Lots of folks have worthwhile takes on the "basement lo-fi noise crust with a hint of song" thing. Artists often integrate ambient, black metal, punk or folk aesthetics in interesting ways, and I enjoy the average cassette underground release as much as the next person, but after a short period of time, I start to get all Peter-Fonda-in-The-Limey, L.A. record producer when I listen to the stuff. Where are the hooks, man? Michael McDonald could play rings around these guys. Much of that goes to the mood at the time of listening, but if someone had to set a cap on the number of Mossy Throats records to which I could listen in one year, I probably wouldn’t object.
The KRAAK organization is an exception. The Belgian label, concert organizer and magazine publisher releases records in the above vein, but it’s unconcerned about fitting into sounds or scenes. The label has a freedom and depth that really doesn’t exist in many other places: uber-serious electronic excursions from Main and Kohn, the wild genre mash-up of Razen, flat-out excellent twisted blues from Ignatz, etc. Put simply, if it says KRAAK on it, it’s worth a look.
In less capable hands, an LP like A Siren Blares in an Indifferent Ocean might have been hard to separate from the pack, but we’re talking KRAAK and Bridget Hayden, formerly of Vibracathedral Orchestra, so we’re dealing with pros. VCO is one of those groups for which words feel inadequate. “Swirling psych noise free jazz” or something. There’s a clarity and distinct purpose that lifts them and like-minded collaborates like Alex Nielson above, well, almost everyone. In the years since she left VCO, Hayden has explored a more paired-down sound in collaborations and in The Telescopes, and nothing I’ve heard has felt half-formed or dashed-off.
A Siren Blares is her first solo release, and it’s another worthwhile addition to her body of work, the KRAAK catalog and the VCO universe. Using just a guitar, two pedals and a 4-track, Hayden occasionally hits on the type of sprawl that defined VCO, but mostly sticks to rougher takes on Grouper and Miasmah-esque soundscapes. The album stands out precisely because of those rough edges: the nine-minute monster “Trash Momento” sounds like a Loop demo, with all of the pure rockitude that implies. For the rest of the album, that pure rock attitude is buried underneath the aesthetic, either in noisy workouts or in slightly dronier, exploratory mood pieces.
Best of all is the closing track, “Waste,” which strips out most of the album’s noise and lets Hayden sing in a ghostly falsetto over a two-note progression and tasteful feedback. It’s terrific, a real Brigitte Fontaine moment, and though A Siren Blares is quality throughout, “Waste” hints at even greater things to come.