that might as well come from The Neverending Story soundtrack (in a good—even great—way).

Lee Noble, "December" (Bathetic)
When I wrote about this song before, I described it as almost religious, which I still think is true. Lee Noble is a weird figure in the drone landscape in that each recording feels like a stepping stone in an unspoken narrative tracing his music's evolution from muddy cassette ambient to actual songwriting, with discernable lyrics and melodies. It's been a gradual climb, which means that those earlier releases haven't really lost their effect, but the newer stuff just feels so heavy and well-worn that it's kind of weird to talk about it without feeling like you're bragging about reading someone's diary...that you paid for...on a website. But if you're in the mood for music that takes the definition of the word dreary and stretches it to encompass a wobbly sense of fractured beauty—or at least an interest in stretching the definition of beauty—then this is for you.

Pharmakon, "Crawling On Bruised Knees" (Sacred Bones)
In the past, when I've written these overviews of recent records, its been fun to go back through what I was listening to and find some unspoken connection that united them. Margaret Chardiet, bka Pharmakon, does not fit with the other two things I wrote about at all though. She's been part of the power electronics/harsh noise scene for awhile, both as an artist and as a (former) resident of The Red Light District, a DIY venue in the Rockaways. "Crawling On Bruised Knees," the title track of her Sacred Bones debut, is often brutal. Everything is pushed to distortion—even her vocals, which sound like they're being recorded underwater. This sort of confrontational sound is a fixture of noise music, but it feels like it's been pushed to the margins in recent years. The attention Pharmakon's been getting points in an exciting direction, though. Increasingly, as artists outside the noise realm continue to draw from weirder corners—Elite Gymnastics with Whitehouse, just about everyone with Xiu Xiu—it'll be interesting to see how they incorporate those sounds into more conventional songs. What'll happen when Pharmakon becomes an influence on a set of younger artists? How will they take what she does and make it more palatable for a general audience? Do they even need to do that? If her success within the internet music world says anything, it's that the sheer amount of music that most people are exposed to on a daily basis has made us all much more welcoming of things that are difficult.

Freak Scene: New Sounds From Way Out