Have you ever gone into a dressing room with those large vanity mirrors set up so you can look at yourself in all conceivable angles? You know, so you can make sure you look top notch in those Jordache jeans? Or those knock off Italian boots that some soulless beauty wore on that TV show where people say empty things but look great saying them? Say you could move one of those mirrors just slightly inward so it faces one of the other mirrors. What you see is this endless line of you staring back at you. A million yous in a million dressing rooms, possibly in a million different worlds. Carbon copy reflections looking at you with the same look of confusion, empathy, and fear that you’re looking at them with. Then the existential crisis begins: Am I just a reflection, too?
When I was little my parents had a mirror on the back of the bathroom door, which was directly in line with the vanity mirror. I would often open the bathroom door just slightly so that angle would bend the reflection into that line of a million mes staring back at myself, all of us wearing the same Mork and Mindy pajamas. There was something both exhilarating and frightening about the prospect that I was located in all of those mirrored versions of my current reality.
This was probably the start of all my problems.
I don’t think Graham Reznick had a similar existential crisis in his parents’ bathroom, but his new album Glass Angles is inspired by that feeling of not knowing your surroundings. It’s about seeing what’s there, and maybe what’s hidden in just a slightly angled reflection. His vision is less about fear of the unknown than finding a spot to exist in it.
When Graham Reznick first moved to Los Angeles from being a New Yorker for 14 years it was a bit of a culture shock to him. He began learning Ableton software and using soft synths and would record during the day. At night he’d drive around L.A. and listen back to his music creations. This was the beginning of Glass Angles. He said he’d look in the rearview mirror of his car and see Los Angeles, but not the one he was getting to know and live in, but another Los Angeles.
“Holly Ridge” starts out on a decidedly upbeat vibe. It’s not the darker feel you’d think it would be coming from someone kind of rattled by the fish out of water scenario Reznick was going through. It’s all very 80s, but sort of this alternate universe 80s. “Highland Steel” has a menacing lean to it. Sort of like a cross between Herbie Hancock’s Future Shock and Harold Falertmeyer’s Fletch score mixed with something slightly sinister. Reznick has also created a feast for the ears here, with the stereo field being filled with wavering synths that run back and forth, left to right, trampling on your brain in the process. “Beverly’s Crop” is another dizzying affair. It has a late night drive kind of sound. I could imagine being slightly buzzed with the flickering lights of late night L.A. lighting my peripheral as I listen to this song. All the senses coming together giving the feeling of pseudo-enlightenment.
Glass Angles, more than any record I’ve heard in quite some time, works on many different tiers. The sound of it is one thing. There’s a nostalgia to the beats and synths that gives the songs a feeling that you’ve heard them before. But the mixing and production is like another instrument in itself. The songs seem to all-encompass you as you listen. You fall into this alternate L.A. that Reznick has soundtracked for us. It’s almost like this psychedelic noir score. The Long Goodbye on peyote. A musical landscape filled with tracing lights, bent constructions, and neon ghosts.
It’s not all alternate universes and mirrored worlds. “Onion Canyon” sounds like distant dreams and ocean sunsets, while “Mulwray Drive” has a hazy, half-awake feel to it. You can almost see clouds settling in over the boulevard of broken dreams as this plays on. Or maybe it’s just smog. “Whittier” is another track that distances itself from the harder electronic vibes that are on this record. I could hear this in some earlier Michael Mann work. “Sunset Lane”, “New Crescent”, and “Palm Freeze” bring the album to a close with an 80s pop lean, while still retaining a feeling that we’re not quite in Kansas, or New York, anymore.
Graham Reznick’s Glass Angles shows Reznick’s skills at sound design, but also as a unique voice in electronic music. He takes his skills in film and adapts them beautifully to this record. Reznick has built this alternate Los Angeles through ten tracks of wavering synths, psychedelic sound production, and a mood of dark noir. Glass Angles is deceptively unique and quietly brilliant.
You may not be familiar with the name Graham Reznick, but I don’t think it will be long until you are. Reznick has been working in the independent film world for years now, wearing multiple hats. What hats, you ask? Well he’s done sound design, engineering, mixing, and scoring. He’s also acted, written, composed, and edited on films going back to 2001. Some of the films he’s worked on include The House Of The Devil, In A Valley Of Violence, The Mind’s Eye, V/H/S, Stake Land, The Innkeepers, The Sacrament, and he wrote and directed the 2008 film I Can See You. He’s been a lifelong friend to writer/director Ti West and he worked under the tutelage of writer, producer, director, and actor Larry Fessenden(don’t know that name either? Believe me, you’d know him if you saw him.) Reznick also wrote the hit PS4 game Until Dawn with Larry Fessenden.
So Graham Reznick is a guy that’s been behind the scenes for years doing the work and making some great indie films. He’s very adept at sound design, which brings us to his debut album on Mondo/Death Waltz Originals titled Glass Angles. It’s a hallucinatory musical trip. There’s elements of Berlin School, EDM, synthwave, and independent electronic like Boards of Canada, Four Tet, and even Flying Lotus at times. But really, Glass Angles is unlike anything you’ve heard. It’s quite brilliant. It’s also a kind of a concept album, really. Reznick wrote the album while adjusting to life in Los Angeles after being a New Yorker for years. The album is an ode to an alternate world version of Los Angeles. Odd angles in mirrors that turn the familiar into something new, unknown, and maybe slightly sinister.
I got the chance to talk to Graham about his childhood, how he got into film, and the making of Glass Angles. We also discussed musical influences, David Lynch, his stoner path in Austin, Texas not taken, and album number two that’s coming out later this year on Burning Witches Records.
J. Hubner: So where did you grow up?
Graham Reznick: Born in New Jersey, raised in Delaware, died in New York, live in LA.
J. Hubner: What was your childhood like? Were you making Hi8 films with your pals in the backyard?
Graham Reznick: I spent a lot of time taking things apart and trying to put them back together again. Radios, science kits, clocks, whatever. Anything I liked as a kid I tried to replicate – so yeah, making movies with old cameras and two VCR’s, usually blowing up GI Joe’s in the backyard with Ti West, or drawing comics, or making patches for DOOM.
J. Hubner: So were you always interested in film and music?
Graham Reznick: I was always very interested in art and drawing, and movies, though I didn’t really know that you could express the things I wanted to express in film until I discovered Twin Peaks and David Lynch.
J. Hubner: So Lynch was the gateway for you?
Graham Reznick: He was the first director that I understood was an artist, able to synthesize all the elements of the medium into something greater than the sum of its parts.
J. Hubner: Lynch is a true auteur, mixing sound and music so incredibly flawlessly.
Graham Reznick: Music and sound went hand in hand with the other elements of film for me – they’re equal pieces of the puzzle and need to be treated with the same amount of attention as the script, the camera work, the acting, the editing. For some directors, the balance is different – music and sound are means to an end – but I’ve never been able to approach it that way. Cinematic gestalt is axiomatic.
J. Hubner: All the elements come together equally, at least they should. I think if you’re not giving equally to each then you’re doing a disservice to the art.
Graham Reznick: I’ve always felt that if a screenplay expressed an idea perfectly, it should remain a screenplay. If a photo expresses an idea perfectly, it should remain a photo. If a song… etc. Cinema should use all the tools at its disposal to express an idea impossible to express in any other single medium.
J. Hubner: So where did this commitment to cinematic artistic integrity come from? How did you get started in independent film?
Graham Reznick: I grew up with Ti West (director of THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, THE INNKEEPERS, IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE); he went to SVA for film, I went NYU, both in NYC. We shared resources and experience – best of both worlds. Through Kelly Reichardt, Ti met Larry Fessenden, who was already a legend to us because of his incredible 90’s NYC vampire indie film HABIT (and Larry and I went on to co-write UNTIL DAWN and related games together). Larry financed Ti’s first film, THE ROOST, in 2003. I was just out of college and considering moving to Austin and becoming a stoner, but Ti convinced me to move back to Delaware for a year and live in our parents houses and put the film together. It was a remarkable opportunity to learn the entire professional filmmaking process. I did almost all of the post sound work, and some additional music (Jeff Grace did the great score), in my parents basement. I had a Pro Tools LE license and a Digi001, an SM57, a DOD Buzz Box pedal, a Line 6 Delay Modeler, two broken guitars and a Roland HS-60 – which I got dirt cheap because in 2000 when I bought it, people didn’t realize it was virtually the same keyboard as the Juno 106! That was basically my entire music setup for the next 10 years. After THE ROOST, my filmmaker friends asked me to sound design or contribute music to their films. It was a good way to collaborate with directors and friends I admired, as well as pay the rent while I tried to get my own projects off the ground.
J. Hubner: Speaking of your own projects, could you tell me a bit about your 2008 feature film debut, I Can See You? Where did the idea for the film come from?
Graham Reznick: In the mid 2000’s I worked with a group of friends from NYU who had started a company called Waverly Films (filmmakers who have gone on to direct some interesting things, including CREATIVE CONTROL and SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING) and they made a lot of music videos. I crashed on their couch in Bushwick for months and edited music videos for them (including The Juan Maclean’s “Give Me Every Little Thing” and LCD Soundsystem’s “North American Scum.”) One video, which will go unnamed, didn’t turn out the way the label expected, and things went pretty sideways. The experience of being part of a group of young, creative professionals being completely taken advantage of by a big company looking to scrape talent for peanuts had a big effect on me. I CAN SEE YOU is about a lot of things, but that experience was a major influence.
J. Hubner: And you worked with Larry Fessenden once again on that film. Besides being in the film, did he have any other role in the production?
Graham Reznick: Larry Fessenden financed the film (which was ultra low budget) and allowed me complete creative freedom. I knew I had the opportunity to try things and say things I would never be able to achieve in a larger budget, more traditional situation – so I went for it.
J. Hubner: Let’s talk about your Death Waltz Originals debut record ‘Glass Angles’. I’ve been filling my head with it for the past couple weeks and it’s amazing. How did you get involved with Death Waltz?
Graham Reznick: I met Spencer Hickman, founder of Death Waltz, after he released Jeff Grace’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL score on vinyl, but I’d been familiar with the label already because of his incredible run of soundtrack reissues on vinyl. Around the time I’d put the album demos together, I heard through a few friends that he was considering putting out original material as well as soundtracks, so I took a chance and sent it over.
J. Hubner: Regarding the record, what was the writing process like? You’d said that you were learning to work with Ableton and soft synths while writing the album. Was the software inspiring you to create? The album also feels like it has the specter of Los Angeles haunting it.
Graham Reznick: After living (on and off) in NYC for almost 15 years, I relocated to Los Angeles in 2013. I had just finished sound designing three films in New York – CLOWN, BENEATH, and THE SACRAMENT – and had some time off to get acclimated to the new city. I’d also just had a track included on Joseph Stannard and Justin Watson’s incredible compilation THE OUTER CHURCH, and it was receiving some nice attention. I wanted to make more electronic music, but I’m really not a very good keyboardist (not as good as I’d like to be). Most of the music I made for myself or for the films I worked on involved a ton of sloppy live playing and then heavy, time consuming editing (of both synth and guitar feedback). So I invested in Ableton, swapped out my Roland HS-60 for a midi controller, and started learning soft synths – which had come a long way from when I first tried midi compositions in the early 2000s, and when I had tried the early versions of Ableton.
J. Hubner: So learning Ableton helped the process along?
Graham Reznick: Ableton 9 was a huge revelation and I started writing a ton of material immediately. The HS-60 only makes one appearance – as a lead line halfway through the final track, “Palm Freeze.” There’s a unique, buzzy, disorienting, thick sound you can get when using the 106 / HS-60’s dual oscillator monophonic mode – I’ve never heard anything like it in any soft synth. But that’s the only true analog synth on the album – the rest is entirely software.
J. Hubner: And the subtle nods to Los Angeles in the song titles?
Graham Reznick: The culture shock of jumping from NYC to LA informed my mood and I’d write songs during the day, and drive around the city late into the evening, listening to the mixes. I realized that depending on where you positioned your car, on particular streets, around the city, at particular times, you could look into your mirror or out your window, and if you were listening to the right music, you would see another Los Angeles.
J. Hubner: There’s a real hallucinatory feel to the album. Listening with headphones on, songs like “Beverly’s Crop” and “Highland Steel” have a really psychedelic, sensory overload feel to them. They make you feel off-kilter, but in the best way possible. Even with something like your film ‘I Can See You’ there’s a real hallucinogenic feel, as if you’re not sure what your seeing is real or not. What was the influence on the sound of ‘Glass Angles’?
Graham Reznick: There’s an interesting theory about brain plasticity (which I’m sure I’m misrepresenting here) that says we create new neural pathways when we think about familiar things in a new way, and we rely on preconceptions and existing pathways when we are presented with the familiar – which means we may discount important new info that is hidden by the familiar. For a piece of art – story, music, film, whatever – to be effective, I think it should find a good balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Sometimes the complete unknown can be exhilarating, and sometimes the familiar can be comforting – but a good balance of the two can allow the audience a way in and then hold their attention while their brain has to literally rebuild itself to keep up. That’s all just a way to say that there’s always a new angle on things, and those new angles should be explored.
J. Hubner: So from a mixing and engineering standpoint, did you intentionally want to create a dizzying, almost psychedelic feel with the songs?
Graham Reznick: In regards to the album specifically – I did a lot of the initial work and mixing in headphones. It wasn’t ultimately mixed for headphones specifically, but a lot of the creative choices were geared towards a dizzying, psychedelic, headphone experience.
J. Hubner: Speaking of hallucinatory, your video for “Highland Steel” is insane. It’s dark, nightmarish, and you can’t stop looking at it. What was the influence for what you created? And should there be a seizure warning on this thing?
Graham Reznick: I wanted to capture the experience of the way the mind works, or doesn’t, during a panic attack. I didn’t want to recreate the unpleasant experience of a panic attack in the viewer (who wants that?) – but I wanted to find a way to express the terrible awe of how our racing, spinning minds malfunction in fear.
J. Hubner: It’s really hard to pinpoint influences on your sound. The record has bits of 80s electronic in it, but your sound is very much your own. What are some albums that have made an impact on you that may have made their way into your sound?
Graham Reznick: It’s very likely that I’m directly ripping off the artists and music that influenced me. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will list at least some of the artists and pieces of music that I was consciously aware of directly ripping off while making Glass Angles. I cannot claim that the music I made comes anywhere near the excellence of any one of the pieces in this list.
In no particular order:
Laurie Spiegel – The Expanding Universe, and Appalachian Grove
Terry Riley – Happy Ending
La Monte Young – The Black Record
Steve Moore – Light Echoes
Aphex Twin – all
Tangerine Dream – White Eagle
MGMT – Congratulations
Tangerine Dream – Force Majeure
Harold Faltermeyer – Beverly Hills Cop
Tangerine Dream – Phaedras
John Carpenter – Assault on Precinct 13
Tangerine Dream – Encore
Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man
Tangerine Dream – Ricochet
The Amps – Pacer
Emeralds – Just to Feel Anything
Valium Aggelein – Hier Kommt Der Schwartze Mond
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Architecture & Morality
Steve Hauschildt – Tragedy & Geometry
This Mortal Coil – It’ll End in Tears
Isabelle Adjiani screaming in the subway in POSSESSION
Angelo Badalamenti – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Oneohtrix Point Never – Rifts
Lou Reed – Coney Island Baby
Pye Corner Audio – Prowler
Outer Space – Outer Space
Heart – Dreamboat Annie
Pierre Bachelet – Gwendoline
High Rise – High Rise II
Add N To X – On The Wires of Our Nerves
Donovan – Open Road
Heron – Twice as Nice & Half the Price
Tangerine Dream – Encore
Future Sound of London – We Have Explosive
Butthole Surfers – Psychic, Powerless, Another Man’s Sac
Olivia Tremor Control – Dusk at Cubist Castle
Olivia Tremor Control – Black Foliage
Shellac – 1000 Hurts
Disasterpeace – Fez
Wendy Carlos – Sonic Seasonings
Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump
Tyrannosaurus Rex – A Beard of Stars
Maurice Jarre – Witness
Geinoh Yamashirogumi – Akira
Little Wings – Light Green Leaves
New Age Steppers / Creation Rebel – Threat to Creation
Daniel Johnston – 1990
Monolake – Cinemascope
Don Caballero –American Don
Mercury Rev – Deserter’s Songs
Gary Numan / Tubeway Army – Replicas
Mazzy Star – So Tonight that I Might See
The Flaming Lips – In A Priest Driven Ambulance
Proem – You Shall Have Ever Been (disc 2)
Popul Vuh – Cobra Verde
John Stewart – Bombs Away Dream Babies
Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children
Richard Lloyd – Alchemy
Can – Monster Movie
Mike Oldfield –Ommadawn
The Holy Modal Rounders – Indian War Whoop
Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends
Kraftwerk – Autobahn
Electric Light Orchestra – El Dorado
Roky Erickson – All That May Do My Rhyme
Brian Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy
The Microphones – Mt. Eerie
Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral
Sonic Youth – Washing Machine
Godspeed You Black Emperor – F#A#Infinity
Chris Bell – I Am The Cosmos
The Feud – The Feud Vs. Yr Universe
Klaus Schulz – Audentity
Mikal Cronin –Mikal Cronin
Manuel Göttsching – E2-E4
Yume Bitsu – Giant Surface Music Falling to Earth Like Jewels From the Sky
John Cale – Fear
William Basinski – Silent Night
Os Mutantes – “Virginia”
Mark McGuire – A Young Person’s Guide
Gangpol und Mit – The Hopelessly Sad Story of the Hideous End of the World
Paul McCartney – RAM
Thee Oh Sees – Warm Slime
Black Moth Super Rainbow – Start a People
Neil Young with Crazy Horse – Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Harold Budd – The Serpent In Quicksilver
Zombi – Digitalis
Chromatics – Kill For Love
Cliff Martinez – Only God Forgives
Also, I’m between 15 and 90 percent certain that if you play every one of these albums simultaneously it will be no different than listening to Glass Angles.
J. Hubner: Glass Angles isn’t the only album you have coming out this year. You have ‘Robophasia’ coming out with Burning Witches Records. How did this record come about? How does it compare stylistically with Glass Angles?
Graham Reznick:Glass Angles is very specific mood, tone, moment in time. Robophasia is a much darker record, in a much brighter package. Less textural; more acid electro-funk with vocoders and sharp edges. Faltermeyer factored heavily in some of it.
J. Hubner: It seems like 2018 could be Graham Reznick’s year? With two albums and a great video, what else do you have planned? Are you working on any films? Maybe a feature you’re writing and directing?
Graham Reznick: There’s a ton more music in the pipeline. Some more videos, too, hopefully… And on the film side, I directed a first episode of a live-action interactive show last year called RAPID EYE, about a sleep study gone very wrong. It’s full of surprises – it’s going to be a heck of a mindfuck. Stay tuned on the release info. I’m also a few weeks out from shooting a new series for SHUDDER, called DEADWAX… but that’s all I can say about that for now!
Head over the Mondotees and grab a copy of Glass Angles before they’re all gone(only a limited run available.) And follow Burning Witches Records on Facebook for a future announcement on Robophasia.
We’re nearly wrapping up the year, folks. So much has been said and done and so much music has been thrust upon our polarized ears that it’s hard to comprehend it all. The last couple weeks have dropped upon my head some really great records. Made it in just under the gun, really. Those end of year records sadly end up being forgotten about on year end lists and whatnot. It’s not their fault, really. December is that no man’s land when it comes to record releases. I’ve been guilty of it myself, the forgetting and the setting aside of LPs. Not this year. I will not forget you. Not this time.
Deadly Avenger’s Everyday Is Kill isn’t one of those last minute releases, though. This sprawling, neon-drenched retro-futuristic record was released back in August on Death Waltz Originals. At first I sort of wrote it off before I even heard a note. The slick album cover with its shiny helmet and leather-clad perky nipple and overall futuristic sheen seemed almost too obvious for my taste. I like a little mystery. I don’t need it all spelled out for me. This album cover screamed “YOU LIKE SYNTHWAVE??? YOU’RE GONNA LOVE THIS, YA DROID-LOVING DINGUS!”
I’m sort of on the fence with the whole synthwave thing, anyways. It seems to be a genre where you really have to separate the wheat from the chaff. Seems to be a lot of bandwagoners in there, scraping up some dough by selling some videogames and their PS3 and a dusty guitar in the closet they never played anyways for a couple beat up synths and some recording gear. They watched some Miami Vice, a few early John Hughes movies, and Night of the Comet 30 times so they’re now experts of the neon decade.
I’m being a little flippant here, I know. But I feel like genuine musicians and music composers are being lumped in with flavor-of-the-month artists that will be moving on to the next “big thing”, while the lifers are still plugging away with all they got. You see, Deadly Avenger is a lifer. Everyday Is Kill was a huge, beautiful surprise for my ears. It’s slick 80s synth fare, but done meticulously and expertly. It reminds me of Le Matos, but in a quieter, more personal way. There’s not big club bangers going on here, but more bite-size pieces of 80s beauty. It plays very much like an old 80s b-movie about some dystopian future where packs of mongrels and radiation mutants fight the “freshies”, the humans that survived by living underground while the fallout covered the earth like an ashen, deadly snow. There’s hard, chromed-out tracks here for sure, but there’s also some really emotion grabbers as well. It’s a massive and amazing listen from start to finish.
So who or what is Deadly Avenger? Well apparently it’s not an A.I. artist that was conceived in some futuristic space station located just off the second ring of Saturn(I did some research and sadly this is not the case.) Turns out Deadly Avenger is the project of musician Damon Baxter. Here’s what I found about Baxter:
Composer, producer and international DJ, Damon Baxter aka Deadly Avenger, first burst onto the dance music scene back in the the early noughties. Supported by the likes of Fatboy slim, Propellerheads and Jon Carter, Damon was heralded as the pioneer of ‘Big Beat’ touring the world and setting dancefloors alight, he eventually settled nicely into a Fabric Residency alongside Unkle and The Wiseguys, which lead to the release of two of the genres biggest records, ‘Evel Kneivel’ and ‘King Titos Gloves’.
As well as this:
But It wasn’t until the first remixes were commisioned that the true Deadly Avenger sound would emerge. A sound that the indie glitterati embraced, bands such as Travis, Manic Street Preachers, Elbow, and The Charlatans were all seduced by the overly emotional strings, blended with dirty beats and enigmatic arrangements. A sound that developed fully with the re-imagining of Bill Conti’s “Going the distance” into the form of ‘We Took Pelham’.
Baxter as Deadly Avenger evokes big emotions and sweeping string touches that seem to have been pushed thru a wormhole and come out the other side darker and slightly chewed up. His earlier work has elements of the Crystal Method and early Chemical Brothers with the feel of a 70s film score. Everyday Is Kill feels like a leaner version of what he was doing 10 years ago. “Surrender” is sly and slinks under the radar as the album opens. It’s like space age ambient. You think you might know what you’re getting into until “The Legacy” comes rolling in and then all bets are off. Part Com Truise and part 80s pop radio the track has hard-hitting beats and wavering synths. Pretty stunning stuff. “Night Drive” is a pulsating trip in a chromed-out Delorean somewhere between here and infinity. “Last 5%” is a slice of 80s pop radio heaven. This would be the “relationship montage” scene, with the two young lovers driving along the coast or rummaging thru records in a music shop; or in the case of a post-apocalyptic film where they’re smiling as they rummage through junk piles looking for gasoline and mutant rats to spear and eat over an open fire. This is feel good music of the highest order.
This album keeps pushing great song after great song. Baxter knows his stuff, and it shows in tracks like “Metrowave”, “Encom”, “Dead Heat” and album closer “Black Rain”, those last two being titles to 80s films(not surprisingly, really.) I really can’t say enough about this record. This was an absolute highlight at the end of a not-so banner year. Deadly Avenger’s musical world is a place I will gladly escape to whenever I need a futuristic shot to the system.
Everyday Is Kill is most definitely wheat and most definitely not chaff. Put on your anti-gravity suit, vibranium helmet, and blast some Deadly Avenger in your hover car.
Normally by this time in the year I’ve posted at least two lists of my favorite albums of the year, first in April at the 3 month point then in July at the 6 month point. It appears that the year keeps rolling by whether I want it to or not. Needless to say I haven’t made a list of anything(other than that weekly grocery list on Thursdays.) There will be a year-end list, and even though no major lists so far this year I do plan on sharing a few of the records that have been blowing my mind thus far in the year of our Lord, 2017.
First up is Timothy Fife’s Black Carbon.
I first came across Timothy Fife last year with his Victims’ Form Hell release with Chris Livengood. That record really blew me away, both in how it seemed to appear from out of nowhere(via Death Waltz Originals) and just how fully formed the two tracks were. Fife and Livengood(along with Aaron Dilloway) seemed to pull some Komische magic out of the ether and created two beautifully dense tracks that I’ve played more times than I can remember. I talked to Timothy and Chris here.
I made it a point to keep tabs on Fife as I’d heard he was releasing his debut solo record via Death Waltz Originals. 2016 turned to 2017 and before I knew it I was holding Black Carbon in my hands. At only 3 songs(4 in its digital form), I have to admit I was hoping for a whole hour of bubbly synth and vast space vibes. Fortunately, Fife packs quite a punch with those three tracks. His debut for Death Waltz Originals is a tasty bit of synth voodoo that will pull you out of the everyday doldrums.
The album opens with the epic “Sydney At Night”. When you listen to this track there’s an oppressive quality to it at first. Crackling distortion, ominous electronic howls emanate from the speakers, and there’s just a general sense of dread. You can hear crickets begin to chirp and a distant wave of synth begins to emerge from the darkness. Pulsating synth starts up and at this point you feel as if you’ve taken flight. Soon enough the chirps subside and a dark melody emerges. This is very much a journey track. Whether you’re cascading through the black of an Australian night or burning miles on the open road with a slight buzz putting you in some other headspace, “Sydney At Night” is a track that takes you somewhere. Where that is lies firmly in your brain. Side A is dominated by this 17 minute mind melter.
“Black Carbon” opens side B. It’s the shortest song on the album but it makes its presence known quickly. Ponging synth structures bubble up and down as the track moves along effortlessly. Three and a half minutes, it’s in and it’s out. Its sits perfectly on this record, very reminiscent of Fife’s work with Chris Livengood in Victims.
The great thing about Timothy Fife’s work is that he has a very deft touch when it comes to compositions. He never lays it on too thick, while the tracks never feel overly sparse. His songs are carefully layered to reveal maybe something new you didn’t hear the first time you listened, but he’s never going to reveal too much. What’s the fun in that?
The real sonic surprise here is closing track “Low Plain Landscape”. It deviates from the Komische atmosphere of the previous tracks and gives us a lighter, contemplative ambient track that is reminiscent of Daniel Lopatin’s early Oneohtrix Point Never albums(check out Betrayed In The Octagon, Russian Mind, and Drawn and Quartered for beautiful counterpoints.) I feel that this track is what distinguishes Fife from other artists working in the heavy synth realm. He’s not afraid to set the pulsating arpeggios and Edgar Froese-isms to the side and just open the universe a bit in one track. There’s a free floating quality to “Low Plain Landscape” that I just can’t get enough of. I imagine some futuristic visions of floating cities and double sunrises, or unlocking some “Pandora’s Box” of life meanings when this song is playing. There’s a serenity throughout, though at the 9 minute mark a slight turn of the knob creates tension for a moment. Like enlightenment is great, but it comes at a price. You dig?
Timothy Fife just announced a new release coming out in October via Polytechnic Youth. I’d buy it from the artwork alone, but I’m sure it’s gonna be another amazing track from one amazing musician. If you haven’t yet, grab a copy of Black Carbon at Mondotees. There’s still some of that wax available. Or just download it here.
There’s quite a few talented folks that have mastered the art of writing and performing music. Those numbers drop a bit when you add in the process of recording, mixing, production, mastering, and general studio wizardry. It’s one thing to have some amazing ideas and being able to plunk them out on a few instruments, but it’s a completely different beast to be able to make those ideas a real thing and make that thing sound amazing.
Enter Joel Grind.
Joel Grind is the man behind the extreme metal outfit Toxic Holocaust, which he records all the albums by himself and has a crew that hit the road with him to perform the songs live. He’s also recorded several more experimental and synth-based albums under his own name. One album, recorded under the name X-77, is described as “Sound collage of bizarre sound clips of black masses, LSD trips and documentaries cut up over ambient analog synth drones and arpeggios.” It’s a trip, man. Grind has also opened his home studio to other bands to lend his mixing and mastering expertise. Some of his clients have included Poison Idea, Sunn 0))), Integrity, Midnight, Ringworm, Lord Dying, Black Tusk, Spellcaster and labels such as Relapse, 20 Buck Spin, Magic Bullet, Hells Headbangers & Southern Lord. He’s the go-to guy for some serious metal heavy hitters, and that’s because he knows how to get a live, raw sound in the confines of the recording studio.
I came to Grind’s work through his great synth record Equinox. I was blown away by that record’s capturing of that Carpenter and Goblin magic while never just giving me a carbon copy version. He’s got a unique style. I reached out to Joel to see if he’d be interested in answering a couple questions. He said why the hell not?
J. Hubner: So Joel, where are you from? Have you always been in the Pacific Northwest?
Joel Grind: I was born in Pennsylvania and grew up on the state line between Maryland and Delaware, mostly bouncing back and forth between the two states. I’ve moved a lot in my life though and have lived all over, after moving to the Pacific Northwest about 10 years ago though I decided this is where I would like to stay.
J. Hubner: You’re a pretty multi-faceted kind of musician, playing multiple instruments, writing, composing, and performing all the songs on your albums, and taking care of production duties. You also run your own studio and are a sought after producer. My question is how did you get here? How old were you when you found a love for music? Was there someone in your life that steered you towards music?
Joel Grind: That’s a great question that I haven’t really given much thought to. I think I got here by working really hard, being goal oriented and knowing what I wanted to do. Even from an early age I was always fascinated with music and specifically recording it. My uncle gave me an old cassette deck when I was a kid and I always loved recording things around my house. I feel like with being a musician your heart has to be in the right place with it especially nowadays. I get asked a lot on how to “make it” and I guess everyone’s definition is different, but if it involves lots of money…that doesn’t really exist anymore. You have to truly love it and be willing to sacrifice and lot of comfort and stability to continue with it.
J. Hubner: What instrument did you start out with?
Joel Grind: I started with drums actually. Didn’t learn to play guitar until I realized there wasn’t many musicians around me into the same kinds of music I was and figured if I wanted to write songs I better learn a melodic instrument.
J. Hubner: What was the first album you bought with your own money?
Joel Grind: I think it was Megadeth “Rust in Peace”. But I get that confused with Motley Crue “Shout at the Devil”, which I had before the Megadeth record but cant remember if I bought it or it was a gift.
J. Hubner: How old were you when you were in your first serious band? Did you play the high school talent show?
Joel Grind: I started jamming when I was 13, but my first serious band that played shows was when I was 15. Never played a talent show but did do local DIY shows.
J. Hubner: When did Toxic Holocaust come into play? Who were some influences on that sound?
Joel Grind: Started in 1999 when I was 17. Venom, Misfits, Black Flag, D.R.I., and Nuclear Assault were the main ones.
J. Hubner: Besides Toxic Holocaust you work with heavy synth sounds as well. I came to the Joel Grind world thru your synth album ‘Equinox’. It’s a great synth album, man. Has all the eerie undertones and Carpenter-esque vibes that get me excited about music. When did you first get into synth music? Were you a fan of horror first?
Joel Grind: I’ve been interested in it for a really long time but started to pursue it more seriously around 2010, took up until the end of 2015 with touring schedules to actually start working on it though. I remember as a kid hearing this type of music and always wondering what made those creepy sounds.
J. Hubner: On both ‘Equinox’ and your 7″ single ‘Fatal Planet’ you list some pretty classic analog equipment that was used in the making of those recordings, including an ARP Odyssey, Moog Sub 37, Elektron Analog 4, and SCI Prophet 600. When working in synth mode do you prefer to use old school hardware as opposed to software? It seems to me it would add to the aesthetic of the work.
Joel Grind: For me it kind of boils down to (without trying to come across too new age-y)the relationship you have with your instruments. You get to know the quirks they have, especially with vintage stuff. I also enjoy the tactile controls as opposed to pointing and clicking with a mouse etc. I wouldn’t want to play a VST guitar ( if that even exists). I like the feel of a real Les Paul. Even if the sound is equal, I feel like you approach things differently the way you interact with them. That’s not to say I’m anti-software or computer, I just prefer the hands on approach to making music.
J. Hubner: How did you get hooked up with Spencer Hickman and Death Waltz?
Joel Grind: I just emailed him and asked him if he’d be interested in working together.
J. Hubner: What are your top 5 horror films? Are there any horror film composers that you look for inspiration or have been big influences on your sound?
Joel Grind: I’m not good at these list things because I always forget something, but ‘Phantasm’ is at the top for film and soundtrack. John Carpenter / Alan Howarth music is one of my biggest influences as well.
J. Hubner: What are some differences between composing in Toxic Holocaust mode as opposed to the more film-leaning synth mode? Where do you pull inspiration from? Do you concentrate on one or the other, or do you work on both simultaneously?
Joel Grind: Inspiration is one of those things you almost cant describe or pinpoint, one day I’ll wake up and have this urge to write something. I do approach both somewhat similarly though, with Toxic it usually starts with a riff, and same goes for the synth stuff.
J. Hubner: How did you get into the production side of music and running your own music studio? Do you enjoy that aspect? How do you like producing and recording other artists?
Joel Grind: It really stemmed from a lot of years of recording with other people and not liking the results and/or the experience. You know the saying if you don’t like the results…do it yourself.
J. Hubner: What upcoming projects do you have in the works? Will you be releasing with Death Waltz again at some point?
Joel Grind: I recorded a New Age-y type synth record that will be coming out on a label I cant divulge yet. It’s kinda like Tangerine Dream/Klause Schulze/Jean Michelle Jarre spacey synth music. As for working with Death Waltz again, I’m definitely open to it. It’s up to Spencer, really.
Spencer, give Joel a call. As for the rest of you go listen to Joel’s music over at his Bandcamp page grab an album or two. Keep checking back for the new age-y record. I’m sure it’s gonna be amazing.
Wojciech Golczewski’s The Signal could possibly be the most beautiful collection of electronic/synth pieces you’ll hear all year. Golczewski captures that feeling of awe one might feel staring out into the blackness of space for the first time. An overwhelming sense of peace and solace as you realize just how small we all are in the scheme of things. The Signal is also a prequel record to Golczewski’s first album with Death Waltz Originals, the excellent Reality Check. You do get a feeling of some kind of emotional arc throughout both albums, of which The Signal is the beginning of the story. It’s pared down sound-wise from its predecessor, but still very much full, ornate, and pristine in its sound. The Signal is simply exquisite.
Here’s the backstory to The Signal: “A sole rocketeer lives through her daily routine on a solo crewed space station orbiting a red dwarf star. One sol, the station is hit by a magnetic storm carrying a signal. The transmission provokes the decision to leave the station and start a journey into the unknown, looking for answers on the past, present and future of the species.”
There’s two composers that immediately come to mind while listening to this record: Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre. I hear a lot of their work sewn into Wojciech’s synth patchworks and emotional movements throughout. “Orbiting” puts visions of space and astronauts as it rides on a beautiful synth line. Golczewski never falters in the emotional heft, from his solo records to his film work in 400 Days, We Are Still Here, and Dark Souls. There’s a lot of really great people making sci fi and horror-based heavy synth music, but at times the emotion is left off to the side in favor of Berlin School mimicking. Wojciech Golczweski seems committed to emotional heft every time out. “Childhood Dream” almost has the vibe of an early 80s pop track. In fact, The Signal is the most pop-affected album to date from Wojciech. It’s the perfect mix of catchy hook and heady composition. “Robotic Assist Module” puts me in mind of Disasterpeace’s work on the Fez Soundtrack. There’s a wee feel to it, but in a sweetly melancholy way. It’s not saccharine by any means.
This record flows wonderfully and leads up to the epic closer “1348000 Miles”. It’s drone-y nature and emotional ambivalence almost feels like a tragic ending to our sole rocketeer, which leads into Golczewski’s Reality Check. That final track sits in contradiction to the rest of the album’s woozy synthscapes. It lingers in your ears long after its fade out.
Wojciech Golczewski has proven to be one of the premier composers working today, and with his records Reality Check, End Of Transmission, and now The Signal he’s shown he can create original musical worlds without the help of a film script. He does just fine on his own.
Timothy Fife seems to have locked into another realm on his Mondo/Death Waltz Originals debut Black Carbon. Within these three key tracks there seems to be worlds and entities that bubble up from the cascading synths and eerie oohs and ahhs he creates with nothing more than circuitry, wires, and electrical impulses. You get a feeling of traveling through space and time as you let the album roll over you. There’s both a sense of new age enlightenment and darker cult realms, sometimes in the same song. Fife is a student of both music and of the macabre, and he works them both into one momentous work of art on Black Carbon.
I first came to know Fife’s work on last year’s excellent Form Hell, a release by Fife and fellow synth enthusiast Christopher Livengood’s project called Victims. With Form Hell, Fife and Livengood released two immense tracks on the world that brought to mind the best of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and even John Carpenter. My eyes were opened to what serious voodoo Fife could summon with analog devices. When I’d heard Timothy Fife was releasing his solo debut album with Death Waltz Originals I knew it was going to be one of the best of the year. Well Black Carbon is here and it lives up to all my made up hype, and then some.
“Sydney At Night”, even before the music starts, sounds like an epic journey. It opens with the sound of evening overpowering you. Chirping creatures, distant winds, then electrical disturbances slowly take over in your head. Buzzing feedback, horror film dissonance, and eventually a synth melody makes itself known. Propulsive, electronic rhythm moves you along through a makeshift night sky. Blackness pushes over your face as chills take over your body. Musically we’re in komische territory, all bubbling synths and desolation. Beautiful, beautiful desolation. Fife has worked out a krautrock masterwork here. All 17 minutes are vital to the overall atmospheric beauty here. A frayed psyche never sounded so good.
For the digital-only crowd there’s a bonus track in “Alebedesque”. It’s a dreamy, hallucinogenic track that feels like you’re slowly falling through space. It suddenly switches gears and turns into an almost industrial noise track before dissolving into the atmosphere.
Lead track “Black Carbon” powers through a mere 3 minutes and some change, but what it accomplishes in those few moments feels like one hell of a journey. Those familiar with the Victims EP will find “Black Carbon” familiar and inviting. It’s an ominous riff with bits and pieces bobbing in and out of earshot that make you look around the room thinking someone is sneaking up on you. It’s short and sweet, but nonetheless overpowering.
We finally arrive at album closer “Low Plain Landscape”, a sort of aural journey into the ether. It carries new age tendencies; swaths of dense soundscapes that swell and collapse onto themselves, revealing new layers and emotions the deeper you get. It’s this gentle walk through the mist. “Low Plain Landscape” is the peace and enlightenment we searched for through the darker journeys taken before.
We began in the dark and have now reached the light.
Black Carbon is a stunning debut from Timothy Fife. He brings to mind many of the greats that came before him, but brings something completely his own to these excellent songs. There is a flow and continuity here that makes this record an engaging listen from start to finish. So put on your headphones, close your eyes, and get lost in Black Carbon.