JG Thirlwell has recorded under several monikers and with various bands (Frank Want, Clint Ruin, Foetus, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, et cetera). Xordox is his latest project, recorded both at Self Immolation Studios in Brooklyn and as part of a residency at EMS in Stockholm, Sweden.
Thirlwell primarily plays synthesizers here, employing an almost martial barrage of digital patches redolent of 80s sci-fi soundtrack work alongside more ethereal analog electronics and breathy samples. Sarah Lipstate joins Thirwell on three tracks, adding hyper-processed guitar to the proceedings. “Diamonds,” the opening track (listen below), overlays multiple arpeggiations and pulsating synths to create a fascinating rhythmic grid. Over this are added still another layer of dramatic chord progressions. “Antidote” features an ostinato pattern of unequal beats (3+3+2) over which portentous strings are at play and underneath which a gloomy bass line holds court. Lipstate makes a cameo to revel in the groove, which is followed by a massive pileup that leads the piece towards its conclusion. Suddenly, the brakes slam on the forte sounds and we are left with a puzzling piano outtro.
On “Pink Eye,” synth brass stabs and thrumming electronic drums are set against ominous sustained notes and whirring glissandos. The most substantial track on the recording, the fourteen and a half minute long album closer “Asteroid Dust,” is a sly nod to game music. At the same time, it also contains a fascinating use of ostinatos as unifying factors over which melodic scraps and extraterrestrial explosions are given relatively free reign. On the latter half of the track, there’s an adroit incorporation of pitch bends to give microtonal inflections.
Neospection strikes a nice balance of process music, ambience, and spacy aggression. Imagine Blade Runner’s denizens visiting a club where Whovians congregate in the parking lot and you have a fair sense of the affective juxtapositions Thirlwell successfully undertakes.
From the Archives
Composer and electronic musician Tod Dockstader died in 2015 and dementia truncated his work in the electronic studio even before that. However, he left behind over 4200 unreleased sound files. Justin H. Brierley has compiled the best of these into a selection of pieces From the Archives that Starkland has released on CD.
The collection is compelling. It is clear that Dockstader’s remaining work wasn’t unfinished snippets. Rather, these are compositions that gel seamlessly, like the sonorous Super Choral and ceremonially percussive Chinese Morf. While many of these pieces seem deadly in earnest, elsewhere there is also the characteristic playfulness with sound for which Dockstader is well known. I’m particularly fond of the layering of bells, unpitched percussion, creaking steps, and static bursts on Anat Fort and the thrumming and scraping of Big Jig; Mystery Creak and Creak Creek further this exploration of electroacoustic sounds at play. Todt 1 and Todt 2 work with shimmering overtones and what sounds like rockets preparing for liftoff. Piano Morf is the most epic-scaled of the included pieces and features a plethora of sounds, both pianistic and fantastic in inspiration. All in all, it proves to be a most suitable valediction for an imaginative creator. From the Archives suggests that even Dockstader’s backup files are well worth taking to heart.
Most graduate students spend their time studying for comprehensive exams, giving conference papers, and readying their CV’s for the brutal academic job market. As a doctoral candidate at Stanford University, Holly Herndon is likely doing most or all of these things. But she is also crafting music of intense energy and winsome vitality that is being released commercially. It is nice to see the distinction between ‘academic music’ and ‘popular music’, between ‘electroacoustic music’ and ‘electronica,’ being utterly obliterated by her latest recorded outing Platform.
The use of electronic elements sits astride these two genres. There are beats aplenty that bump up against creatively morphed vocals and all manner of synthesizer magic. In terms of creative use of voices, I would put Herndon’s Platform alongside Jenny Hval’s Apocalypse Girl, Björk‘s Vulnicura, and Roomful of Teeth’s Render as this year’s exemplars thus far. It is exciting to contemplate what Herndon’s postgraduate work will look like.
Herndon also has an enthusiasm for the visual. Several of the album’s tracks feature creative videos in which she is the protagonist in somewhat skewed scenarios. For an imaginative example, check out the video for “Morning Sun” below.