When I can't wrap my head around a piece of music — be it a monstrous orchestral work, twisted death metal or skittering electronics — I reframe the abstract in terms of visual art or dance. What is the movement of the music? How would the sonic shapes translate to a canvas or to the jumping, stretching and gyrating contours of the human body?
Giant Claw's surrealist sound collage has always felt like dance music to me — maybe not for the club, but Keith Rankin's broken-beat, chopped-and-screwed, channel-panning MIDI fantasia imbues unpredictable, robotic motion with human emotion. So imagine my delight when Rankin recently shared this dance performance from last year's Jump Dance Convention in Buffalo, N.Y.
Canadian dancer Aysia Ianiero takes the Giant Claw track "Soft Channel 07" and punctuates the music with sharp drama — her body a flailing, kicking, rolling linguist to disembodied voices, clanging metal, clipped strings and zipper electronics. Turns out she's not the only one inspired by Giant Claw's 2017 album Soft Channel: Watch as Lex Ishimoto contorts his body with intimate shapes to a camera circling around him.
Cruel Diagonals, "Null and Devoid"
Megan Mitchell drops you straight into the chasm — a meditative free-fall into head-swirling loops of her phantasmal voice. Fractured beats puncture the space with purpose, but just as soon fade away into the black. A beguiling track from the fourth volume of Doom Trip's Doom Mix compilation series.
Astroturf Noise, "Black Berry (feat. Sarah Bernstein)"
Fire music served up in a surrealist honky-tonk. This Brooklyn trio can clearly play bluegrass straight, but mangles its strings in ecstatic contortions, à la Ornette Coleman, or like the OG bluegrass maniac himself, Eugene Chadbourne.
Ripped to Shreds, "Opening Salvo"
Ripped. To. Shreds. Put it on a black t-shirt in an unreadable font, tattoo it on your six-pack, burn it into a piece of bread with one of those novelty toasters — the name demands fealty. Thankfully, Andrew Lee's Entombed and Bolt Thrower worship lives up to the name.
Gladie, "twenty twenty"
How many albums and songs about 2020 (and 20/20 vision) are we gonna get this year? I hope they're all as good as this chugging heart-tugger from Gladie, Augusta Koch's post-Cayetana band. The guitar jangle is familiar, but weathered, as Koch's raspy voice and weighted introspection.
S.*.*.*., "Eraser III"
S.*.*.*. has always sounded like, well, you know. That's part of the Toronto punk band's ugly, smear-stained charm. (And, hey, this is NPR, so I can't print the acronym — the band won't tell anyone what it means either.) So what happens when that cheap buzzsaw guitar tone and spit-screamed filth get mixed by F***** Up's Jonah Falco and mastered by studio wizard Arthur Rizk? Welp, it turns out you can polish a turd.
Yogurt, "Marry Me"
They really don't make them like this anymore. Lo-fi pop hits drenched under layers of four-track tape noise, weirdo collage trips, Casio beats and mangled guitar shred. Collected from cassettes spanning 1993 until his death in 2002, Matty Luv made these whimsical songs with whomever stopped by his place in San Francisco, including metal drummer Aesop Dekker (Agalloch, VHOL, Ludicra) who just released this first volume on his new label Nocturnal Hustle.
Drown, "VII: Father Subaqueous"
Aquatic doom metal that plunders that the trenches of trauma with tectonic beauty. Markov Soroka writes underwater riffs that ripple and ring with mournful devastation, accompanied by his fathoms-deep growl and slow-moving strings.