In pursuit of a communal vibe in lockdown, I turned to Point Breeze-based No Rent Records for two albums I hoped would ease my days: Kyle Press’s Overtones, Drones, and Saxophones and Boy Dirt Car’s Venice Beach.
An absorbing orchestra
That first one is a lovely record for when you want to be completely absorbed. Press is a one-man orchestra, pushing the multi-instrument paradigm with sax, throat singing, and electronics. The album name says it all.
There are so many moods within the very first track, from rich, cacophonous overblowing and counterpoint dripping with noir to the more refined, glistening textures associated with spectralism (using the harmonic series to structure melodies and form, as well as consonance and dissonance).
Press makes some of the best use of delay and loop pedals (oft-used but rarely perfected devices that let you play alongside recordings of yourself) I’ve heard in a long while. Press’s uses of throat singing and falsetto wailing to elaborate on his previously created sonic structures allow form to blossom from simple gestures. From there, the harmonic palette is developed through the timbral dimensions of noise, whistles, and distortions of the voice. And at the core of the more out-there moments is the drone.
Drones and other tones
Created from his own multi-instrumental playing, and what sounds like a standalone oscillator, the drones complement Press’s playing very well. They provide an acoustic envelope for solo-minded thought play and a tonal center. However, on occasion, a drone smothers the more distinctive and potentially ear-catching moments, as if there was cancellation occurring.
Where this album really shines is in the album’s quiet moments, as in the back of the song A2, where Press’s playing takes on a distinctively emotional direction, with sustained consonance that gets depth from his multi-phonic saxophone shredding. The last quarter of this track completely shatters that contemplative mood with a noisy freak-out that took me a while to dive into, but eventually had me craving squealing saxophones.
Singing to, singing with
Some of the more typical-sounding vocal parts sound extremely flat and of low quality, which sometimes fits with the overall texture, but can distract from the richness of the drones, throat singing, and saxophone. This becomes a problem in B, the third track, when the vocals make up a substantial part of the nearly 30-minute piece. However, exemplary playing makes up for most of this.
I love how inviting this album is. Listeners can burst out in song (in my case throat singing) and feel their voice welcomed into the texture, alongside Press’s buzzy, powerful playing. It may sound silly, but in a time of social isolation, it’s wonderful to have an experimental album you can jam along with.
Music for the wandering mind
Boy Dirt Car’s Venice Beach is best described as a combination of ambient and noise music. There are lots of noisy, wispy textures featuring distorted voices, drones, trace whistles, and bells, perfect for a moody background. At its best, it feels like Brian Eno encased in a morph suit filled with grime.
This music allows your mind to wonder. The point doesn’t seem to be to understand, but to simply exist within this sound. Boy Dirt Car frequently switches between the fledgling ideas of minimally developed sonic textures.
Don’t try too hard to think, and you will sink into this. Eventually, the album introduces more formal percussive and rock-like elements, but it retains its core as atmospheric music. The signals are always filtered, so the music sounds far away. It’s somewhat repetitive in its randomness, but it does an effective job of transporting the soul into the smelly DIY basement show I so desperately crave.
Until we “come out the other end of the pandemic,” No Rent says, all releases are digital-only and pay-what-you-wish.