Portuguese cassette label A Giant Fern kicks off the season with a variety-packed quartet, featuring the feathered beauty of øjeRum, the quiet menace of Micromelancolié, the dark alchemy of Hidden Persuaders and the sci-fi symphonies of Roadside Picnic & Charles Barabé. Each release is available with three different covers, a dozen in all. They belong together, and at this price (5 euros each), why not buy them all? I did, and they look great as a set.
There is a flaw in my iris is a mostly placid affair: gentle, restrained, unassuming, like the quiet of an autumn night. The acoustic guitar of Denmark’s øjeRum is joined by tiny chimes, subdued electronics and humble vocals (on a few tracks). It’s interesting to hear how calm the composer is in light of his unusual artwork, which graces most of the September crop; his light side shows in his music, his dark side in his collages. The art of this particular release references Freud and Escher, a curiously alluring combination. “Mist” is probably the best track, but the entire tape flows like late September into early October; the electronic winds of “When” blow like the forebodings of an early fall.
Micromelancolié is the perfect name for a project that embeds snatches of instrumental song in a bed of field recordings and quiet drone. One of the early sounds is reminiscent of the cassette casing itself. But as the tape continues, we hear vinyl static (strange on a tape!), dogs, glass jars, crickets, chimes and more, many of them hiding in the mix like the face on the cover. The screams on the second side break the Goblin-esque mood – they’re a touch too obvious – but they soon subside, giving way to a slow parade of church bells and stretched bass. Ensemble Faux Pas is slow to grow and slow to sink, but its cumulative effect is one of creeping dread.
If you weren’t frightened yet, you will be by the end of Hidden Persuaders’ The Bone Forest. Listeners should know what they are in for from the covers; no matter which version one receives, the shroud of death will beckon. With titles including “Dread Empire”, “Night’s Black Agents” and “Necromancer”, there’s no doubt that this will be a black affair. And yet, what an alluring affair it is, with ritualistic percussion, garbled voices and dragged chains, like stumbling upon a sacrificial rite in the forest and realizing that you are the sacrifice. The music is magnetic, curious enough to make one want to draw close. There’s a reason why people tend to go into their basements to investigate disturbing noises; there’s also a good reason why they should not. Do they listen? Never. But The Bone Forest offers an opportunity to listen to the dark and disturbing without being killed. At least we think so. We should probably put a disclaimer on this statement.
The longest of the four tapes is Roadside Picnic & Charles Barabé’s Worn paths in crown dust ~ at 66 minutes, only 2/3 the number of the beast. The art references Magritte and McKean: a surreal trio of images that leaves expectations wide open. The music is equally surrealistic, a swirl of synths, pops, pings and white noise reminiscent of the Miasmah stable as well as modern electronic drone artists such as Zbeen. Only the name “Roadside Picnic” is confusing, unless this is a picnic for cannibals. While the track listing implies two long tracks, they contain sub-movements separated by silence: breaths before the next cavernous plunge. High pitches, low tones and intermediate flutter form an atmosphere more sci-fi than horror, though aficionados of each scoring genre should be pleased, as this is alien music, and far from benign. (Richard Allen)