AMN Reviews: Biota – Fragment for Balance (2019; ReR Megacorp)

There is no group quite like Biota. Led for decades by William Sharp, they are an evolving collective that produces a singular brand of abstract folk music that incorporates weird Americana, classical influences from the European continent, and a bit of avant-prog as well. Fragment for Balance, their first release in five years, consists of 26 tracks that run together, most of which are under three minutes.

With regard to instrumentation, this album does not vary greatly from past efforts. Acoustic guitar takes on a prominent role, backed by piano and other wood, reed, and string instruments, as well as an extent of processing. Kristanna Gale provides sparse vocals in a clear, lilting voice. A few tracks feature drumming. The arrangments vary from relatively minimal to deeply layered, heading in several directions contrapuntally. These latter pieces (Key Ring and Unspun being two examples) are the highlights of Fragment for Balance, as they have been on previous releases.

Beyond mechanics, Biota has always been about atmosphere. The album is melancholy throughout, exhibiting a haunting ambiance that evokes abandoned rural and industrial towns. The only emotive comparison that comes to mind is another American folk/prog group, Jack ‘O the Clock, though Biota predates them by at least 20 years. Listening to Fragment for Balance is like stepping into an alternate dimension that is a subtlely twisted and darker version of our world – one where ghosts are common and humanity is no longer the dominant species.

Ultimately, Biota is one of those few ensembles that consistently produces excellent material. This album, like any of its predecessors, is an innovative gem that will take many listenings to peel down to the core. You could lock yourself in a room for a year with nothing but the Biota catalog and never be in want of more recordings.

AMN Reviews: Ryan McGuire – Drukkna (2019; Painted Throat Music)

Bassist Ryan McGuire returns with this new release featuring himself on amplified contrabass, voices, samples, and other noises, with collaborator Dktr Teeth (not the muppet I assume…) on percussion. Across seven tracks, McGuire explores the extremes of his main instrument, employing extended techniques, feedback, and innovative bowing.

Each piece expresses itself in a different fashion. The underlying mechanisms include amplified walls of sound, rapid bowing, bouncing the bow across the bass’s strings, high-pitched squeaking, and slow drones. But the real character of Drukkna is the combination of these techniques with McGuire’s voice (consisting of tortured chants, moans, and screams) and other elements. The percussion is not constant but when present it is a clattering turmoil reminiscent of F.M. Einheit and does not rely on a drum kit. This results in an ominous feel that builds a dark tension throughout.

As with many releases of this nature, there is little or no emphasis on melody, harmony, or beat. Instead, Drukkna is an exploration of texture, structure, and layering. As such, it lands somewhere in the spectrum between free improv, drone, and noise. With it, McGuire has established a singular and remarkably enjoyable ear-bending offering. Bravo.

Does Anybody Even Have Time For An 80-Minute Album? 

Source: NPR. Interesting point here, which is one that I have considered frequently. I find that I tend to delay listening to long albums and boxed sets until I have the time to do so, which is not often. Further, my attention span for one sitting is about 30-60 minutes, though I may have several sittings in one day (on a good day that is). As a result, I think I would tend to unconsciously put more value on two standalone EP-length releases than one single or double album. Again, there is a supply and demand thread running through this – the supply of good music is quite high and most folks’ free time for listening seems to be getting harder to find.

Though the death of the album format has been talked up ever since digital files became the dominating medium for listening to music, recently there has been a proliferation full-length releases that are both critically acclaimed and super duper long. Over the past months, albums by Kendrick Lamar, Titus Andronicus, Tenement and Kamasi Washington have all run near or well over the 80-minute mark. And sure it’s great to have challenging and ambitious musical works to contend with, the reality is, do we really have time for this?

To try to understand the motivation for artists to make these extra long releases and what expectations they put upon listeners, Ducker spoke with Mark Richardson, the editor-in-chief of Pitchfork.

Seattle Scene: July 25 – August 3, 2019

From Seattle’s Wayward Music Series:


Chapel Performance Space at Good Shepherd Center

4th Floor, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N, Seattle 98103 (corner N 50th St. in Wallingford)

Every month, Nonsequitur and a community of like-minded presenters and artists offer ten concerts of adventurous music in an informal yet respectful all-ages setting: contemporary classical, free improvisation, the outer limits of jazz, electronic music, microtonal/new instruments, sound art, and other extraordinary sonic experiences.

Earshot: Jeremy’s Pyramid Scheme + Xavier Lecouturier Quartet
Thu. July 25, 7 PM; $5 – $15 online or at door

Earshot’s Jazz: The Second Century series continues. Saxophonist/composer Jeremy Shaskus is inspired by old Yiddish melodies, contemporary styles, and a great desire to compose for larger ensembles. High energy, a little sweet, mostly salty. Drummer/composer Xavier Lecouturier draws from a myriad of influences, from Mexican rock to the Foo Fighters and Donny Hathaway, to Chopin, to hip-hop.

Fri. July 26, 8 PM; $20 online or at door

Yesod is a meeting of Middle Eastern and Middle Western musical influences where pure musical impulses flux between sound explorations and accessible improvisational hooks. William Wolford (guitars, dan bau, trumpet, banjo, cümbüş, etc.), Tige DeCoster (bass, percussion), Amy Denio (voice, guitar, bass, alto sax, clarinet, accordion), Ahmad Yousefbeigi (percusionist, voice).

Wed. 7/31 – The Alchemy of Improvisation is a cross-genre, improvised musical project bringing together the varied talents of bassist Abbey Blackwell, drummer Will Lone, and pianist Daniel Salka

Thu. 8/1 – SCRAPE–Jim Knapp’s unique ensemble of jazz-inflected guitar & bass, plus symphonic harp & strings–celebrates its ninth year with a return to the Chapel

Fri. 8/2 – Songs from the Exotic: Join accomplished multi-instrumentalists Emily Ostrom and Peter Nelson-King for an evening of striking contemporary art songs for medium voice and piano by Hale Smith, Judith Weir, and Aaron Kirschner, and more.

Sat. 8/3 – Vocalist Vickie Dodd and cellist James Hoskins generate unique, meditative soundscapes, with special guests Carol J Levin and Spontanea



July 10, 2019
Philipp Gropper’s Philm, Skuespilhusets, Copenhagen
Philipp Gropper Robert Landfermann Oliver Steidle Elias Stemeseder

July 10, 2019
Nezelhorns, Galleri Krebsen, Copenhagen
Petter Severin Hängsel Nana Pi Aabo Larsen Erik Kimestad Pedersen Kristoffer Rostedt Johannes Vaht

July 10, 2019
Opening Foot – “Orkankanon 13:30”, Galleri Krebsen, Copenhagen
Håkon Berre Tomasz Dąbrowski Carolyn Goodwin Nana Pi Aabo Larsen Sven Meinild Henrik Olsson Kasper Tom

July 10, 2019
Toke Møldrup & Bjarke Mogensen duOen, Designmuseum Danmark, Copenhagen
Bjarke Mogensen Toke Møldrup

July 9, 2019
Mokuto, Christianshavns Beboerhus, Copenhagen
Lotte Anker Peter Friis-Nielsen Peter Ole Jørgensen

July 9, 2019
Susana Santos Silva, Lars Greve, Mark Solborg, Paul Lovens, 5e, Copenhagen
Lars Greve Paul Lovens Susana Santos Silva Mark Solborg

July 9, 2019
Rasmus Svale, Özün Usta, Isak Hedtjärn, Niklas Barno, Huset-KBH, Copenhagen
Niklas Barnö Isak Hedtjärn Rasmus Svale Özün Usta

July 9, 2019
Kimestad-Gropper Synthband, MellemRummet, Copenhagen
Greta Eacott Philipp Gropper Rasmus Kjær Cornelia Nilsson Erik Kimestad Pedersen