The second album from the Brooklyn/Philadelphia five-piece outfit Normal Love, Survival Tricks, is as rigorous, explosive, and twisty as its impressive self-titled 2007 debut album, but it goes even further, pushing itself relentlessly, creating an even more bizarre, startling sound that takes more risks and fortunately succeeds. The group flaunts more sonic facets than before, notably with the addition of vocalist Merissa Martigoni, who helps to provide the band’s visceral assault with charged, stimulating singing that brings to mind the confrontational vocalist Lydia Lunch in Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. Also, spontaneous deviant electronic molestations are now a Normal Love trademark, and amplified violin licks are now a more prominent feature, provided by either Carlos Santiago or Jessica Pavone, with wild glissandos, pin-prick staccato chops, and a free-improv arsenal of tricks.
The avant-no-wave-thrash of “Lend Some Treats” is one hell of an opening track, with the textures of punk rock but with a prog-rock complexity; all players are swinging their fists, not in a chaotic street fight but in a precise, choreographed, yet ferocious manner. Electric guitarist Amnon Freidlin, also of the brutal noise-loving band Zs, serves up distinctive frantic, scrambling noises throughout the track, and on “Electrolytes in the Brine,” he skronks it up, resembling Arto Lindsay. One of the album’s most unique numbers is “Breathe Through Your Skin,” with screaming “Bitches Brew”-esque echoes and crashing cymbals from drummer Eli Litwin, who can deliver stop-on-a-dime head-ringing bursts. Perhaps the album’s most intricate number is bassist/composer Evan Lipson’s piece “I Heard You Could See Baltimore from There” with atonal counterpoint, Lipson’s own jaw-dropping bass lines, lightning-fast interplay and volleys between instruments, and a bizarre call-and-response section with orchestrated primal hormonal panting. Normal Love takes its name from a film by experimental filmmaker Jack Smith, but with its uncommon fury, there are at least two things wrong with its name.
Normal Love will play Sluggo’s North on Aug. 16 with The Stacker Three.
Asva & Philippe Petit
Empires Should Burn
(Small Doses/Basses Fréquences)
Occupying the uncommon intersection of the beautiful and the disquieting, the new album Empires Should Burn brings together Asva, the project of G. Stuart Dahlquist (who has played with Sunn O))), Burning Witch, and Goatsnake), and the French “musical travel agent” Philippe Petit; this pairing provides gripping soundscapes which are accompanied by spoken-word contributions from Edward Ka-Spel of Legendary Pink Dots, Jarboe of Swans, and Johnson City, Tenn. artist Bryan Lewis Saunders.
The first half of the album is comprised of the 23-minute piece “And Empires Will Burn,” a slowly smoldering, cinematic sonic fog with a long, sustained ramp-up, perfect for listening on headphones. On it, Ka-Spel describes a bedridden Kim Jong Il in an evocative, strange, and depressing scene, watching “long dead movie stars recite the same lines over and over again” by continually hitting replay on his remote control. The music is a mix of synthetic and organic sounds, with rustling noises, strings, and prominently uneasy drones. Petit plays a Hackbrett cymbalum, a type of hammered dulcimer, as his main instrument on the piece, providing piercing notes with a mysterious eastern European flavor; as the piece concludes, Petit’s playing staggers in a disturbing manner, then brings intensity to its melodic repetition while complex drones rage.
“A Vision” is like a four-minute distillation of the soundtrack to a psychological horror film, with aural strata including a low croaking noise, ghostly sounds, and maniacal piano parts, jousting in stereo. Saunders begins,“You have a birthmark, a blemish from an injury you sustained during your past life’s death” before explaining that you are a chosen one with a particular mission, vaguely sinister. On the eerie “The Star Implodes,” Jarboe goes from whispers to a placid, calculated voice among creaky string scrapes and plucks, wordless vocals, and shadowy electric hums. It’s not for everyone, requiring patience and a tolerance for drones and unexpected noises, but Empires Should Burn features fascinating storytelling pieces that engulf the listener and demand full attention.