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Gastric Female Reflex - Zulus In Shit Angle [Heretic Recordings - 2008]

Gastric Female Reflex's "Zulus In Shit Angle" falls into the 'intentionally amateurish anti-music' subset of 'noise'.  By noise standards, this sound has plenty of dynamic range and space to breathe, yet is actually completely composed of chaotic, lightly distorted and muffled midrange pots-and-pans style clamour, recorded in the absolute lowest fidelity possible. This is 'built-in laptop microphone' quality recording, here...  and the creator of the album seems to be in love with the bassy ruffling sound a microphone makes when rubbed against a piece of carpet or clothing.

Stylistically,this reminds me most of the first couple of disks of Masami Akita's massive Merzbox, which contains a lot of  among other things his oldest work from 1980-85 or so.  Luckily "Zulus In Shit Angle" appears to be more inspired than those early recordings, as well as more determined to find an undiscovered idiom of sound.

GFR dazzles with their out of the box conception of 'structured improvisation'.  These improvisations focus on texture, building a carefully balance of layers composed of sounds recognizable to indecipherable, in varying degrees.  GFR takes cares never to wear out their welcome - the total length of the album is 18 minutes.  However, the 6 untitled tracks are remarkably distinct from one another, proving to have more collective substance and lasting memorable characteristics than a dozen albums worth of repetitive harsh white and pink noise, no matter how poetically titled and beautifully packaged they may typically be.  Each has a unique and wildly inventive instrumentation, and this sometimes feels like almost like some kind of truly unconventional psychedelic jam record.

On the second track, I recognize a xylophone, a bass guitar, what sounds like an airplane flying overhead, off kilter percussion that proves impossible to identify but sounds acoustic in nature.  The rhythm has that enigmatic mysticism possessed by such ritual ambient groups as Zoviet France.  The fifth track features mangled and processed loops of voices that drift wildly in pitch just as words are nearly becoming audible, accompanied by what sounds like the processed squeaking of squirrels and other small animals, a primitive drum machine and possibly a theramin.  Due to the low recording quality, it's impossible to verify most of these suspected sound sources for certain.  Albums like this arguably work best when the sounds are absorbed completely separate their original context, as pure sound, and so indecipherability is good.

They venture also to the sound space of industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle on several occasions - with the fourth movement, through use of hauntingly atonal yet vaguely melodic primitive synth work which recalls their more freeform, improvisational recordings or live sets, such as the unofficial studio recording "Kreeme Horne", as well as by challenging our perceptions of what it sounds like to play an instrument 'well', playing instruments with a loose sense of rhythm and making sounds that could only accidentally appear in the context of rock or other popular music.

The emotion, the message that ends up coming through all the grit and grime ends up surprisingly less nihilistic and sinister than one would expect from the uncomfortable bodily imagery of the artist's name and album title.  The attitude here seems rather closer to the 'purposeless play' of John Cage, and as with the greatest of Cage's works, this recording possesses a vibrant immediacy that is saturated with the ecstacy of 'play'.

"Zulus In Shit Angle" accomplishes much with little resources or organization.  Simply put, it's what every lo-fi noise release strives to be.  You're unlikely to find a more listenable noise release that so resolutely refuses to make concessions to conventional musical structures of melody and rhythm.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Landry
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