008: The Begotten, Crazy Doberman, Hellvete, Timelash

Critical musings on Aguirre Records' January batch

Welcome to the eighth issue of Organ Grinder. This one’s special: we have reviews of four new albums—The Begotten’s Temidden Laaghangende Wolken, Crazy Doberman’s Two Tales of Lost Witness Marks, Hellvete’s Voor Harmonium, and Timelash’s A Morphology of Wonders—all released January 22 on Belgian label Aguirre Records.

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Round Table

Our writers’ thoughts on a new release. This section is the core of each issue.

The Begotten, Temidden Laaghangende Wolken (Aguirre Records, 2021)

From Bandcamp: “The Begotten is the brainchild of Jürgen De Blonde (Köhn/de portables) and Brecht Ameel (Razen), who initially performed a number of shows and released a CS under the moniker ‘Kohier’ - gleefully referencing the absurdity of Belgian tax systems and institutions. On their debut LP ‘Temidden Laaghangende Wolken’ they are joined by percussionist and improv-veteran Dirk Wachtelaer (Pablo’s Eye/Vanishing Pictures), who locked with De Blonde and Ameel’s post-reality continuum during a recording session at Les Ateliers Claus in Brussels.”

Purchase Temidden Laaghangende Wolken digitally from Bandcamp or on vinyl from Aguirre Records’ site.

Jack Ahrens: Temidden Laaghangende Wolken translates to “amidst low-hanging clouds,” or at least that’s what Google Translate tells me. It’s an apt title. Wistful guitar-lines paint a lush landscape; delicate drum work lets loose the rustle of grass and leaves in the wind; murky synth lines obscure everything in a misty haze. Crystal-clear production brings every pluck of a guitar string to the fore, creating a sparse but dynamic atmosphere. All three players are allowed ample space to let their instrument shine, each painting distinct yet complementary timbral hues. The last few tracks turn up the reverb just a tad, yielding atmospheres somewhere on the border of serene and unnerving. Subtle shifts in tone do quite a bit of work to push simple riffs forward.

Still, some ideas here could definitely have been explored further. Motifs wax, wane, and interweave, sure, but the songwriting often leaves tracks straddling the edge between a nice color piece and a fully developed song. The record takes the sound palette and general approach found in early post-rock albums like Bark Psychosis’ Hex or Tortoise’s Millions Now Living will Never Die, but seems timid when faced with the prospect of doing something more.

Maxie Younger: Temidden Laaghangende Wolken is a tough nut to crack at the best of times. Across its six tracks, there’s a palpable, at times aggravating sense of restraint keeping the three players’ feet planted firmly on the ground floor of the moods and atmospheres they explore. It’s an intentional choice, made to conjure images of the listless, plodding purgatory of a rain-drenched bar in the dead hours of night: customers slumped against the backs of their chairs, nursing lukewarm beer and, apparently, “staring at tax sheets” to the tuneless, perfunctory ambience of the bar television. It’s certainly an evocative scenario from which to draw inspiration—hopeless, drowned, immaterial, transient—but it’s one that works better to set a stage, not define it. As it stands, the album takes up a lot of time rehashing variations on the same idea without much to offer for an active listener past the second track or so. It’s something to play in the background, these scenes encased in amber, spaces removed from time; it has its place, but it’s not the kind of project I’m eager to return to without good cause.

Crazy Doberman, Two Tales of Lost Witness Marks (Aguirre Records, 2021)

From Discogs: “Crazy Doberman began as an open, collaborative, and improvisational offshoot of Doberman. While Doberman existed as an Indiana quartet rooted primarily in the industrial and experimental-electronic musical traditions, Crazy Doberman has gone on to incorporate elements of free jazz, found sound, musique concrète, and diverse instrumentation into their recordings and performances. The project originated as a series of collaborations with John Olson but has continued to include collaborations with various artists across a diverse musical spectrum. The live set generally consists of a rotating and revolving cast of core members alongside accompanying improvisors. These live sessions often function as source material for their recorded output, with most releases recorded and mixed by member Tim Gick.”

Purchase Two Tales of Lost Witness Marks digitally from Bandcamp or on vinyl from Aguirre Records’ site.

Jinhyung Kim: It’s a common criticism to call the sort of clanking, noodly, fuzzed-up psychedelic freak-outs that Crazy Doberman indulges in—squeal-laden and slathered with overdrive—excessive: crowded, messy, fried so deep that it all congeals into an indistinguishable lump. This isn’t too far off the mark for Two Tales of Lost Witness Marks, but there’s one qualification I want to make: I often feel like what’s here isn’t enough; the album frequently lets go of its developmental or climactic potential. A steady, repeating bass note anchors piercing synths and whorls of electronics on “Tale One,” part one—it’s firm enough to ground a crescendo toward a wild apex, but we don’t even get close. Part five begins with a jazzy, mid-tempo lilt, sax quipping on the downbeat, hi-hats punctuating the offbeat. However, when the band deviates from that rhythm, they don't seem to know where to go. They fail to disrupt it in a coherent way, and before you know it, side A is over. Of course, looser, arhythmic sections can be found in ready supply: clanging bells and scattered cymbal hits freely ebb and flow midway through “Tale One”; “Tale Two,” part two presents a wide open space in which blown-out sax, scraggly guitar, and rolling percussion have free reign. But the music is so drenched in reverb that neither moments of rhythmic propulsion nor those of unfettered discord are distinctly legible as such. It’s why the finale to “Tale Two,” despite its gradual intensity, simply mires in soupy cacophony for a bit before dissipating into the ether.

Two Tales still has its stand-out moments. Part two of “Tale One” features lumbering piano notes that crawl up and down octaves in the bass register, lining up every now and then with equally slow and heavy percussion to produce a monstrous thump. The reverb is even more pronounced than elsewhere on the record, but it’s appropriate here, amplifying the ripples and waves created by the instrumentation’s seismic heft. Erratic edits on “Tale Two,” part one keep the listener on the edge of their seat, with abrupt shifts between a pounding, four-on-the-floor jam, sparse, dissonant jazz, and atmospheric bells; the rapid cuts help emphasize sonic differences that the production otherwise smooths over. While it’d be nice if Crazy Doberman gave us more where this came from, my suspicion is that a certain indiscriminacy in their music-making is essential to their pursuit of mayhem: whatever sticks, sticks by chance—and it only happens every so often.

Kevin McKinney: My first listen to Two Tales of Lost Witness Marks didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I heard the album as a solid mass, with no piece differentiated from the rest.  But sometimes repetition works its magic if you let it, and I found that some of Two Tales' sounds and textures can catch as hooks after a few tries. I really love a moment towards the end of the A-side whose plinks and plonks sound like missing all the notes in Guitar Hero. And the beginning of the B-side has these perfect lurching cuts from sound to sound. It’s a moment of brilliant editing that I would gladly listen to for hours. But I guess that’s where I run into trouble with the whole thing: it doesn’t seem to me that any given piece of this music necessitates any other. Any sound could end at any point; any sound could never start at all. And Crazy Doberman’s improvisation feels just as arbitrary. I don’t get the impression that these players are listening together. Nobody is quiet for anyone else. The result is a dull heaviness that gestures at harshness but couldn't leave a scratch. More of an annoyance than an irritant.

Two Tales' liner notes describe its recording as taking place during a “total ‘CHUGFEST,’” so in a last try at hearing with open ears, my roommates and I had a “CHUGFEST” of our own. We got good and sauced and listened again. Towards the end of the second side, the song swells to its climax, but I don’t think we found catharsis there. It was only loud. My roommate said “there’s no pulse” and paused a second. “Heartless music.” Afterwards we listened to Karyōbin and to Lysol, played cards, watched The Simpsons. All these things felt cast in a new light, so sharp and clear in contrast. This effect lasted for days: Sunday night, I found myself stone-cold sober, listening intently as I cleaned the apartment with my roommates. What a wonder! the scrape of a brush on a toilet, squeak of a sponge on the counter, chatter, breath.

Hellvete, Voor Harmonium (Aguirre Records, 2021)

From Morc Records: “Hellvete produces hypnotic ballads on harmonium and electronics, flowing freely in the spheres of minimalism, drones and folk music. Hellvete is the solo project of Glen Steenkiste, a member of psych outfit Sylvester Anfang II and Bow Aether Group.”

Purchase Voor Harmonium digitally from Bandcamp or on vinyl from Aguirre Records’ site.

Chloe Liebenthal: Hellvete’s Voor Harmonium is a bright, twinkly twofer of harmonium-based drone that balances a traditional, meditative approach with trancelike rhythms that, according to the liner notes, transform it all into dance music. In practice, its unchanging rhythms summon a bit of the thrill you sometimes find in vintage krautrock, but it would be a brave dancer indeed who felt compelled to shake their groove thing (so to speak) upon hearing these hazy harmonium scribbles. No, Voor Harmonium summons up a post-party comedown kind of vibe (hey, remember when witty little cracks like “hey, remember parties?” were still funny?), when the music hasn’t stopped but everyone’s worn out and the rock-solid beats and sparkly synths are starting to drift away into the nighttime fog while the steady drone of a headache’s genesis bores into your skull. And I mean that in the best way possible: Voor Harmonium captures that liminal, drearily euphoric space—now a folk tradition as valid as any espoused by Hellvete’s hero Henry Flynt, I’m sure—with clarity and subtle elegance.

Jinhyung Kim: The two side-long drones that make up this record come off rather flat. It’s not that they don’t develop over time: I hear the monochordal wall of synths get thicker and fuzzier over the course of “Voor Harmonium III”; a circular three-note melody gradually fades in during the piece's latter half. The first third of “Voor Harmonium IV” is spent filling up the space around a pulsing bassline, one harmonic layer at a time, until all’s lost in the haze. But while I register these changes, they do little to shift my position within or relative to the sound. Their impact is negligible; I feel as if I’m observing them from a distance. It’s not something I’d come down hard on if the synthesized sounds themselves were at all engrossing—a lot of good drone shimmers, undulates, moves on a micro- as well as macroscopic level. Voor Harmonium, while not completely uniform, remains unbearably still.

Timelash, A Morphology of Wonders (Aguirre Records, 2021)

From Bandcamp: “Timelash is the freshly erupted synthesizer & SFX duet of Embassador Dulgoon (Nonlocal Research) and Corum (Psychic Sounds / Million Brazilians). Together they reveal new sound forms by playing with primeval motifs contrasted sharply against unfolding futuristic developments. The result is a simultaneous listening experience of ancient and alien settings told through their unique rhythm of language by mood-driven atmospheres, exotic tones, and electrifying sci-fi Cumbia jolt.”

Purchase A Morphology of Wonders digitally from Bandcamp or on vinyl from Aguirre Records’ site.

Zachariah Cook: A Morphology of Wonders is not an ill-fitting title. Certain effects here and there are beguiling, although I don’t know what to make of it as a whole. After four or five listens, it’s still unclear what the 70-minute experience amounts to. Is it like a multi-studded gem, luminescent and beautifully unrefined? Or is it a rather shapeless, bleary mass? A... morphology. The term might also apply (endearingly so) to the cover artwork, a collage of discount sci-fi ephemera.

Across the long haul, I picked up hints of Lustmord and Angelo Badalamenti from the murky atmosphere, but I never settled the question of what Timelash is all about. They promise revelation, pitting “primeval motifs” against “futuristic developments”—it's a shame that whatever tension they cultivated fell on deaf ears.

Maxie Younger: A Morphology of Wonders is eerie, sometimes chilling, sometimes soothing: in fits and starts, it crawls from shadow to shadow, taking shelter in landscapes just beyond focus. There’s something of an archival quality to these songs, as though they were ripped from the dustiest of cassette tapes crammed into the back shelves of a mildew-laced bookstore. Take, for instance, the opening track, “Orogenesis,” whose synthesized, whispering flutes and campy tribal drums call to mind Alan Lee and John Howe’s Lord of the Rings illustrations: terraces shrouded in fog, bone-white towers stretching up from the black earth and bleeding into misty grey skies. It’s the kind of stuff that could easily be slipped into the background of a chilled-out D&D session without complaint. I do, however, find this music strangely tough to train my full attention on. During each of the four instances I listened to the album all the way through, I was consistently lulled to sleep by the time it hit its midpoint; I would jolt awake to discover that several tracks had passed and, sighing, had to click back to where I left off in the waking world. This isn’t to say that A Morphology of Wonders is dull, exactly. The better word would be “mesmerizing”: it draws the listener, spellbound, down dark corridors to the realms of the hypnagogic.

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