Ron Morelli: Spit
Hospital Productions

Shifted: Under a Single Banner
Bed of Nails

Vatican Shadow: Remember Your Black Day
Hospital Productions

Lately, it seems, there's been an upsurge in an industrial noise-styled variant of techno, one smothered in soot and grime—perhaps a reaction against the slick software-based techno associated with the output of a program such as Ableton Live? Regardless, labels like Gravite, Ostgut Ton, and Stroboscopic Artefacts have become specialists of sorts in this recent wave of so-called "S-M Techno" (a term coined by the Blackest Ever Black label in reference to the music produced by Shifted under a separate alias, Alexander Lewis), though they're hardly the only ones as these recent collections on Bed of Nails and Hospital Productions make clear.

Shifted prefers to his keep his identity under wraps and let his music speak for itself, so we'll honour that and focus on the nine tracks composing his Under a Single Banner long-player. Par for the full-length course as far as artist albums of this kind are concerned, the album begins with a beatless intro of scene-setting noise textures (“Core of Stone”) and then quickly follows it with raw, beat-driven material more representative of the project. In that regard, “Chrome, Canopy & Bursting Heart” rolls out an insistently throbbing pulse smeared in crackle and noise and given momentum by an unwavering and elastic bass line. Primal throwdowns “Burning Tyres” and “Pulse Incomplete” pound with the hellacious determination of runaway trains, while “Contract 0” flirts with minimal techno in its fleet hi-hats-and-kick drum swizzle. Elsewhere, hi-hat patterns and bass drops pierce through fog so thick one could choke on it. There's a singlemindednesss and relentlessness to the material that can make it seem as if the machines are operating in the absence of humans, though to what particularly punishing end isn't known. That's not to say, however, that the material is uninteresting or lacking in stimulation, even if melody is downplayed (if not absent altogether) and rhythm emphasized above all else: there's certainly more than enough happening in mutating tracks such as “Suspended Inside” and “Wash Over Me” to keep both the clubber and home listener engaged.

Spit, Ron Morelli's debut album on Dominick Fernow's Hospital Productions, is purportedly the first in a trio of releases scheduled to appear on the label in the coming months. Context for the album is helpfully supplied by Morelli himself, who's also known as the founder of the Brooklyn-based L.I.E.S. label. With respect to the title and cover image, he explains, “Last year, I was staying in an area where all the hookers did their work… (A)ll they would do is smoke cigarettes, read the paper, talk on their cell phones, and spit … I would step in that hooker spit on the way home, often tracking it into the apartment building as I entered.” Supplementing that genteel image are Morelli's words on the content of the album: “The music on this record is about immediacy, pressure, monotony, and stress. A great deal of the feelings conveyed within come from the fear and repulsion of basic human interaction.” Immediate it certainly is, with Morelli fitting the eight tracks into a lean thirty-six-minute running time and amping up the cryptic vibe with titles like “Modern Paranoia,” “No Real Reason,” and “Slow Drown.” Spit is, however, a rather more varied ride than Under a Single Banner, with everything from dark industrial-ambient tape experiments to wonky beat warble served up for your listening enjoyment, and it's evocative, too. There's “Crack Microbes,” for example, a hammering, sequencer-driven slab of acid-techno so wiry it'd make Jamal Moss jealous, and “Modern Paranoia,” which, like some diseased hoedown escapee, receives its house-fueled kick from a buckshot groove, handclaps, and belching synth squirm. In addition to the nightmarish “Sledghammer II,” a crushing industrial-ambient soundscape that sounds like some amplified beast gorging on itself, we get “Fake Rush,” a burbling fuzzball of rat-a-tat snares and thrumming noises, and “No Real Reason,” which quickly locks into a gurgling dance groove covered in festering scabs.

Fernow himself appears on Hospital Productions with his first proper full-length under the Vatican Shadow name following a string of cassette and vinyl releases. As track titles like “Tonight Saddam Walks Amidst Ruins” and “Contractor Corpses Hung Over the Euphrates River” suggest, Remember Your Black Day perpetuates the cryptic tone of Morelli's outing in eight heady tracks of ominous beatsmithing. There are surprises aplenty, the first of which arrives when the opening salvo “Circumstances Quickly Became Questioned” rapidly exits after a mere thirty-two seconds. The album's first in-depth presentation of the Vatican Shadow sound arrives, then, in the form of “Tonight Saddam Walks Amidst Ruins,” a slow and menacing moodscape laced with a muscular groove, curdling synths, and percussive lashings suggestive of violent activity (a style Fernow revisits in the brutally churning “Not the Son of Desert Storm, But the Child of Chechnya”). “Muscle Hijacker Tribal Affiliation” exudes the kind of obsessiveness in its repeating synth phrases that one hears in early Plastikman. Subtle nods to heavy metal and disco occur within “Enter Paradise” in the guitar riff that spearheads the tune and the disco bassline one hears pulsating alongside the ghoulish chanting. Less claustrophobic in spirit are “Contractor Corpses Hung Over the Euphrates River,” which rolls out an uptempo techno pulse that could almost pass for high-spirited, and “Remember Your Black Day,” another techno-oriented number whose jacking, metronomic roar rampages for a full-on eight minutes. An interesting juxtaposition surfaces within the latter, specifically between the haunted synths that hover threateningly and the high-velocity groove that pummels throughout, and it's this kind of juxtaposition that perhaps most gives Remember Your Black Day its individuating character. The forty-minute collection repeatedly showcases Fernow's obvious talent for assembling beats and synths into disturbing industrial-techno landscapes.

December 2013