Music

Sunn O))): Black One

Adrien Begrand

Doom greats Sunn O))) and their collaborator Oren Ambarchi provide us with two wildly disparate, yet similarly abstract examples of ambient/drone music.


Sunn O)))

Black One

US Release Date: 2005-10-18
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Extreme metal has always been all about overwhelming the senses, either through a chaotic, frenzied style such as grindcore, the more spacious sonic assaults by artier bands like Neurosis and Isis, of in Sunn O)))'s case, creating waves of guitar drone and feedback in a face-melting display of the slowest, scariest music you'll ever hear. For the last decade, the duo of Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson have been taking the doom side of heavy metal so far from those three legendary chords from Black Sabbath's immortal "Black Sabbath", it feels like a completely separate dimension, as if you expect to slip into a black hole for eternity. The blackest of the black, the bleakest of the bleak, Sunn O))) combine high art with brutal power like no other, composing music that dares listeners to sit through it all, locking them into sludgy grooves so slow, so hypnotic, it will either have them repulsed, enthralled, or better yet, both. It's easy to shrug off Sunn O))) as nothing but pure, arbitrary noise, but the more you delve into their work, the more you begin to sense a structure to the music that's as lethargic as it is dreary. It's mood music for the worst of moods.

The duo have been on a prolific run as of late, with the highly acclaimed, unrelentingly vicious 2002 album Flight of the Behemoth, 2003's more contemplative White1, and 2004's colossal White2 upping the ante each time out, and their newest slice of pure sonic evil just might be their best yet. If Fantomas's single-track opus Delirium Cordia is akin to a 75-minute journey through hell, Sunn O)))'s Black One is the aural equivalent to being buried alive. All traces of light vanish, extraneous sounds are quickly drowned out by the pounding noise of falling earth, air becomes scarce, sheer panic sets in. So claustrophobic and unsettling is this album, that you can't help but want to go for a walk in the sun afterwards, if only to shake the fog out of your head.

After the overture "Sin Nanna", which barely hints at the horror to come, the album kicks into low gear, as "It Took the Night to Believe" launches immediately with two surprisingly tuneful, resonant riffs intermingling, as layers of black metal vocals (provided on this album by Leviathan's Wrest, and Malefic, of Xasthur notoriety) take the listener deeper, the indecipherable verses punctuated by wracked screams. "Cry For the Weeper" continues in the same gloomily melodic direction, in a hellish, atonal kind of way, while the cover (if you can all it a cover) of Immortal's "Cursed Realms (Of the Winterdemons)" strips the 1995 black metal classic to skeletal form, rendering it unrecognizable, the distorted vocals underscored by wave after wave of white noise, subsonic drones, and screeching feedback. The album climaxes on the spectacular "Báthory Erzsébet", which, after seven somnambulistic minutes of a deeply resonant, tolling bell and some lightly thrumming drones, you're awoken by massive chords, and the sound of Malefic gasping for air from inside a sealed casket placed in a hearse (no, really). It's a gimmick that some might find laughable (with a story this cool, how can a record label not share it with everyone?), but when you hear those claustrophobic screeches, their impact packs a huge wallop. Like the voice of the undead, it's pure cinema, a blend of shock rock, black metal, and ambient music, and the overall effect, like the rest of Black One, is devastating. While metal fans might be among the most interested in the work of Sunn O))), it's essential listening for anyone who finds the abstruse side of modern music fascinating.

After going through the hour-long ordeal of Black One, a change of atmosphere is needed, and Oren Ambarchi's Triste fits the bill nicely. The Australian Ambarchi, who makes a guest appearance on Black One, is an odd guitar genius bent on bucking convention, capable of extracting some of the most un-guitarlike tones we'll ever hear, which bear more of a similarity to a Rhodes piano than a guitar. Minimal and very spacious (his free jazz background is more than apparent), his dulcimer-like notes bounce around gently, as opposed to Sunn O)))'s blunt force.

Triste, originally released on vinyl two years ago and now on CD for the first time, centers on a live performance of Ambarchi's in Holland in 2001. Not that we are able to notice that, as there's no background noise or applause to speak of, and that silence plays a large role on the first two tracks, as we're able to lose ourselves in the seemingly arbitrary note sequences of the languidly paced first track. Track two offers a slight shift in mood, as Ambarchi's notes arrive with more urgency, a lower drone slowly surfaces, and like a ripple effect, similar, higher-pitched waves of sound begin to filter in, the performance concluding in a light hail of twittering guitar noises. Appended by two considerably more lively remixes by Tom Recchion, which take the previous two pieces and gives them more of a center, Triste is an abstract, yet ultimately entrancing and gorgeous introduction to the ethereal art of Ambarchi. After the nocturnal horror of Sunn O)))'s Black One, Triste is like watching the sun rise on the prairie horizon, one ray slowly creeping out at a time.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Julian Barratt and Oliver Maltman (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image