AMN Reviews: Nick Didkovsky and Mark Howell – Screaming into the Yawning Vacuum of Victory (2021; Punos Music), Nick Didkovsky – Now I Do This (2021; Punos Music)

Screaming into the Yawning Vacuum of Victory is an EP length new release by guitarists/composers Nick Didkovsky (Doctor Nerve, Fred Frith’s Electric Guitar Quartet, and numerous solo and collaborative outings) and Mark Howell (Better Than Death, Fred Frith’s Electric Guitar Quartet, Timber, Zero Pop).  (As an aside, the one and only Better Than Death album called Swimman from 1988 is an exquisite piece of Avant Rock and should be absolutely procured if you can find the vinyl.) 

Clocking in at about 25 minutes and over the course of 21 meticulously composed, arranged and extremely rehearsal intensive vignettes (feel free to call them pieces), this thing covers an insane amount of sonic data.  So much in fact that, upon the initial listen one might experience an almost overwhelming feeling of brain fatigue resulting in a strong urge to consume you’re favorite Indica based edible and enter the land of Nod.  (Although this listener might suggest that said edible be consumed before the listen for optimal results.)

SITYVOV is exclusively played on two unprocessed Electric guitars driven through Marshall amps.  (Gearheads should check out the Bandcamp page for more on this.)  The recording is perfection.  One can easily separate each player’s part and the no frills, rawness of sound fits the pieces like a glove. 

Two of the miniatures have puzzle-like lyrics that are shouted out with much fervor and emotion.  I found these vocals (and lyrics) quite memorable and borderline hysterical and soon found myself singing them to my appreciative dogs (in private…of course).  The following 18 works reach a quantum level of computational sophistication that demand (many) repeat listening’s because, after all, math’s gotta rock!!!  (Right?)  With apologies to FZ, the heightened STATISTICAL DENSITY here is off the charts.  The last piece may stray from this pattern as it sounds like two minutes of (controlled?) feedback and it ends this EP in perfect fashion.

All in all, the session(s) must have been a bitch to play, although something tells me musicians of this caliber probably did it with their eyes closed.  The result of course, is highly satisfying. Elevated recommendation!

Now I Do This is a re-release of Didkovsky’s first limited-edition solo record from 1982.  Included in this package are four additional archival tracks that have never been released that predate this material, being recorded between 1979-1981.  So, what we have is an excellent snapshot of what was going on in Nick’s head back in the day.

I’m delighted to say that this release maps out in high-rez detail a portrait of an intrepid sonic pathfinder.  If you’re only familiar with his work in Doctor Nerve, you should check this stuff out.  There are occasional elements that distinctly show the genesis of the early DN sound, circa the first couple albums.

That being said, the overall vibe of Now I Do This is much more akin to a primitive musique concret.  At times I was reminded of the early experiments with found sounds and tape manipulations of the two Pierre’s, Schaeffer and Henry and maybe an occasional Bayle and Ferrari moment too.  Even in the early 80’s when these pieces were recorded, they have a 1950’s retro feel to them.  Whether this was intentional or, maybe Didkovsky was limited with his equipment at the time, I do not know.  What I can say is the sounds, and their organization, are fascinating.  Deep listens bring out hidden noisescapes that may be easily missed with the casual encounter.  The occasional perceived low-fi’ness of the proceedings makes things even more interesting when you accept and embrace it as part of the composition.  (Note that when I say “low-fi” I most certainly don’t mean poor recording.  This album sounds magnificent, especially though phones or buds.)  For me, this sort of quality is rare, and when it does manifest itself, it always juices the quality of the listening experience.

There is a lot to be discovered on this release.  The depth and breadth of the whole are wide and deep. Each piece is completely different from the previous one and nothing like what is to come.  Attentive listening will make this rock shine like a rare gem. 

The bonus tracks after the album proper enhance the journey by exposing yet another, totally complimentary musical mindset while still retaining the overall exploratory nature of the original album.  They are a welcome inclusion, especially the last track “Chanedra” as it’s the most direct and obvious link to the early Doctor Nerve sound. 

Listening to Now I Do This is like finding an old postcard in the trunk of your attic.  A relic that stands strong against the tides of time providing memories of an age that has not been repeated.  Don’t miss it!

Mike Eisenberg
On Twitter @bigaudio999