Ampeater Music

Welcome to Ampeater Music. You'll notice that we've totally stripped the design. We were getting tired of the old one, and the best way to force ourselves to fix it was to dive in head first. We've unpublished all our past posts, and we're starting at the beginning, revamping each entry one at a time. They'll all be back up on the site soon enough! In the meantime, we hope you'll take the opportunity to reacquaint yourself with our back catalog. We'll also be making incremental improvements to the look and functionality of our dear old Ampeater over the coming weeks and months. Please be patient, and stay tuned for some really cool stuff. It's coming, we promise.

AEM045 Evening Hymns

AEM045 Evening Hymns
  • Location: Toronto, Ontario
  • Links: Website, Bandcamp
  • Personnel: Jonas Bonnetta

We tend to think of sad, acoustic guitar anchored music as being intimate (I don’t want to call it ‘folk’ because folk is already another kind of music. You know, like The Carter Family singing “John Hardy”). It’s a music of deeply personal songs whispered in bedrooms and as such it has the effect of feeling like a direct communication between us and a softly crooning bearded guy. It’s a kind of music that can really only exist perfectly on record, as softly crooning into a microphone in front of 600 people all craning their necks to get a glimpse of the artist’s sensible clothing doesn’t have quite the same effect. Recently, though, there seems to have emerged an interest in taking the small, cramped spaces of confessional music and cracking them wide open without sacrificing the personal content and directness that made the original style so appealing.

Phil Elverum’s songs as The Microphones and Mt. Eerie are so lyrically intimate they can sometimes feel like reading an intercepted letter. It’s almost uncomfortable. Yet while the songs have their moments of expected musical smallness, of hushed words and strummed guitar, Elverum often chooses to mirror the emotional content of the lyrics (often represented with nature imagery) in the music itself, deploying icy chimes, oceans of pounding drums, thundering electric guitars, and field recordings of crackling fires. More recently, Matthew Houck, AKA Phosphoresent, has taken up a similar, although more sedate, songwriting style. His simple, mostly acoustic music (scarcely will you hear more than four chords in a song) is built into enormous, open spaces. Not as violent as Elverum, Houck’s songs tend to expand via warm choruses of voices; long, relaxed arrangements; epic reverb; and, of course, field recordings of thunderstorms. Both men are also hugely concerned with nature in their lyrics, Elverum’s towering mountains can stand in for the horrors of mortality while Houck sees the waves at night as both a reminder of that mortality and a sweet promise of all the beauty that awaits us until then.

Now, consider Jonas Bonnetta of Evening Hymns, the next in this line of autocratic, naturalistic songwriters with a flair for the climactic. Bonnetta described the recording of A-side “Dead Deer” to Ampeater thusly: “All my recording in the past has been really hushed and this was the first time I really got to play loud on a recording. I remember the snowy streets outside of the gallery and the people walking by the windows as we tracked the guitar and I was jumping into each chord pretending I was in a rock and roll band.” Aside from just being awesome, this anecdote shows us the new Bonnetta (most of his previous work has been under his given name instead of the Evening Hymns moniker). The content may remain dark and confessional, but the music is expansive, enormous, like the “stars in the desert” riddling the sky on B-side “Cedars,” which is a spacious elegy built around an electronically manipulated recording of a piano, which was played by a friend and then recorded from one floor down. Bonnetta’s innovations tend to come in this unobtrusive, humble way, in service of the songs. The piano drone is a perfect soundscape over which to set the direct address of “Cedars,” yet it never sticks out as something done for the sake of strangeness or an air of capital-A Art. It doesn’t even occur to you to ask what it is (it’s pretty much impossible to tell that it was once a piano) because it sounds so perfectly matched to the content.

Bonnetta is a native of the small town of Orono, Ontario, now transplanted to the urban environs of Toronto, but with a heart that still wanders out amongst the fields and forests. The image of cedar trees returns over and over again in his new album Spirit Guides, a record that gives you the same kind of feeling as gazing out at the tree-lined horizon at an hour when it seems like no one else in the world is awake. In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably tell you that this music was pretty much made for me: simple, lovely melodies; male vocals that sound as cracked and worn as old leather twinned in harmony with ethereally pure female vocals; mortality-heavy lyrics that hint at transcendence (“everybody’s gonna live forever and no one ever dies anyway”) and are delivered slightly behind the beat; huge climaxes with lush violins and flutes and pedal steel. Evening Hymns manages to walk the fine line between experimentation and melody, introspection and catharsis. They have songs, but they’re not going to hit you over the head with them, choosing instead to let them slowly, organically unspool, revealing lyrics about dying that somehow make you feel good.

A-side “Dead Deer” commences with the gentle, three chord acoustic strums you’d expect, opening out into the simple lyrical trope of exhausted lovers collapsed on the floor. It is both sweet and slightly unnerving, mingling imagery of salvation and hand-holding sweetness with the implied sex and animal exhaustion of the original image: “my body it lies like an ark / like a bridge over yours in the dark”. And then, about 90 seconds into the song, a savage electric guitar breaks everything open into the alarming chorus of “and I lie like a dead deer / down in the cedars.” That guitar feeds an electricity directly into the song. Maybe it’s naïve to think so, but you can practically feel Bonnetta jumping up and down with each huge chord and all the energy that movement imparts. Also note the slight asymmetry of the guitar part just after the titular words, the way the chords come every two beats instead of the expected three, which lends a slight discomfort to the music that pushes it onward. The electric guitar is so enormous it practically strips the lyrics from the vocals for the rest of the song, leaving only the soaring melodies and the occasional word or two that breaks through. Midway through the song, strings sneak in underneath to push the song to even further heights as that aching chorus melody churns and churns before finally withdrawing back into the original verse pattern, this time led by a gentle, understated accordion. The entire song has the shape of a wave crashing on shore – you can see the explosion coming from the opening chords, and soon the song is all sputtering foam and hungry fingers of water, but just afterwards, in that last instrumental verse, it looks as if none of it was ever there at all.

“Cedars” packs a lot of emotional weight for a B-side, opening with a minute of a slowly simmering drone before a hymnal chorus of Bonnettas sings the rubato verses in that unique voice of his, which shares the huskiness and rough imperfections of Houck (he doesn’t crack his voice anywhere nearly as much as as Houck does, though. I know that drives some people crazy), yet can transcend those flaws to rise into a lovely pure sound, as on the lines “lit up the stars in the desert / reveal the bending of the night.” Gentle fingerpicking and a sublime chorus of reverby, female oohs then replaces the drone, surrounding the vulnerable yet undramatic lead vocals with a translucent cloud of sound that gradually yields back into the drone, topped with a cluster of breathy flugelhorns and flutes and resolving into, god bless him, a field recording of a thunderstorm. It’s a device that almost shouldn’t work, it’s so frequently used, yet it does. There’s really not a much better way to conjure up that much open space, that much power and melancholy. And, if any song deserves the stately solemnity of a rainstorm, it’s an honest and serious elegy like this, written for Bonnetta’s father and full of the kind of mixed up feelings that kind of absence has to create: “Send for me my lanterns / send for me my maps / cause I lost all my direction / when you got caught in dark, dark traps.” The chorus ends with the words “everybody’s gonna live forever and no one ever dies anyway” a hopeful thought of living on, if only in memory, gently and sadly countered by the song’s last words, in which a gentle switch of focus lights up the singer’s own eventual mortality: “You can’t turn this boy around / getting older growing down.”

The Canadian press has been raving about Spirit Guides since its release last month, but us Yankees have been slow to pick up on things. I know it’s hard for us to admit that sometimes the Canadians can do things better (i.e. health care), but you know, maybe the sting will go away after we all sit down and listen to Evening Hymns for awhile. Let’s not let pride keep us away from this lovely album, eh?

AEM044 Lady Lamb the Beekeeper

AEM044 Lady Lamb the Beekeeper

There’s a line in a Boy Without God song that goes “And if you play an instrument, I’m probably a little bit in love with you.” I’m not sure whether there’s some sort of chip that they put in pubescent males when we’re not looking, but it’s almost universally accepted as fact by most young men of quality and standing that if you can play three chords on your older brother’s beat up acoustic, we like you. A lot. The best performers have a way of creating a bridge between stage and audience that makes every listener in the room think that he or she (and only he or she) is being sung to, and that each song was written explicity for his or her ears. This is the pinnacle of the coffeehouse experience, and it’s something that generally only transpires in documentaries about Greenwich Village in the 60s. And yet, I get the same feeling when Lady Lamb the Beekeeper pops up on iTunes.

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper (Aly Spaltro) is one of those rare individuals for whom musical expression is so natural, so inherently part of her being, that she’s able to produce truly moving art with a grace seldom seen at her age (or any age, for that matter). When her plans to travel to Guatamala between high school and college fell through and she was suddenly faced with a year of aimlessness, Spaltro made a conscious decision to begin making music. Under most normal circumstances, this seems like a logical step, but I neglected to mention that prior to making this decision Spaltro had no musical experience. So, she began to assemble her arsenal, beginning not with instruments, but with the means by which to capture her (at this point imaginary) songs–an 8 track tape recorder. That’s right, she bought the recording equipment first. Now that’s commitment.

But she had a clear and simple concept in mind: she wanted to layer instruments, to create songs with an emphasis on sonic texture. When most musicians say something like this, their music ends up sounding like an Animal Collective b-side, or some equally soupy collage of overlapping samples, but not so with Spaltro. Her songs have their origins in folk music and the more delicate side of modern indie pop. A certain innocence pervades them that’s maybe better described as conviction–there’s no sense that she’s “trying” to accomplish anything in particular, but rather creating exactly the songs that she needs to create in exactly the way that she needs to create them. There’s little to no artistic pretension in her music, just a quarter-inch cable from her brain to your stereo.

Spaltro immediately dove into her newfound passion, recording two solo demos in two months while simultaneously learning each instrument needed to tranfer her mental soundscape to tape. Heads up, this next part sounds a bit like the beginning of some rock and roll fairy tale (and let’s hope it is). She left 9 copies of her demo in a brown paper case on the counter of Bull Moose music in Brunswick, ME. 8 of these disappeared, their captors absconding into the ether never to be heard from again; 1 went to TJ Metcalfe, who teamed up with Spaltro and became Lady Lamb the Beekeeper’s all-purpose instrumental accompaniment. Together they recorded a number of new tracks, and culling the best of Spaltro’s early demos, a third album came into being: For Handsome Animals. Now available in a paper case at a record store near you! Or, you know, on iTunes.

The two songs on Lady Lamb the Beekeper’s Ampeater 7-inch straddle the full length of her budding career. Side A “Almond Colored Sheets” is her most recently recorded track, scheduled to see a limited CD release on an upcoming album of demos and rarities. Built on the trifecta of banjo, organ, and vocals, “Almond Colored Sheets” is nothing short of spectacular. I chalked up a double digit play count within an hour of this tune hitting my inbox. It opens with the poignantly redemptive, “I was running through a bad dream, but now I can make it out,” which situates the tune in whatever emotional state wavers between lucid dreaming, childhood nostalgia, and genuine longing. It’s as though Spaltro cast a net and captured those little thoughts that dart in and out of your head when you space out on long bus rides.

This tune has all the hooks, well, all the good ones anyways. The banjo provides a solid percussive base while the organ serves up a soothing harmonic drone and some brilliantly placed melodic figures. This foundation frees Spaltro’s voice to be optimally expressive as the song builds towards an inevitable climax. I like to think of Spaltro as a musical sponge, absorbing sounds for the first eighteen years of her life, just knowing that when she reached the appropriate saturation point she’d put all that stored knowledge to good use. She doesn’t disappoint. At about 2:24 in, there’s a dramatic break in the instrumentation as she finishes the verse, “I slipped out of the shower to discover that his mother had taken my towel, so I had to resort to using your old kindergarten t-shirt.” If hearing Spaltro sing the words “your old kindergarten t-shirt” doesn’t instantly recall some long lost flake of memory, please seek medical attention, as you’re officially immune to music.

Side B “Dinosaur Song” is one of Spaltro’s first complete recordings, completed during a time in which she was eager to put her thoughts down on tape even as she was still learning the rudiments of each instrument. The whole tune was written and recorded in less than an hour, and each part was completed in one take. Maybe it’s just Christmas breathing down my neck, but with its haunting vocal opening and sparse guitar, I feel like “Dinosaur Song” could be a bonus track on the Edward Scissorhands soundtrack. Like Jeff Mangum’s recordings as Neutral Milk Hotel, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper’s songs are miniature worlds in and of themselves; to listen is to step inside something truly special, so take your coat off and stay a while. She sings,

I want to fly my soul like a kite,
want to see you walk through that doorway
and into this room where i am waiting for you
you like the sea
and how the sea began with a drop of sweat
soaked into a cloud swiped across the brow of god
and how he rung it out into sharp teeth to scales
and how the carnivore was born

Listening to this song is like reading Catullus’s love poems in alternating lines with Bullfinch’s Mythology–I’m not sure whether I’m hearing love poetry or legend, but either way I like it. The recording can get a bit rough at points, but there’s greatness here. If those 8 mystery owners of the original demo had really listened to the music, if they’d fully stepped into the world of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, they’d have kept the disc in a safe deposit box–who knows, it might pay for their retirement some day.

OK, maybe that’s a little hyperbolic, but there are big things on the horizon for Lady Lamb the Beekeper. On the heels of her Maine “world” tour (she hit only towns in her home state that share names with countries) this past summer, she began working with producer Alias to create something with a bit more sheen than her self-recorded demos. Truth be told, Spaltro could sing into a transister radio and I’d still buy the record. Having said that, I can’t wait to see her bust out a full band studio album–wonderful, magical things will happen. When I hear these songs, I hear St. Vincent, Karen O, and Feist; but somehow I get the feeling that the day is fast approaching when St. Vincent, Karen O, and Feist will get to hear Lady Lamb the Beekeeper.

AEM043 Pete Galub

AEM043 Pete Galub
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Links: Bandcamp
  • Personnel: Pete Galub (guitar, lead vox), Tom Gavin (bass, vox), Chris Moore (drums, vox)

“I’ve always considered myself primarily a songwriter” says Pete Galub, who also sings and plays guitar. For nearly two decades Galub has been a force in New York’s vast underground music scene. He started gigging at the tender age of 15, performing in CBGB’s and other NYC clubs. Over the years he’s played in numerous bands and shared the stage with Gillian Welch and Liz Phair among others. But as he insists, Galub is a songwriter above all else. He cites a diverse range of musical influences from the likes of Thelonius Monk to 60s and 80s melodic guitar pop music a la the Byrds, Big Star, and the Chills, as well as folk/country tunesmiths like the Louvin Brothers and Michael Hurley, and raw punk groups like Wire and the Undertones. Decades of experience and an eclectic taste in music have certainly made their mark on his songwriting, which embraces both the catchy and the quirky. As he puts it, “I love catchy melodies and great songs. I love dissonance. I love experimentation and growth and try to integrate improvisation, noise, and other things into live performances of the pop songs I write. Sometimes they’re an absolute train wreck, sometimes they’re the most gratifying moments of my life.”

Galub’s most recent project Pete Galub & The Annuals is a three piece rock band. Admittedly, rock is a fairly generic term. Pete Galub & The Annuals are anything but generic, but it’s the only term broad enough to encompass their unique blend of power pop, punk, blues, and country. In addition to Galub (guitar, lead vocals) the trio feature features Tom Gavin (bass, vocals) and Chris Moore (drums, vocals). Like Galub, both are prolific songwriters and seasoned veterans who’ve been performing for years. The result is a band with superb chemistry and a superior sense of song. One critic describes it as “Lou Reed meets Leonard Cohen meets Neil Young” and that’s not a bad comparison because like Reed, Cohen, or Young, Pete Galub & The Annuals play well crafted songs that could have been written forty years ago or yesterday or twenty years from now. They have an appeal that transcends trendy.

Galub’s latest album, Boy Gone Wrong, released in 2003 and featuring The Annuals on most tracks, is nothing short of a subtle masterpiece—subtle because it lack bells and whistles and, if listened to inattentively, might seem straightforward, even bland, but give it a closer listen and you’ll be hooked. From “Hidden Crumbs,” the mellow country-inflected first track, through “Serving Spoon,” the energetic and slightly bitter final cut, the album has impeccable flow. The lyrics are captivating and the songwriting is in a league of its own, each track arranged with deceptive intricacy. Critic Geraint Jones puts it well when he asserts that “Galub’s songs could just as easily be described as bleakly harrowing as they could blackly humorous, depending on your interpretation.”

Galub is currently at work on a new album, Weird Space, which is due out in early 2010. Although Weird Space is technically a solo release, it features The Annuals heavily and Galub considers the band vibe to be prominent on the album. This is certainly true of A-side “Reacquaintance,” an energetic rock song which features both Moore and Gavin.

“Reacquaintance” is only a three chord song but it doesn’t sound so simple thanks to Galub’s unconventional voicings and brilliant arranging job. The recording begins with a richly swept guitar but during the verses Galub steps back and lets Gavin’s hypnotic bass line anchor it down. Moore’s choice to lay off the cymbals, along with Galub’s palm muted guitar, create suspense during the chorus and help to distinguish it from the verse. The falsetto vocal line at the end of the chorus provides a nice hook while Galub’s guitar solo is another interesting touch, starting off bluely but quickly devolving into a noisy mess. The lyrics are a little hard to make out over the ruckus but, as with all of Galub’s lyrics, they’re worth a close listen. The imagery is fresh. Galub never says exactly what you’d expect him to say, but instead opts for unconventional but evocative metaphors.

“For 500 midnights, I wore your clothes
Referring to people nobody knows
Their green eyes grasping for some kind of feeling
Like amputee spiders stuck on the ceiling”

“Reacquaintance” ends on a strange note—literally—after the final chorus the band escalates to a fourth chord (oh my!) and completely falls apart. A fitting conclusion given the lyrics that precede it, “I have to go, my ride is waiting… Alone.” And indeed, each member of the band wanders off in his own direction… alone.

“Reacquaintance” is fairly indicative of Galub’s recent work. Not true of B-side “Ransom” which is the only track on Boy Gone Wrong without bass and drums. Galub explains “it’s a totally different vibe and I always liked that aspect of singles.  It shows (hopefully) another side of my writing, that’s a little more introspective and intimate.” Indeed it does, and it’s probably my favorite cut off of the album. It’s one thing to make a song shine with a band behind it, but to pull off such a sparse arrangement is an absolutely remarkable achievement. This song is so good that it doesn’t need a band. The stripped down mix exposes it in unadulterated glory. Vocals are at the front of the mix, accompanied throughout most of the recording only by a softly strummed acoustic guitar. A few soft electronics creep in, but they just add a bit of color.

Galub’s voice isn’t exactly beautiful but it’s saturated with intensity. Those high notes push the limit of his range but his obvious struggle to reach them compliments the sense of desperation pervasive throughout the song. The lyrics are delightfully morbid. “I was the blood on the fan blade when your hands got too curious…” Galub’s mock operatic falsetto on “Every time you killed me” remind me of Jeff Buckley but with slightly more sarcasm. Curtis Eller’s absolutely dirty harmonica solo seems like a nod to Bob Dylan or, rather, like Dylan thrown into a rusty cuisinart and diced to oblivion. Eller’s screeching notes, drenched in feedback, bend in and out of tune. The solo drives the song several notches higher in intensity and when Galub finally returns on vocals, he’s practically shouting.

For such a gifted songwriter, Galub’s remarkably modest. When asked about his goals for the band in a recent interview, he replied, “to quote Spinal Tap -‘no page in history baby that I don’t need/ I just wanna make some eardrums bleed.'”

AEM042 Order or Ardor

AEM042 Order or Ardor
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Personnel: Stuart Watson

My friend and musical companion Jeremy once gave me this advice when I told him I was having trouble writing songs: “Start with a philosophical concept and try to make the sound describe that concept.” It was an interesting, if startling method that I had never encountered before. Should music proceed from some base of an idea and build from there? Or do what we call “philosophical concepts” even have a place in music? Don’t we still put stock in the transcendence of the musical experience, in its absence of direct reference and metaphor? Only in a very restricted sense. As many worthwhile contemporary artists have proven, idea and form are mutually illuminating projects. One does not follow the other. They contain and advance each other.

And then there is the question of poetry. I mention poetry because it is so fine an example of how music is more complicated than we give it credit for when we examine it through a philosophical lens. How to delineate the spaces of music and language? How can we think of music as autonomous from “everyday experience” when its very essence is inscribed by Being, the most important entity in Heideggerian (and other influential) philosophy. Stuart Watson, who records under Order or Ardor, shows us how these issues must be met head on in music. His songs are the familiar imbued with a spiritual intensity that emits an inspiring radiance. Not only does Order or Ardor deal with “pure sound,” it deals with pure feeling, pure being and the dynamic play between those forces in carefully constructed auditory space. Watson is a towering intellect, so it comes as no surprise that his music deftly handles weighty themes while still remaining fun in sound.

Writes the man himself: “The band’s name is meant to evoke the Apollonian/Dionysian split described by Nietzsche in ‘The Birth of Tragedy’. In this project I am attempting to harness both intensity of feeling and clarity of composition; I want there to be a dynamic, almost dialectical tension between the elements in the songs themselves. In certain instances, generally my more experimental pieces, ardor wins out over order, as it were, but in other cases, ecstatic energies are reined in and dominated by the “songness” of a piece–passion in the service of reason, order over ardor.

“Musically I draw on Neil Young as a kind of ethical center, while Johnny Cash and Ian Curtis have had the most direct influence on my singing. I have a background in jazz guitar and bass, and that in some measure informs the kinds of songs I write. Among contemporary artists I have the highest respect for Larkin Grimm, Woods, Dirty Projectors, and Animal Collective; these people are making music that inspires me on a daily basis. Philosophy and poetry inform my writing on account of my day gig as an adjunct professor and English PhD student, but I try to keep my songs as direct as possible lyrically. Simplicity of expression is something I value, as are emotional openness and honesty, and I try to make music that reflects that. I am a believer in the visionary and transforming power of love. I am also an adherent to rationality. These two elements come into conflict, hence the band name. These songs were recorded by me in my studio, Deep Dark Carlos. “Borderlands” is a meditation on change, on transformation, on traveling through liminal spaces. “How I Am Blind” is a coming to terms with failed love. Both songs represent a version of the balance of order and ardor in my life.”

On A-side “Borderlands,” the self-ascribed Ian Curtis influence rings true, but as with other bands who draw inspiration from the Joy Division frontman (Interpol comes to mind), Order or Ardor has something deeper below the surface. The synth textures call to mind the grooves of Brian Eno’s otherworldly masterpiece, Another Green World. There are also hints of the restless post-punk experimentalism of Xiu Xiu. The drum machine has that crisp analogue sound of New Order and other similar 80s New Wave bands (it is in fact the same drum machine used by New Order). One shouldn’t take this as an act of gearheadism. Rather, this points to one of the more distinguishing features of Order or Ardor’s music—that is, the sound space in itself. Watson happens to be an expert producer (full disclosure: He’s engineering and producing my new album) with an uncanny ear for mix, richness and instrumental clarity. It’s a rare thing to have a musician with battling talents in songwriting and production, although I suppose in the age of laptop studios it’s becoming increasingly common. But this is more than just some slapdash home recording experiment. It’s the continuation of a method made possible by home studio heads like This Heat and Phil Elverum. In other words, having New Order’s drum machine in your studio, if you’re not a jive fool, means incorporating a texture that has great meaning for you after years of listening. By entering that sound into the mix, Watson is participating actively in music history, recycling and readapting sounds to create new combinations. This is how music goes forward (I hesitate to use the word “progresses”) and creates a somewhat coherent narrative instead of little style islands, episodic flashes in a vacuum

But let’s not get bogged down in historical musicology. Though Order or Ardor certainly provides a platform for waxing philosophic (like all good music), it’s also about enjoyment. Take B-side “How I am Blind” which places us into poppier territory than does “Borderlands.” An Aphex Twin-reminiscent drumbeat and humming synthesizer provide the perfect background for Watson’s pleasantly simple guitar progression. However, the brighter the pop song, they say, the darker its demons. “I showed how I am blind” intones Watson, simultaneously deadpan and crushingly emotive. Sad dance!

Ultimately, if these songs prove anything, it’s the overwhelming and inescapable presence of feeling in music. Scoff if you will at the idea of philosophy in music, but both derive from two important sources: Being and Feeling.

AEM041 Hot Sugar

AEM041 Hot Sugar

Nick Koenig, for one of his new songs, made a field recording of the wind, mapped the sound to a keyboard, and played out a melody on the breeze. OK Pocahontas. But seriously, this found-sound technique—which extends throughout Koenig aka Hot Sugar’s oeuvre—deserves some attention. Not in the sense that these kinds of excavations are new: over half-a-century’s worth of art music experimentalists and Japanoise terrorists have found ample sonic uses for everything from vacuum cleaners to plastic surgery procedures. What makes Hot Sugar interesting, however, is not the aesthetic extremism or aggressive anti-musicality of someone like, say, Merzbow, but rather the prettiness, catchiness, even humanism this artist extracts from these instrumental (but not instrument) materials. In the world of outre industrio-acoustic studies, this kind of pop-smithing amounts, ironically, to the opposite of conventionality, a length of particularly percussive copper piping swung at the hydrahead of No Fun conservatism. In Hot Sugar’s mellotron, tunefulness becomes radical.

I draw this parallel between Koenig and some of the more esoteric examples of tape-n-scrape not because the two sound anything alike, but because the connection shows that the term “noise music” is, and perhaps always was, kind of meaningless. Hot Sugar’s style, despite resembling some kind of crossbreed of 70s blaxploitation soundtracks, ambient house, and 8-bit video game themes, is nonetheless akin, at least in practice, to Einstürzende Neubauten tape-looping a crate of plates breaking in a dank German warehouse. But where Industrial purists misused machinery to create literal, albeit borderline unlistenable, portraits of urban decay, Hot Sugar solders the same base metals into something you could find on the radio, although maybe 500 years in the future, and in space.

A-side “Gus Sneaks Out,” might be what happens when you put a trunk-mounted subwoofer in a wind-up music box. How Koenig makes this stuff happen is still mostly a mystery to me, but while the tune is busy with whirrs and blips and cut-up stabs, it still thumps like a motherfucker–a form of lowrider music for the tiny, imaginary people who live under my floorboards. When we spoke, the man behind Hot Sugar mentioned that he was using vocalists and MCs for his upcoming full-length, and while it’s not hard to imagine someone spitting bars over this instrumental, it is hard to place, exactly, how such an addition would change the vibe. This music, despite the heavy-processing of its origins, still manages to come across as deeply, cellularly organic—even wooly. I’ve tried rapping on the track a couple of times, and although I’ve attempted using real words, the only thing that seems to sound even remotely correct is a kind of syncopated gorilla bark. This, I guess, is the real Jungle music.

“Juicing Up” is a slightly different story. A titular reference to consuming a juice box, and not, I believe, abusing steroids, the B-side contains one of the insatiably hooky lead-lines since “The Final Countdown,” the kind of melody that replicates itself virally inside your brain and causes breakouts at embarrassing times. This is mission music, the kind of thing you would listen to en route to the most important thing ever, and then listen to again on your way home. Fuck Ritalin. “Juicing Up” is like musical concentration from concentrate, archetypically empowering in the sense that it might actually make you think you’re the ubermensch, or at least his Game Boy screen doppelganger. Never let me drive to this song, because I’d focus on the road so hard I’d come to a complete standstill in moving traffic. No vocals here. No distractions either.

The point to these extended forays into personal anecdote is that Koenig’s music is, for samples culled from “things you can’t buy commercially” (as the artist says), well, personal. If quintessential noise music is alienating, then Hot Sugar’s noises are quintessentially emotional, the end result of an alchemical process by which all frequencies and found sounds can be rendered coextensive with the human soul.