Here's a pretty idiosyncratic release from Iceland. FALK released this album in December of '11, but the man behind AMFJ, Adalsteinn Jorundsson, has recently been sending some copies stateside, and you can order/listen on BandCamp as well (so much stuff going through BandCamp these days!). Strange Maine should have a few stateside physical copies on CD, and this packaging is really cool, with rich color and multiple panels of composite/superimposed photographs of the artist-in-motion that are very illustrative of the music.

My first impression of BÆN was how complimentary this album is to Arvo Zylo's "333" record that I reviewed last year--both records feature their respective composers working alone in noise/industrial surroundings, and both composed their records within the confines of a single musical interface. In the case of AMFJ, Jorundsson works in a software package called Jeskola Buzz, which looks sort of like a freeware version of Reason. For those unfamiliar with the basic concept behind either of those bits of software, one makes sounds in virtual synth modules, which can then be combined in various configurations, run through one another or through effects, etc.

Though it's a considerably more spacious environment than the RM1X sequencer that Zylo employed for his "333," it's still quite a self-imposed limitation compared to the resources most electronic musicians avail themselves of for any recording session. But under many conditions, I think these kinds of limitations can save folks a lot wasted energy spent in "paradox of choice" deliberations and keep the focus on creating the music itself. I remember reading a John McLaughlin quote about perfect freedom coming from perfect discipline, or something to that effect--though he was talking about keeping your chops in shape for improvisation, the concept translates into the world of composition/recording beautifully: pick a small palette of materials, learn to use them efficiently, almost unconsciously, and you're ready for inspiration to strike.

AMFJ is often tagged as a power electronics/harsh industrial act. I definitely hear elements of those genres in this music, but BÆN definitely falls toward the more melodic/atmospheric end of the "harsh" continuum. Vocally, a couple of the tracks in the middle of the album ("Mammon" and "Retoria") get into some really aggro vocal work, and Jorundsson sounds briefly like a 1000 year old tree struggling to stay upright in a punishing storm of percussion and metallic drones. But I think the best moments of the record show a lot of restraint--Lofun," for example, dedicated to his fiance, features a ground-loop sounding hum interrupted by a curious percussion break which repeats multiple times. It's a delicate piece that never rises above a mezzo piano, but it shows a lot of distinction in its poise. The opening track, "Utburdur Umskiptingur," becomes loud and impenetrable, but it shows a lot of patience getting there, its sample of a child's whine gradually layered with itself and effected in ways that emphasize the fundamental resonant points of the sample, like a shorter industrial-tinged take on Lucier's "I Am Sitting in a Room."

My favorite piece, though, is the album's closer, "Husid Andar." The longest track at almost 9 minutes, Jorundsson sings in a clear, clean voice, grasping at transcendence amid a dense clatter of fluctuating synths, metallic clanging, menacing machines and idling motors. I hear some awesome late-oughts Ulver vibes at moments: subtle vocal harmonies push through the din, trainlike rhythms rise and drown in acid reverb, and a long minute of silence hangs in the air at the end of the disc. There are some great ideas happening in this piece, and I hope that future AMFJ efforts continue to work with the epic potential in both harsh noise and near-silence.

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