Marching Thru The Wilderness

by State Bird (2006, Self-Released)

This year’s Cornerstone Festival was the first one I had attended in five years, and as such, there were some notable differences between my experience this year and my experiences from years past. Perhaps the biggest difference was that my primary focus this year was not on the music side of the festival, but rather the film side. As such, the number of concerts that I attended can be counted on two hands—a mere fraction of the concerts that I’ve seen in the past.

Even so, as I made way through that paltry number of shows, there were still things that I was hoping for. Namely, a band that would come completely out of the leftfield, that would leave concertgoers picking their jaws up off the muddy ground—or at least scratching their heads full of rarely washed, nappy, campsite hair.

In years past, that bill was filled by such acts as S.S. Bountyhunter, Danielson, Fine China, Soul-Junk, and Psalters. For Cornerstone 2007, it was State Bird. And for a while, during their late night show full of insanity—Native American stylings, conga line—it was like those five years had never occurred. I was back in those Cornerstones of yore, and I couldn’t wait to run back to my campsite and grab all of my friends to herd them back to the Encore Stage.

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Altered Realities

by Erdem Helvacıoğlu (2006, New Albion Records)

According to my MP3 player, Altered Realities—the latest from Turkish guitarist Erdem Helvacıoğlu—ought to be filed under “Jazz”.  Which might throw some folks for a loop, since there’s nary a trumpet or sax to be found in the album’s seven tracks and fifty-three minutes.  However, the disc does have a highly improvised nature to it, based entirely around the live electronic manipulation of Helvacıoğlu’s acoustic guitar.

The result is a shimmering, hazy collection of songs not unlike something one might find in the discographies of Christian Fennesz and Off The Sky‘s Jason Corder (with maybe some hints of Tujiko Noriko‘s electronic collages thrown in for good measure).  There are moments where the manipulation renders the music into incredibly abstract forms, the tones from Helvacıoğlu’s Ovation getting split and shattered like light through a kaleidoscope.

The resulting sounds are less guitar-like than you might imagine, instead resembling the random radio noise you might pick up on your AM radio around four in the morning.  This is highly effective on the darker, more foreboding tracks, like “Dreaming On A Blind Saddle”, where the constantly shifting guitar atmospherics conjure up strange, alien vistas and remote sights.

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Holding On - Letting Go

by Peter James (2006, Archaic Horizon)

I sometimes find myself wondering, if only halfheartedly, how much longer it’ll be before I stop buying CDs altogether.  And the reason is that there is simply an abundance of great music being released, for free, by such netlabels as Thinner/Autoplate, Subsource, Lost Children, and Archaic Horizon.  (Okay, so not entirely free, since someone still has to pay for the internet connection and bandwidth used, but you know what I mean.)

Take, for instance, the first release on Archaic Horizon: Peter James’ Holding On - Letting Go.  Featuring a handful of tracks picked from James’ full-length record as well as a bonus track, Holding On - Letting Go is an exceptionally crafted piece of melancholic dark ambience that is as good as anything I’ve purchased from the likes of Projekt, Cold Meat Industries, Manifold, Soleilmoon, etc.

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La Stanza Di Swedenborg

by Vanessa Van Basten (2006, Radiotarab)

Vanessa Van Basten hail from Genoa, Italy and are bizarrely named after the wife of Dutch footballer Marco Van Basten.  This duo operate somewhere between the heavy post-rock world and the experimental metal tendencies of Neurosis. La Stanza Di Swedenborg is a beguiling mix that is augmented by God Machine-style distortion and occasional Mike Patton-esque vocals.

Using a glut of electronic, distorted and acoustic instrumentation, it all starts with the impressive title track.  A tense 3-minute build-up of Italian spoken word and apocalyptic synths soon explodes with some tremendous, melancholic guitar work and industrial-sized drums.

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City Island

by The Artificial Sea (2006, Self-Released)

It seems like a lot of electronica-laced pop acts out there focus on making music that is all pretty and floaty, blending wispy (often female) vocals with gurgling, glitchy electronics and ethereal, ringing guitars.  Some groups under this umbrella that immediately leap to mind include Park Avenue Music, Lullatone, Casiotone For The Painfully Alone, and Piana.

However, I have difficulty lumping The Artificial Sea (MySpace) in with the aforementioned artists.  While the music of Brooklyn-based duo Kevin C. Smith and Alina Simone contains many of the same elements, there’s nothing all that cutesy or floaty about their music.

Rather, there’s a tension and anxiety lurking in the shadows of City Island that seems at odds with what most folks might be expecting from an electronic pop act.  At odds, and yet also quite beguiling.

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