Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Great Underappreciated or Obscure Albums 10: Plastic Ono Band by Yoko Ono (1970)

John Lennon has been hot property this year, given it's 30 years since he was murdered by some mentally-defective cunt and that he would have been about to turn 70 in October had the above not happened on that fateful evening.

Between the documentaries lauding his genius and retracing the creation of some of his most famous works, what I found most refreshing was a dramatisation of his 67-70 years, featuring Christopher Ecclestone as Lennon. Apart from its touching insights into the psychology and backgroud of this most complex of superstars, I was pleasantly surprised by the positive light it shone on Beatle John's wife and muse, Yoko Ono. That this was then pursued in an excellent documentary on the recording of John's debut solo album (also called Plastic Ono Band and released in 1970 with a mirror cover of Yoko's) was a truly refreshing change from the contempt, condescension and downright viciousness that has tended to colour most portrayals of the enigmatic Japanese artist. In fact, both shows were excellent at exposing the racism and misogyny she had to contend with, and which still lingers today, to the point that I saw some daft twat, in a review of their collaborative Live Peace Toronto 1969 (released as the Plastic Ono Band, just to confuse us all more), actually asterisk out her name when describing her contributions!

And I will say it straight off the bat - Yoko Ono was and is an artistic genius, and one of the truly exciting experimental artists of her generation. Let's debunk a serious myth: Yoko Ono didn't break up the Beatles (Ringo's comments on this in the above-mentioned documentary are telling), nor did she use John Lennon to further her own reputation. Yoko Ono, creatively at least, did not need John Lennon. Emotionally, for sure, as did he need her. But where her light had been shining brightly in the field of avant-garde art for some time, it was only through meeting Yoko that Beatle John was able to push back his own boundaries and create some truly adventurous stuff, from the brittle "Yer Blues" and the weird "Revolution No 9" when with his band, to the experimental musical collages of the Unfinished Music albums, to the primal screaming on "Mother" on his debut solo album. Emotionally and artistically, they complimented and fed off each other, and whilst his talents were considerable, any appraisal of them cannot be done to the detriment of Yoko Ono. Simply put, she made John Lennon better, and I would be so bold as to say that the material on his version of Plastic Ono Band is superior to 95% of anything The Beatles ever did.

Which puts Yoko Ono's Plastic Ono Band (Apple, 1970) in another dimension altogether. Before putting it on the first time many moons ago, I had literally no idea what to expect, other than that it would be experimental, and that a lot of narrow-minded prigs who love "Let It Be" and "Love Me Do" think it's shit. But no matter how much that definition tantalised me, nothing prepared me for the dementia I ended up experiencing. 

Plastic Ono Band is one of those albums that are singularly difficult to pigeon-hole (always a good thing in my book). When you hear the words "experimental rock", you think the more out-there moments of Sonic Youth, Van der Graaf Generator, King Crimson or The Velvet Underground. To be honest, I'm not even sure Plastic Ono Band counts as "rock" music per se. It has the instruments (guitar, bass, drums) and the drive, but it is somehow "other". I mean check out the guitar that surges out of the speakers on demented opener "Why?". Remember, this is 1970. The only sound comparable in modern rock music at the time was the guitar on "Sister Ray" by The VU, another "not quite rock" band. Sonic Youth, Glenn Branca, Metal Machine Music and Arto Lindsay were years away yet. It's lacerating, off-key, like an electric violin on full volume being dragged over a cutting saw. And who's playing it? Fuck me, it's John fucking Lennon! A Beatle playing like Ron Asheton, only a Ron Asheton who seems to have forgotton how to use distortion, chorus or delay properly. And who's on drums? Ringo fucking Starr! That most-maligned of drummers is thundering out the most unhinged, primeval and untidy garage backbeat in the world, something anchored in the blues, basic and brutal, but with the discrete suppleness of a jazzman.

And you're still trying to get your mind around this astounding realisation, reading and re-reading the album credits, when John's guitar segues effortlessly (and apparently unintentionally) into a series of vocalisations so demented, so unrelenting and so primordial that I do have to admit (grudgingly) to understanding why some people will recoil in horror, and did. Yoko Ono doesn't sing, she screams. Over and over, this high-pitched, rattling wail repeats the word "Why" like a fucked-up mantra, sometimes drawing the word out, at others blurting it out like an insult. It may be a tough sell, but in this one track, released as the Vietnam War continued unabated and America's National Guard was shooting its own citizens, Yoko Ono manages to perfectly capture the pain and confusion of a society going mad. It wasn't enough to ask why the horror and violence wouldn't go away, you had to scream it. Get it out. In our current climate of corrupt politicians, greedy businessmen and ongoing armed conflict, it is still achingly relevant.

By the next track, "Why Not?", she sounds defeated, her voice now a drained croak over a shuffling blues motif. Perhaps this song can be seen as the moment the couple realised the bed-ins and "Give Peace a Chance"-esque odes to peace and good vibes were no longer enough. Idealism hitting the wall in the face of sheer brutality, in their case perhaps some of the scorn and bile they encountered from the press for their starry-eyed optimism. 

Later, Ono brings her experimental credentials to the fore. She's joined by The Ornette Coleman band on "AOS", the most difficult and surprisingly unsuccessful piece on the album, whilst "Greenfield Morning I Pushed an Empty Baby Carriage All Over the City", an ode to her lost daughter Kyoko (who was more or less kidnapped by her father, Yoko's previous husband), or perhaps to the children she at that time appeared unable to have with John, shows her knowledge of traditional Asian music. It's a quieter, haunting piece featuring chanted double-tracked vocals that are downright eerie, while John, Ringo and bassist Klaus Voorman lurch through a funky, infectious and driving tune, like early Neu! slowed down to accomodate a Tibetan monk on vocals. It, and sumptuous closer "Paper Shoes", predate the raga-folk trend of recent times by nearly three decades, again showcasing Ono's adventurous spirit and sense of innovation.

Plastic Ono Band manages to encapsulate not only the best of the rock/avant-garde mixture, but it also stands as one of the very great extreme proto-punk albums of its day, to be ranked alongside Fun House, Kick Out The Jams, White Light / White Heat, Neu! and Modern Lovers. It paves the way for Public Image Ltd, Lydia Lunch, the Riot Grrrls, Sonic Youth, and a whole sleuth of more recent experimental rock and noise bands who use vocals more as an extra instrument than as a way to express redundant lyrics, and who aren't afraid to challenge, surprise and defy audiences' sensibilities. For that reason alone, the damning and downright hateful speech aimed at Yoko Ono and her work should stop, and she should be allowed to take har place among rock and art's great innovators and creators. It's certainly the place she occupies in my and many others' hearts.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

June on my iPod!!!

A truly vintage month, was June 2010, one in which I discovered a wealth of bands I'd never heard before, and who have all turned out to be amazing! So much so, that Osborne's poor-hitting budget and the World Cup have registered only faintly on my radar. Believe, jangling guitars, noisy synths and overloaded drums make a much better soundtrack to Greece v Nigeria than Guy Mowbray (or whoever)'s mindless patter! So, without further ado, etc...

"Noise" is the key word for June 2010, as I delved head-first into some of the most ear-shattering music I'd heard in a while (maybe Lou Reed's concert inspired me), at least since those heady days when I was unearthing a new Skullflower album per day!

Noise is a peculiar genre, and I still struggle with the kind of harsh, computer-generated noise espoused by the likes of Merzbow (though I love Venereology). The very "raison d'etre" of noise, as a genre, is to push the boundaries of the listener's tolerance, his or her ability to stand the sheer volume, abrasive high notes and atonality on display. With the high frequencies available via computers and electronics, this becomes even harder, as anyone who has discovered Whitehouse will testify. But if you open your mind (and ears), and let the noise wash over you (eyes closed helps, I find), its power is undeniable, even at its most extreme, and this month's exposure to new-fangled noise encouraged me to put aside my -slight- aversion to the harsher side of noise and resurrect a couple of my particularly loud, bad and aggressive noise CDs. Which is where I'll start!

These days, Wolf Eyes may just be the most mainstream noise act out there, and the best known bar Merzbow, courtesy of an unexpected contract with Sub Pop records, who released the second of their WE records, Human Animal in 2006. But the switch to an "overground" record label certainly did not dampen the Michigan trio's noisy spirit, something already demonstrated on Human Animal's predecessor for Sub Pop, 2004's uneven Burned Mind. That album made things clear: Wolf Eyes were not going to blunt their rough edges, as thumping electronic percussion jostled with clattering sound effects and sharp, high-pitched metallic noise of the kind to make dogs scurry for cover. Sadly, Burned Mind contained too many moments of uncomfortable abstraction to really be cohesive, something well rectified on Human Animal, which features longer, more "constructed" tracks, without ever sacrificing the sense of menace and violence that defined the best moments of Burned Mind. If anything, this is an even more malevolent album, with particularly unsettling vocals, notably on "Rationed Rot" and "The Driller" (surely a reference to Abel Ferrara's notorious "video nasty" The Driller Killer). Most intelligently, though, on Human Animal Wolf Eyes experiment with moments of subtle ambience, spaces of (dis)quiet that engage the listener rather than immediately harass him or her, before hammering things home with bursts of growling feedback, digital noise and skronking sax. It's a scary, dark record, but an intelligent one, and there are few higher compliments I could pay.

Also released in 2006 was Chimärendämmerung, by one of Skullflower genius Matt Bower's side-projects, Hototogisu (De Stijl), a collaboration with Marcia Bassett, of Double Leopards and Zaimph "fame". Which is also a good chance to laud Bower's album from the same year as Skullflower, Tribulation (Mordam Records), as the two are almost peas in a pod in terms of scope, ambition and -crucially- volume.
After a long hiatus in which he mainly operated in another outfit, Sunroof!, Bower returned to Skullflower in 2003 with Exquisite Fucking Boredom, and has pretty much operated as a one-man band since then, eschewing the drums- and bass- doom metal of albums like IIIrd Gatekeeper and Carved Into Roses in favour of walls of saturated guitar noise and digital effects, with a huge number of successive albums coming out since the revival of the "band". Of them all, Tribulation is probably the harshest, most violent and most uncompromising, its nine tracks being the kind of mangled, unrelenting guitar noise that will make most people bleed from the ears and lurch full-speed for the "off" switch of their stereos. Tribulation is cut from the same razor-sharp guitar cloth as Lou Reed's controversial Metal Machine Music, with Bower's stubborn refusal to deviate from his relentless screes of feedback and harsh metal noise. The difference with Reed's masterpiece is Bower's new-found interest in computer-generated harshness and subdued metallic percussion to complement his axe soloing It takes immense patience to delve into Tribulation, but few albums go about their task of unsettling and assaulting their listeners with such impressive single-minded-ness.

One of them, of course, is Chimärendämmerung. It is in many ways the perhaps-not-quite-so-evil twin of Tribulation. There is still more of Bower's trademark harsh, harsh, super-saturated guitar feedback, but he has cut back the power electronics he now favours with Skullflower, allowing for something that is more spacious, less claustrophobic. Orange Canyon Mind and Tribulation have echoes of Prurient's sturm-und-drang, whilst more recent Skullflower albums like Strange Keys to Untune God's Firmament are more deeply anchored in Sunn O)))-influenced doom metal, but with Hototogisu the approach is more "measured", for lack of a better word. The volume is still unsettling, with high-pitched squeals and whistles giving one's ears the Wolf-Eyes treatment, but there is also a sense of space, surely provided by Bassett and her background in gloomy folk-drone in Double Leopards. At times, Chimärendämmerung touches the psychedelic, its vastness becoming all-encompassing like "Interstellar Overdrive"-era Pink Floyd, only a Pink Floyd in which the drums, guitar solos and Syd Barrett's voice have all been swallowed by his guitar feedback and Richard Wright's overloaded organ, the whole lot then recorded on volume 11. Ok, so that's not a very helpful comparison (maybe the Velvet Underground playing "Sister Ray" would be a more apt description), but the feeling you get is that motorik psychedelia has been pushed to its outer-most limit and melted into noisy drone. Weird but true!

Noise is one of the more geographically-delimited genres of modern music, efficiently sub-categorised by country or even areas of a country. Therefore, we had the London noise scene, that grew out of industrial music and gave us Whitehouse, early Current 93 and Nurse With Wound and Skullflower. There's Japanoise, of course. And in America, differentiation is made between the Noise that hails from California, the Midwest, Providence and New York. Confusing, but it actually makes digging through it all a bit easier, as so many bands from each "noise region" are inter-connected, related or operate in similar styles.
Brooklyn has become the new jewel in the crown of noise scenes, getting many column inches, from Pitchfork to The Wire to Dusted. And it's deserved praise, as the scene in New York's "second borough" is simply effervescent, and in fact extends well beyond noise, giving us the trippy electronic of indy faves Animal Collective, the warped electro-drone of Excepter, and Gang Gang Dance's pounding avant-disco.

But it's the noisniks who really pump my nads among the Brooklyn bands, and perhaps none more so than Mouthus, whose Saw a Halo (Load, 2007) perfectly condenses all the best elements of modern noise, particularly of the Brooklyn kind. Prurient fans be warned, the harshness that defines your black-clad idol is not so frequent here. Mouthus and the other Brooklynites rather take the angst and volume of harsh noise, and take it in new directions. Compared to a lot of noise, drums are more frequent on Saw a Halo. Even "Armies Between", which features buzz-saw guitar feedback and an angry guitar solo that crackle and jerk throughout the track's 4+ minutes, is anchored by an insistent, controlled drum beat, a sort of motorik metronome to reign in the guitar flights of fancy, making the tension less explosive than a Burial Hex or a Wolf Eyes, more a sort of pent-up, barely-contained spasm that is stretching and straining to burst out. It's a fascinating, breath-taking track, hypnotic through its sheer repetitiveness, but slashed through with spasmic bursts of aggressive guitar before collapsing into the messy drone miasma that is "The Driftless", more Guru Guru-tainted than its Klaus Dinger-ish predecessor, but with the same (im)balance between messy guitar/bass noise and controlled (albeit here slightly jazzier) drumming. A third of the way through, a disembodied voice starts intoning a mournful chant, and this voice pops out throughout the album, lending Saw a Halo a spiritual, psychedelic vibe in keeping with the Brooklyn scene's neo-hippyism. The vocals return on "Century of Divides", a more mellow and drifting track, with cavernous bass, and muted drums, but that also features an atonal guitar solo. This vaired and expansive approach allows Mouthus to really stretch out throughout Saw a Halo, at times (such as on the acousticopener, "Your Far Church") coming closer to the sound of Six Organs of Admittance than to the pure noise of Wolf Eyes of Fushitsusha. This is head music, worthy of Skullflower, Julian Cope, Ash Ra Tempel or Flower Travellin' Band, but it remains unmistakenly modern and urban, music by city-dwelling freaks rather than sun-baked country ones. Essential for any noisenik.

On the opposite side of the noise coin sit another Brooklyn band, Sightings, and their aggressive, pulsating style is perfectly encapsulated on Through the Panama (Load Records, 2007). Unlike Mouthus or Excepter, their songs are shorter, and Sightings operate almost in a typically rock format - bass, drums, guitar. They could almost be the world's most bizarre power trio. From the off, brutal, buzzing noise scatters out of the speakers, with fuzzed-out guitar, scattered, almost polyrhythmic drumming and the kind of monolithic bass that you would expect to hear from a metal or post-punk band, effectively (re)-liniking noise rock with some of its occasionally forgotten roots, such as the down-tuned guitar of Sabbath's Tony Iommi or Randy Holden, and the darker recesses of early eighties rock. Indeed, at times Sightings have me thinking of Throbbing Gristle, only with drums. Through the Panama possesses a similar murky vibe and general sense of unease, plus a willingness to take the basics of "rock" music and pervert them into an edgier form of modern music. At other times the spirit of early Flipper seems to enter the grooves, with everything feeling ramshackle and disjointed. The music on Through the Panama is uneasy, violent and forward-thinking, but remains rooted in a rock/punk format that in some ways, for all its Wolf Eyes similarities, makes it one of the more accessible albums to get the Rusted Shadows treatment this month.

But of all the Brooklyn bands, perhaps the most important one -yes, even more so than Animal Collective- is Black Dice, whose Beaches and Canyons (2002, Fat Cat Records) is a masterpiece I heavily recommend to anyone with even a small interest in noise, pop, rock and electronica. It laid the groundwork, not just for the Second Borough's noise scene, but for adventurous and open-minded pop bands like the aforementioned Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance and Liars as well. As such, Beaches and Canyons goes way beyond any specific genre. The noise elemement is present in discordant electronics, overloaded bursts of guitar fuzz and some seriously heavy drums, but equally, as on opener "Seabird" there are drifting washes of synthetic ambience and sparkling burbles of electronic trickery, as much inspired by Eno as it is by The Velvet Underground. At times, we could even be in post-rock territory, although the adventurous variety embodied by Tortoise rather than the quiet-loud-quiet guitar theatrics of Mono or Explosions in the Sky. The music on Beaches and Canyons is vast and evolving, much like the scenery evoked in its title, as towering blocks of harsh rock noise descend gracefully into dreamy, glittering, watery electro-pop, a journey as psychedelic as the vibrantly garish cover art suggests. Staggeringly ambitious, weird, and so modern the rest of the Brooklyn scene is still playing catch-up, Beaches and Canyons is a loud, gentle, harsh, ambient, rocking, drifting classic, and one any self-respecting music lover should own.

The Brooklyn scene has produced some of the most "listenable" noise and, like Fuck Buttons in the UK, has helped joined the dots between the harshness of Prurient, Merzbow, Carlos Giffoni and Kevin Drumm and more "mainstream" genres like hard rock, pop, electro and psych. 
Also operating somewhere between the darker recesses of the Underground and the lighter aspects of audience-friendly (ish) sounds are California's Yellow Swans. I should say "were", sadly, as the duo no longer exist, with Going Places (2010, Type Records) being their swansong. But what a way to say adieu! Going Places is so far one of my favourite albums of what is shaping up to be quite a year for modern pop (more of that later, but I have to say that 2010 looks liable to eclipse 2009, which was already a stonker!).
In some ways, Going Places is more traditionally "noisy" than the Brooklyn bands above. Certainly, there are no jazzy drum patterns, dreamy voices and pop flourishes here. Yellow Swans create vast walls of sound using electronics and guitars, no drums and nothing remotely relating to familiar strains of popular music. But, where Wolf Eyes or Prurient or Merzbow prefer to ferociously brutalise their listeners, the sound here is loud, but occasionally warm, or at least not always that harsh, envelopping the listener in a blanket of buzzing drone and creating the kind of haze that suits the cover imagery perfectly, and would not be out of place on a Leyland Kirby or Oneohtrix Point Never album, albeit with stomping electronic percussion added for good measure. Going Places (love the ironic title!) therefore acts as an elegy to the band's career as it ends. It's a moving and fitting farewell. And still a flippin' loud one!

As I wrote before, 2010 is turning out to be an awesome year. I've already saluted Indignant Senility, Eleh and Yellow Swans, but, away from such oddball drone epics we have also had some pretty amazing albums in notably different genres.

Ariel Pink is really something of a latter-day cult hero. Signed to Animal Collective's Paw Tracks label several years back, he subsequently released (under the Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti moniker) a staggering number of lo-fi, oddball pop albums recorded alone in his bedroom somewhere in California, and was immediately held up as the standard-bearer of what The Wire baptized "hypnagogic pop", the USA's screwball answer to Britain's more esoteric hauntology. He's now moved up a notch by assembling a band to help further his vision for his debut release on a major label, Before Today (2010, 4AD). There were concerns among Haunted Graffiti fans that the switch would overly clean up the man's murky sound, but I personally welcomed the move, having found his Paw Tracks material to be just a bit too rough-shod (each one contains over a dozen tracks, and whilst the lo-fi production can be deliciously atmospheric, at times it bordered on the unlistenably stupid and obtuse). And Before Today doesn't disappoint, maintaining enough quirkiness and off-kilter atmospherics to satisfy fans of The Doldrums but with a clearer vision and greater coherence. Pink revisits some of his older songs, sprucing up the production and clearing up the murk, but fear not hypnagogues! He leaves enough dream-like haze on just about every track to keep his vision intact. And what a vision! How many artists would be able to revisit soft-rock and cheesy late-70s MOR and make them relevant in the 21st century? Well, Ariel Pink is one such artist, as the influence of just about every easy-going pop staple from The Beach Boys to Steely Dan, via Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Earth, Wind and Fire gets filtered through his weird prism, resulting in songs that are catchy and melodic, but somehow odd, unsettling and so much more than the some of their pieces. You hear keyboard licks that would normally make you cringe, or cheesy guitar parts, but then Pink's off-kilter voice comes in, singing bizarrre, nay, incomprehensible lyrics (think a grungier Marc Bolan circa "New York City") as the songs shift and buckle in different directions. There are shades of power pop ("Butt-hole Blondies"), malingering doo-wop ("Beverly Kills") and soaring post-Doobie Brothers anthems ("Bright Lit Blue Skies"). Few albums will be as daring as Before Today this year, if ever, so, although some of the sounds may make you cringe, it's well worth checking out.

It's also undeniable that Ariel Pink has had a huge influence on a lot of artists who have followed in his wake, and not just his fellow hypnogogic popsters. His DIY approach also finds echoes in what is now being nicknamed "chillwave", a loose genre tacked on to a bunch of bedroom composers with nifty computer technology, frequent Internet access and a healthy dollop of nostalgia. None have been more captivating than Memory Tapes, the pseudonym of New Jersey-based producer Dayve Hawk, whose Seek Magic (2009, Sincerely Yours) has been spinning pretty much non-stop on my iPod for the past 5 weeks. Like Oneohtrix Point Never, Ariel Pink and Emeralds, Hawk seems to have realised that these days coming up with anything approaching true originality in modern pop music is pretty much a lost cause. But, rather than re-hash a specific style almost verbatim (in the way The Killers and The Libertines do/did), Hawk gorges on a wide range of musical influences, then filters them through a post-eighties pop prism to deliver something ultimately rather unique. The songs on Seek Magic are definitely 100% pop, with soaring choruses and an emphasis on the kind of hook-laden dance beats that characterised Technique-era New Order, but Memory Tapes is excellent at shifting the focus, disarmingly switching to moments of drifting Eno-esque ambience or trance-like post-shoegaze before returning to shaky beats, glorious double-tracked harmonies and sweeping synth patterns. Throughout, for all the moments of four-to-the-floor grooves and singalong lyrics, there's a melancholic veil that cloaks the record, making Seek Magic as much the soundtrack to an early post-party morning (in the grand tradition of Slowdive or Cocteau Twins, without really sounding like either) as it is a great album to play on a Summer's drive. Whether or not the chillwave phenomenon lasts the distance is immaterial when listening to this bliss.

Rene Hell has, in recent reviews of his debut album, Porcelain Opera (2010, Type Records), been compared to Oneohtrix Point Never and Emeralds, but actually, this alternative moniker for noisenik Jeff Witscher produces sounds that are pretty removed from the nostalgic electro pulses of your average hypnagogic dronester, although you could quote similar krautrock influences as the aforementioned pair, with Witscher using synths and little else to create his instrumental vignettes. But where they obviously hark back to latter-period Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, plus more recent pop fair (see OPN's revamping of "Lady in Red"), Porcelain Opera is a dark and moody album, full of sinister bleeps and warbles, and spooky repressed vocal snippets. The synths create a moody ether cloud, a constant wall of electronic haze that shifts and slides like some ghostly canvas separating two dimensions in an episode of The Twilight Zone. At times, motorik pulses propell the tracks in unknown directions before dissolving into subterranean dark ambience (opener "Razor. P+"), like warped versions of Tortoise's Millions Now Living Will Never Die or Cluster's Zuckerzeit. On "Prize Mischief Hold" (each track is shackled by an unwieldy and oblique title), weird voices slide into focus like insects buzzing around your head as a doom-like pulse grinds away and shafts of electronic light pierce the obscurity. It's a cracking track, mirrored by the penultimate one, "L. Minx", 9 minutes of twisted atmospherics, snarling electro-pop and unexpected textural shifts. You can detect Witscher's noise background throughout the album, as unsettling and unexpected sounds keep twisting his soundscapes in darker and more surprising ways. It may not be as accessible as many contemporary electronic albums, but Porcelain Opera is certainly more rewarding than most.

I've also been quivering in my boots with both delight and a little bit of unease thanks to my discovery of Inca Ore, aka Eva Saelens, an Oakland-based singer and dronester, whose Birthday of Bless You album (2008, Not Not Fun) is surely one of the most peculiar and mesmerising of the whole sub-hypnagogic pop scene that has already given us Robedoor, Pocahaunted and Grouper. From opener "Infant Ra"-onwards, we are instantly transported into a dark and haunting American Gothic universe, one already frequented by Indignant Senility and Zola Jesus, but taken here to the next level, as Saelens ghostly, disembodied voice drifts like leaves on an autumn breeze around sinister gongs, muted lo-fi percussion and layer upon layer of dark, murky and impenetrable tape noise and muted feedback. Her chants are deliberately otherwordly, given even greater phantomatic gravitas by the dank production where every sound seems to drown in a pool of sandy water. It's intriguing that this music should emanate from sunny California as opposed to the post-colonial greyness of New England, home of the Salem witches and other disquieting histories. But maybe the post-noise of Inca Ore, like that of Grouper and Indignant Senility is rooted in a more recent collective consciousness - that of California's sinister history of serial killers and drug-laden excess. The dark forests and hills overlooking L.A. and San Francsico, the ones that birthed the Manson Family and The Hillside Strangler, those hidden underbellies of decay beyond the sun-kissed beach vistas and modern cities, seem to permeate this record, like ghosts seeping into reality. Sometimes the sunshine does pierce the gothic veil of Saelens mystique, but mostly this is haunted, lonesome drone-folk of the highest order. 

Lest you think I have lost interest in Dubstep, let's sign off with a suitably euphoric appraisal of one of the best releases the genre has provided us with thus far. Scuba is not a major name on the UK scene yet, but looks set to become one, if Triangulation (2010, Hotflush Records) is anything to go by. Scuba is the alter ego of Briton Paul Rose, who is currently one of the resident DJs at Berlin's world-famous Berghain club (I've been there - it has to be one of the most exhiliratingly overwhelming clubbing experiences I've ever had). Which of course means that, whilst the second track on this album, "Latch", may bear a strong resemblance to the work of master dubstepper Burial, Triangulation is actually one of the most innovative dub albums to have come along in a while, as Rose pollinates his Skream-esque deep bass lines with a wealth of other dance, techno and electro influences. Hints of heavy breakbeat and jungle add oomph to some tracks ("On Deck" is pure minimalist techno, whilst "You Got Me" is nicely funky), whilst there are echoes of trance and trip-hop on tracks like "Three Sided Shape" and "Before" (which features a gorgeous female vocal), occasionally evoking Massive Attack or Portishead. You can also feel the influence of further-flung producers like Flying Lotus, with hints of "ethnic" music on "Minerals", highlighting the Berghain's status as one of the premier international clubs. All this cross-pollination could have been to Triangulation's detriment, but Rose is too experienced for that. Throughout the album, despite the tempo changes and varying influences, he maintains a mood that is sombre, reflective and as subterranean as the cover art suggests. This is dubstep for damp, run-down European cities, making it the most deserving heir yet to Burial's Untrue. There are few bigger compliments I could pay.

So yes, 2010 is shaping up to be a stonker. I'm also still delving into a back-catalogue of noise, drone and hypnogogic records, so July on my iPod!! is liable to be as long as June. Happy Days!