© Ken McCandless 2011

Last year, listeners and critics hailed often deserved derision on a genre still searching for itself and hopefully, for a less ridiculous name: witch house.  Gauging by Salem’s bewildering rise to prominence after a slew of notoriously laughable performances at SXSW, the spooky stuff’s being swallowed by more than a few kids wearing Joy Division t-shirts.  Fortunately, there’s some very noteworthy music starting to creep out from the shadows, and occult-like aesthetics are spreading across genres in exciting ways.

Odd Future

Last week, the Odd Future (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) hip-hop crew exploded on late-night TV with a performance that featured entranced zombie girls stalking the stage and MC Tyler, The Creator sporting a ski mask emblazoned with an inverted cross.  Knee-jerk evil police, please take note that MC Hodgy Beats wore a t-shirt decorated with a huge upright cross, just the way you like it.

Odd Future’s on-stage incorporation of popular occultish aesthetics may be simply intended to provoke. Who knows?  However, the screwed vocals and swampy electronic sounds in their formidable arsenal are akin to the musical hallmarks of drag (drag house, witch haus, rape gaze, whatever; ugh). OFWGKTA are sensational artists with extremely diverse styles.  I’d smack the first knee-jerker to call these guys “evil,” but I’m sure they’d beat me to it, or, to quote crew member Fuck Swag, “stomp you and your bitch out.”

Odd Future has collectively released at least eleven albums in just over a year; most are available for free download via their Tumbler at http://oddfuture.tumblr.com.  Try “The Odd Future Tape” for starters: http://bit.ly/ofwt1.

Cultus Sabbati

Cultus Sabbati is a ritualistic electronic performance trio – electronics, guitar and vocals – creating psychedelic black noise.  “Noise” raises a red flag for a lot of people, but make no mistake: their work is musically and sonically sophisticated, and some of it, especially their recent EP, is highly accessible.  Since December 2010, the band has released a 32 minute single track EP, Modraniht, as well as Garden of Forking Ways, available as a limited edition double-LP pressed on blood red vinyl.

“Modraniht” (a word related to “mother” and “night” that refers to the winter solstice and associated ancient Anglo and Saxon as well as contemporary pagan celebrations) is intended for “practical use in magick,” as the group told John Doran in a fantastic interview published by The Quietus.  This exceptionally beautiful, relatively short piece introduces itself with droning binaural waves and dissonant, jagged melodic lines.  The piece steeply crashes into a chaotic storm punctuated by echoing shimmers and shrieks, and then lifts into a richly layered sound stage before resolving in a gentle prelude to winter.

Cultus Sabbati has made both Modraniht and Garden of Forking Ways available for free download from http://cultussabbati.bandcamp.com.  Modraniht is certainly the more accessible of the two.  I highly recommend giving it a couple of listens before you start in to Garden of Forking Ways.

Demdike Stare

On February 1st, Demdike Stare released Tryptych, a 23 track, 160 minute triple album (3 LP’s or CD’s) that includes their three 2010 releases, Forest of Evil, Liberation Through Hearing, and Voices of Dust, as well as 40 minutes of previously unreleased material from the sessions.  After listening to these more intensively as I researched this article, I’ve concluded that Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty adopted an explicitly occult-like orientation for collaborative purposes; a conceptual source for Demdike Stare’s creative processes.  It also appears to serve as a thematic orientation branded to their work, especially evidenced by their first LP Symbiosis (2009).  Scads of reviewers and listeners have tied the group to the witch house stake, but they never get singed.  That’s because Demdike Stare’s material doesn’t come close to qualifying as witch house, and it certainly has nothing to do with hauntology.

I’m hardly a techno or electronic music expert, but Demdike Stare’s records, and some songs, are very difficult to pin down to a single genre, or even three.  That’s probably because they’re using such a vast number and broad range of source recordings.  Canty is a bin digger with the Finders Keepers record label, which specializes in re-releasing rare and unusual recordings from an astonishing variety of sources and genres.  Their real artistry results from applications of analog, synthesized, and electro-acoustic composition and manipulation techniques to the source material.  Their use of studio and postproduction processes is virtuosic.

All three of the 2010 records are quite good, and Voices of Dust is easily one of the best I’ve heard in a very long time.  I hope you’ll spend some quality time with it.

Voices of Dust, Liberation Through Hearing, and Forest of Evil are available for streaming via their label, Modern Love.

Demdike Stare – Voices of Dust

Demdike Stare – Liberation Through Hearing

Demdike Stare – Forest of Evil

Ken McCandless is a contributing writer from Austin, TX. You can contact him at kenmccand@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @kenmccandless.