Friday, August 02, 2013

Pitchfork on Wrekmeister Harmonies LP

A pretty nice write-up in Pitchfork today:

Wrekmeister Harmonies

You've Always Meant So Much to Me

Thrill Jockey; 2013

By Grayson Currin

August 2, 2013

Who will lay claim to You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me, the second proper album from Chicago sound art project Wrekmeister Harmonies? During its sole, 38-minute track, the dozen-member ensemble led by J.R. Robinson builds from asymptotic silence into space-age electroacoustic drone, and from browbeating doom metal into, ultimately, a circular, harp-flecked denouement. Within Robinson’s magnetic musical current, the distance from beer-soaked rock club to incense-scented yoga studio is but one quick fadeout.

That notion is backed up by the varied personnel he recruited for this massive instrumental beauty: Jef Whitehead-- better known as Wrest, of U.S. black metal belligerents Leviathan-- adds drums, while seasoned studio musician and distinguished improviser Fred Lonberg-Holm plays cello; there’s viola from Julie Pomerleau, a musician with a wealth of indie rock experience, and electronics from high-tone harsh noise priest Mark Solotroff. It’s an unlikely crew, the sort of experts-in-their-field assembly that you expect to be financed by a major label. Instead, it was simply fostered by the musical diversity of Chicago. But You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me doesn’t fit conveniently into any of its makers’ scenes-- noise or post-rock, metal or classical-- because it falls too far into other scenes into which it doesn’t completely fit, either. Doom or drone, new age or space rock? That barely matters: You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me is a terrific monument of simultaneous stylistic acceptance and avoidance.

Robinson constructed this music as the score for a film of the same name, shot from a rooftop in Long Island City, in the desert of Joshua Tree, and in the urban ruins of Detroit. “It’s a classic example of structural filmmaking, where the camera does all of the work for you,” he recently explained. “There were long, static shots... Nature doing its thing to nature, and nature doing its thing to man.” Such a sense of vulnerability and predictability define this piece, in part because its direction and structure are at once obvious and enthralling-- that is, nearly as soon as it starts, you know exactly where it’s going, but hearing the process itself develop is still captivating.

Here, Wrekmeister Harmonies feels like a stateside, kid-friendly answer to Australia’s the Necks. A gentle bell peal opens You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me, serving as an invocation for the electronic hum and patchwork of phrases and patterns that follow. Upright bass skips along in deep zigs and zags, while shouts and hisses shoot through the space like errant asteroids. A harp traipses. A harmonium howls. A viola weeps. All these sounds grow together for the first 22 minutes or so, gathering eventually into the same great post-rock swell that you might’ve predicted at the track’s beginning. And then it all crashes down, with Whitehead hammering the drums in mid-tempo wrath, evacuating the air beneath distorted guitars and tidal strings and saturating electronics. With the dependability of the setting sun, the beating stops eight minutes later, giving way to an extended trickle back toward silence. Again, the end result, like the middle, is predictable, but the path toward it is both engrossing and wonderful all the same. Wrekmeister Harmonies use familiar elements from Neu! and Neurosis, free jazz and Swans to offer a compass within a sometimes disorienting patchwork of sound. To further facilitate that navigation, Robinson employees a traditional format-- quiet, louder, loudest, quieter-- to let you know where you’re going, just not how you’ll get there.

There’s a temptation to talk about records such as You’ve Always Meant So Much to Me as proof that heavy metal is itself going places, getting smarter and becoming more adventurous. Wrekmeister Harmonies, one could suggest, stands in the midst of some advancing experimental frontier. And, sure, fans of the liminal heaviness of Sunn O))), Earth, Locrian or those that have used volume and riffs to push outside of metal’s confines will likely want to slip inside of Robinson’s protracted rise and fall here. But Robinson’s work feels too personal to be part of any movement, too centered on the intricacies of its own action to be concerned with anyone else’s activities. Its intentionality feels entirely internal, like a deep and calming breath that just happens to be exhaled in the same direction in which the wind is blowing.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Chicago Reader Wrekmeister Harmonies Documentary Video Posted

I just viewed the completed "mini-documentary" created by the Reader about the Wrekmeister Harmonies show at Bohemian National Cemetery. It came out nicely!

Soundcheck / Music

Soundcheck: Wrekmeister Harmonies' performance at the Bohemian National Cemetery

Posted by Leor Galil on 07.31.13 at 01:11 PM
Last month Chicago sound artist J.R. Robinson, aka Wrekmeister Harmonies, gathered a team of musicians to perform the lone track from his recently released You've Always Meant So Much to Me (Thrill Jockey), a 38-minute ambient composition inspired by black metal. Robinson found a perfect venue to play his haunting and beautiful music—the Bohemian National Cemetery in North Park—and to top things off the show fell on the very same night that the supermoon appeared in the sky. The idea of the concert sounded so great that we jumped at the opportunity to document it for our Soundcheck series, where we film local and touring musicians as they set up for performances around town, interview them about their work, and capture footage of their sets.

We met up with Robinson as his crew was setting up and found a quiet spot to discuss nature, the local music community, and admiring the Bohemian National Cemetery. Check out the interview as well as a condensed version of the performance in the video below. A special thanks goes out to Empty Bottle Presents and the folks who handled the sound setup for the evening—Matthew Hannigan, Kenny Rasmussen, and Elliot Dicks—for letting us film the show.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sleep Museum: Complete BloodLust! streams and downloads

For those who prefer the digital to the physical, or who might have missed a rare piece of vinyl, Sleep Museum's Robert Anthony has been hard at work preparing his complete BloodLust! output as digital streams and downloads via Bandcamp -- including his long-out-of-print, three-song, "private series" 7-inch, "Street," which is now available digitally, for the first time.  All BloodShop! Sleep Museum listings have been updated with streaming players.

See the overhauled Sleep Museum Bandcamp page here: