Hangedup & Tony Conrad
Transit of Venus
Volist and violinist Tony Conrad teamed up with the legendary German band Faust in 1972 to create the essential, pioneering drone/minimalist album Outside the Dream Syndicate, but Conrad wasn’t entire happy with the recording, saying that producer Uwe Nettelbeck’s approach made Conrad “sound like a hippy.” In the mid-1990s, Conrad was able to revisit that material with Faust, and the 1995 live album, Outside the Dream Syndicate Alive, is startlingly different than the original in mood, with a much more aggressive, primal playing style (apparently, bassist Jean-Hervé Péron played so hard his fingers were bloody). Continuing on that trajectory, the newly released album Transit of Venus from Conrad with the Canadian duo Hangedup is a forceful, driving album, smoldering with a patient determination. It’s the aural equivalent of a mad mentalist with an intense look of concentration on his face and a furrowed brow, attempting to use his mind to destroy someone.
Transit of Venus is part of the triple vinyl LP box set entitled Musique Fragile Vol. 02, alongside albums by Kanada 70 and Pacha, and it is also available as a digital download. It features previously unreleased recordings from 2004, and while minimalism is typically found in the classical music realm, even despite the strings on this album, it squarely resides in the rock world. The pairing of Conrad and Hangedup works well, with Conrad often providing insistent amplified violin drones, while Hangedup violist Genevieve Heistek touches base with Conrad but also makes her own sorties into freer territory. Hangedup drummer Eric Craven is disciplined yet restless, constantly adapting and nudging his patterns, and his style is sometimes like a cymbal-heavy version of Tortoise’s drummers. Those uninitiated with avant-drone-rock may find Transit of Venus to be abrasive and maddening, but hardy listeners will be treated with an absolutely hypnotic, stirring, and rewarding album.
Sin Fang (formerly Sin Fang Bous) is the solo project of Icelandic musician and Seabear front man Sindri Már Sigfússon, who creates off-kilter yet easy-to-like pop songs with a clean precision and inclination to use many of the tools at his disposal. He’s been called the “Icelandic Beck” because of his exploratory, concentrated style, but perhaps a more apt comparison would be to Of Montreal leader Kevin Barnes, with Sigfússon’s voice being less hysterical although similarly lithe. Following in the vein of his 2011 album Summer Echoes, Sigfússon’s new EP Half Dreams is a mostly pleasant blast of freshness; fans of Seabear will likely enjoy Sin Fang, which uses a similar pop base stock but with fewer of Seabear’s earthier elements and more home-lab experimentation.
The opener “Only Eyes” is a bouncy number with an immediate radio-friendly appeal, smile-inducing falsetto backing vocals, and bubbling organ accents atop the pop-combo structure. However, the mood quickly changes with the wintry, slow ballad “Walk With You,” somewhat disappointingly extinguishing the charge and momentum of the opener; it’s a showcase for meticulous studio craft, but it seems a little out-of-place, spirit-wise. “Shine for Me” contrasts synthetic gurgling with acoustic guitar strums before presenting itself as a moderate-tempo rock song with ghostly distorted guitar echoes lurking in the background, never quite lifting itself back up to the EP’s initial energy level. The EP gets back on track with the bizarro-world cowboy campfire song “Strange House” with a weird lo-fi rhythm loop and endearing time signature changes, like an alien’s attempt to recreate mid-20th-century American popular music. The jaunty, infectious “It’s Not There” is a satisfying closer, with a million tiny details, demonstrating that Sin Fang works best with a perky pop style, with sweated-over studio creations that are both complicated yet welcoming and not exhausting.