Three from lo bit landscapes
I'm going through a bunch of submissions to KiC and planning to showcase a series of releases organized by label. Let's start with a trio of albums from Brooklyn's lo bit landscapes: 2 from Nihiti, and one from Viktor Timofeev.
Nihiti - Other People's Memories
The oldest of these records, Other People's Memories dropped in late 2010 (10/10/10, to be exact). There are a pair of slightly different 1-sheets included in this package, one of which indicates that "not much is known about the actual members of Nihiti." The same generally holds true for the label, whose website isn't exactly information-packed. A bit of the "Theory of Obscurity," ala the Cryptic Corporation, perhaps? At least one person involved in the proceedings seems to be Viktor Timofeev, whose solo release on the label we'll be exploring shortly. Outside of these recordings, Timofeev is best known for his work as a visual artist, and both the album cover for Other People's Memories and an included foldout poster feature a rather arresting multipanel work of his entitled "Red/Black: The Cyclical Nature of the Practice of Architecture."
Nihiti takes a wide stylistic path on Other People's Memories. There are elements of experimental music, ambient, industrial and pop, played on acoustic instruments, rock instruments, and synths/samplers/drum machines/computers. While that might sound like it has the potential to be very unfocused, it is a very cohesive album: Nihiti mostly employs their ample resources toward creating very dark atmospheres. But I think what makes this album so interesting is how those vibes are sustained through so many stylistic variations: the first few tracks had me thinking the band was on a Godspeed/krautrock/electronic bent, but the third track introduces some 8th note-based piano chord stabs so popular in 60s pop songs, ultimately serving as the introduction to an actual pop song in the fourth track, "the ringing in (the sun is rung)." But it's still a very weird form of pop, repeatedly overwhelming itself by bringing different instruments out of proportion in the mix. And the ride continues, through passages blending melancholy cello lines with piano and sine waves, more pop songforms, and ultimately an impressive blend of postrock and krautrock textures with early industrial-sounding beats.
This record is largely instrumental, but occasional vocal passages are weaved beautifully into the variety of textures. I found it difficult to make out lyrics, as they're generally mixed relatively low, treated as another instrumental voice. But the few sections I could make out clearly, like the spoken moments in the center of "the return of kind ropes (laku noc, dusan k), seemed fairly bleak and melancholy, a fitting supplement to the music. This is the kind of music that you have to live with for a while and let it take effect, but it will definitely find itself on return trips to my turntable.
Nihiti's Faced With Splendor 12'' EP shows a very different side of the band. Songs, instead of atmospheres, dominate this music, and the orchestration is mostly acoustic, compared to the heavy electronic leanings of "Other People's Memories." This is a melancholy pop effort with folk leanings--not usually my favorite kind of music, but it's very well performed and recorded, and the arrangements are very thoughtful. Generally it's very sparse compared to the previous album, but with great harmonies and instrumental countermelodies in perfect places to bring out the best in the songs. The simple precision behind these songs makes me think that this record is a totally different aspect of Nihiti's stylistic range, rather than suggesting that their previous work was a case of psyche/kraut/electronic deconstruction techniques applied to more basic pop songs. In other words, tossing some noisemaking devices at these songs won't make them into electronic-style Nihiti--they stand in their own unique way. But fans of the approach on the first full-length will be excited to know that the upcoming Nihiti release, "For Ostland," promises a return to the more expansive attack of "Other People's Memories."
The biggest surprise for me in this lo bit landscapes package was Viktor Timofeev's release, GIVE HEALTH999. Nihiti gravitates toward melancholy and surreal landscapes, but most of their music still functions in relatively conventional tonality, gravitating toward minor keys with dissonant and textural passages. In contrast, Timofeev mostly transcends the major/minor duality and dives into bleak, yet very addictive walls of sound.
Like Nihiti, Timofeev uses a wide range of instruments toward the production of rich atmosopheres, though all varieties of beat-oriented percussion are absent. The emphasis here is on the building of layers that don't use much percussive delineation--postrock sounds serve as a brief jumping-off point, but most of the album trends closer to drone music, alternating focal points between distorted guitars, voices, synths, and found sound/field recordings/samples. The opening and closing tracks are heaviest with guitars, accompanied by some distant piano stabs in the opening "December 22nd," and blended more evenly with oscillating frequencies in the closing "July 28th."
In between, my favorite two tracks are the longest: both of them build slowly to nightmarish, oppressive walls of sound and slowly thin out again. There are some legitimate, though still very dark, melodies played on clarinets in the 14-minute "Flying Zonogons," which are gradually stacked upon themselves through overdubs and heavy reverb. Voices are used over sounds of moving water in a similar overdubbed, reverbed, and delayed fashion to create the center portion of "WorldWideWaterWorld," eventually adding a ring modulator or similar filter that obliterates pitch into metallic densities that rise and fall with the pauses in the vocal overdubs. I really enjoyed the less-effected vocal buildups comprising "126.96.36.199.," too, which evoke some of the best moments in modern choral writing like that of Gorecki or the micropolyphony of Ligeti. It's this blend of modern classical, drone, and guitar noise approaches that impresses me more with each listen. I'm captivated by it now, and I suspect this music will continue to reveal more of itself with time.
--first published at Killed in Cars