Swollen Avantgarde: 2015

Gelba / Humans Fuck Off split (cassette, SA12)
Bare Bones, Lay Low: Visions From Limbus (cassette, SA13)
Stefano Spataro [pseudo quartet]: try/give up (CDr, no catalogue number)
Dmitri Zherbin (cassette, SA10)

Not quite a year to the day since I received my last package of under the radar delights from Italian noise and tape label Swollen Avantgarde comes another thrill-packed despatch, some familiar names but plenty more roguish outriders to ponder. Label guru Matteo Poggi was gracious enough to send me these back in October and they have languished on my review pile for far too long – and so, onwards we push and crash head-first into a bonkers split cassette between Gelba and the rather endearingly named Humans Fuck Off.

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I have a rather soft spot for Gelba’s idiosyncratic manglings of field recordings, found sound and abstract noise. The duo summons up a unique take on sound manipulation despite working in a somewhat crowded field. This session was recorded live to two-track tape in a bookshop in Italy and has a nice lo-fi, exploratory feel, with cascades of tinny bells pealing into white noise, antique ringtones vying with slurred tape sludge and a general  creaking muddiness that makes me feel like I’m listening to the performance from the bottom of a stagnant puddle. The keening, liquidy belches that erupt from the sticky mess towards the end are particularly enlivening. Grumbling slops.

Meanwhile, Humans Fuck Off take as their starting point the guitar debris of Sonic Youth and The Dead C, smashing that legacy up into little dirty pieces and then kicking it around the room in grumpy abandon. So there’s heavily reverbed pluckings, stomp box static buzzes and all-out jams that sound like Thurston Moore vomiting into a hornet’s nest after too many organic shandies in fashionable east London. It’s all good, with the loud stuff bracing enough to strip the enamel from your teeth, although I must confess I like the quieter, echoey bits almost as much. Groovy shards.

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I first came across Bare Bones, Lay Low on its rather natty split with Manc psychonauts GNOD a couple of years ago, so it’s nice to make the acquaintance of Ernesto González (BBLL’s lone pilot) once again. The tracks here are demos, apparently, and while they sound a teensy bit lo-fi, their cavernous weight still sounds spaced out enough for me.

It is, in fact, fantastic, González – Venezuelan by birth but resident in Belgium –shuttling between Tangerine Dream-esque waves of synth drama and bursts of yummy synth squelch that have more than a whiff of a Su Ra/Ashtray Navigations electronic noodle about them. Squirming , modular synth-style wiggles are stamped on by metronomic pulses, and punctuated by thunderclouds of gassy blurt. At one point, González recites a deranged monologue, before letting loose with some positively goth-baroque organ figures. Every now and then, synth chords as wide as the English Channel encompass you with their glum majesty. And for the cosmic icing on the galactic cake, everything is coated with a thick layer of reverb. There’s enough space here for his place, right?

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Stefano Spataro’s Pseudo Quartet is so called because Spataro himself takes all the musical roles, assembling bass, baritone guitar, soprano sax and drum tracks into fluid improvisations that take their cues from post-rock and free improv equally.

Creating pieces in this way isn’t exactly new, but Spataro retains a sense of freshness, keeping things loose rather than quantising everything into precision-tooled sterility. This definitely works to his advantage on tunes such as Try#2 – Like An Indian Baby On A Pram On A Bus In Boulogne, which channel the twangy bass and fuzz guitar lines of Standards-era Tortoise with considerable charm. Tempo Di Mostri, Fiume Di Dolore Pt.2 has a sparse angularity, with clattering percussion and soprano squeaks hitting a busy,  astringent vibe. Really interesting stuff.

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Finally, this set of bleary synthscapes from Finnish electronicist Dmitri Zherbin recalls the Technicolor dreamworlds of Panda Bear, although ones viewed through a condensation-fogged window. Zherbin’s queasy ambience gets under your skin and into your bones, rubbing your eyeballs with Vaseline to make the world seem like it is vibrating at the edges of the frame. There’s a particularly eerie nursery rhyme section that’s guaranteed to send anyone seeking solace from overindulgence right back down the rabbit hole, gurning and frothing.

At times, Zherbin’s combination of thick, soupy chords and glitching electronics is almost nauseous, like stumbling out of a rave at 7am with a churning belly and reconfigured brainbox, shivering through the streets in wonky sloooowwwwwnessssss. These melting sounds could well be the last thing you hear before passing out under the duvet, your revitalising cuppa untouched on the bedside table. Take cover ’till morning, weary traveller.

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