In this month's edition of The Tape Deck, Nooga.com spends time with new cassettes from Night Powers, Igor Amokian and Army of 2600, Dog in the Evening, and HITS.
Night Powers, "The Hand of the Thief"
Brooklyn trio Night Powers has a particular air of mystery and eerie pop resolve surrounding their music. The group was formed in 2013 when composer/drummer Rob Viola and keyboardist Inbar Kishoni decided to act on their mutual love of music and shared influences, and create something that spoke to their communal inspirations. The band's lineup was finalized in 2014 when classically trained singer and actress Natalya Krimgold joined Night Powers in their dark pop obsession. Fusing the sounds of artists such as Nick Cave and Lee Hazlewood, the band carved out their own noir-ish corner of land. Krimgold's and Viola's contrasting voices were the perfect counterpoint to Kishoni's keys; the band had found their rhythm, and they were sticking with it.
On their new record, "The Hand of the Thief," they use the traditional story of a man wielding the titular member to invoke a darkly forceful tale of black magic, madness, ritual murder and vengeance. Equal parts spaghetti Western, pop cabaret and experimental rock record, it's a decidedly somber affair of collected notes and tragic figures. Stark bits of percussion intertwine with orchestral flourishes, creating an off-kilter pop environment where shadows and desperation rarely venture into the light. The songs slink around in the night, with Krimgold's and Viola's intonations basking in the darkened light of a full moon. It's a haunting and ethereal experience—one that you're not likely to forget anytime soon.
Igor Amokian and Army of 2600, "Welcome to Glitch World"
Igor Amokian makes experimental music that sends each note through a range of electronic filters and modulators. It's often cacophonous and disjointed but in a way that explores the potential and not the limitations of the music. Producer Army of 2600 (AKA General Mike) has found a way to utilize a handful of Atari 2600 consoles to produce a buzzing collage of sounds. When these two men get together, the music is equal parts their own and a completely new genre that holds on to no borders, often too unclassifiable to describe.
"Welcome to Glitch World" develops exactly as you might expect, given their respective backgrounds. But there's also a sense that both artists are able to rise above any perceived expectations inherent to their preferred genres by bouncing their creative ideas off one another. These tracks are filled with static and laser synths that careen around each other in unexpected ways and sound like they could have been beamed in from some dance floor in the 23rd century. Although subtlety isn't always a goal with this music, both of these musicians have found ways to restrain some of their more outlandish tendencies—though I'm sure the studio (or bedroom) looks like a tornado hit it after any given session.
Dog in the Evening, "Oct16. 1964"
For Japanese artist Dog in the Evening (夕方の犬), music is heavily influenced by the past and a collection of communal experiences—even as part of a given culture's history, these events can be seen as conduits for musical enlightenment. For his latest release, "Oct16. 1964," he looked to the signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which was enacted by 100 countries in 1963, for inspiration. Even though they agreed to abide by the treaty, China resumed their nuclear testing Oct. 16, 1964, and would continue these experiments until the middle of 1996.
Dog in the Evening has crafted a series of five tracks that correspond to five of the 45 days of testing that China conducted during this time period, with a goal of shedding light on a segment of history that some people would like to remain shrouded in mystery. These songs are glacially paced—they're basically drone pieces imbued with an emotional resonance. But whereas other artists can find these waters particularly icy and unforgiving, Dog in the Evening finds these ambient territories serene and welcoming. Only when we realize what inspired him to make these tracks do we understand the weight that has been quietly passed on to us through these minimal rhythmic passages.
HITS, "Sunshine Baby"
The music of HITS is informed of geography, of a sense of spatial awareness of what lies around us. Formed in the openness of Joshua Tree, California, the band (composed of multi-instrumentalist Allan Wilson and drummers Lisa Schonberg and Heather Treadway) was initially conceived as a multimedia experiment then known as Hits of Sunshine. Inspired by the terrain surrounding them, these artists wrote their first songs, which incorporated percussive-heavy rhythms and found-sound noise into a curiously effective whole. You get the sense that their music was less directly created by them and more discovered under the rocks and hard soil of that California desert.
On their debut cassette, "Sunshine Baby," the band has discovered a collection of songs that throb and clatter with an avant-garde perspective—you're not always entirely sure if the sounds are natural or not, or if the band were merely sitting around a campfire banging out notes and rhythms on whatever happened to be available. You reach a point where the music becomes absolutely mesmerizing in its abstract emotional impact—the beats coil around your brain, refusing to budge, and place you in the odd position of having to make your way through a landscape of ruined percussion in order to find the road back home.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.