Seb Rochford is best known as leader of the post-jazz outfit Polar Bear and co-founder of the punk-jazzers Acoustic Ladyland, as well as being a founder member of Sons of Kemet and a session drummer for everyone from Pete Doherty to Adele to Brian Eno. However, his latest project, Pulled By Magnets, sounds nothing like any of the above. It is sludge rock disguised as ambient music; a grindcore album recorded in a cavernous church and overlaid with subtle spiritual tropes to the point that it sounds like a piece of holy minimalism.
Putting an instrument through an effects unit can fundamentally change the nature of its sound. A guitar put through a distortion pedal can occupy the frequency range that we associate with a string section; a flute put through an echo chamber can sound like a choir of angels. Rose Golden Doorways is filled with such tricks of the ear – trompe l’oreille, if you will. It is a trio for sax, bass and drums but is nothing like, say, Sonny Rollins’s Way Out West. Rochford plays his drum kit like a classical percussionist, often buried deep in the mix; Neil Charles’s bass guitar sounds positively orchestral, Pete Wareham’s madly distorted saxophone can sound like Jimi Hendrix exploring the outer reaches of the solar system, or like someone operating a particularly temperamental analogue synth; or occasionally like the death cries of a buffalo.
There are moments where they’re playing with the intensity of a thrash metal band, but sounding like Ligeti; there are noisy freakouts that create a diffuse, aural blizzard that resembles a peculiarly gothic variety of ambient music. It’s a collection of sounds quite unlike anything you’ve heard before, which is quite an achievement.
Also out this month
The New York chamber sextet yMusic have become the go-to collaborators for experimentally minded pop performers in recent years, backing everyone from Paul Simon to the Staves and collaborating with artists as diverse as St Vincent, Bon Iver, Shara Worden and John Legend. Ecstatic Science (New Amsterdam Records) sees them commissioning new work from some of America’s top contemporary composers. It’s bookended with two pieces by Gabriella Smith (the pulsating Tessellations and the microtonal minimalism of Maré), and features a lengthy, episodic suite from Caroline Shaw that’s rich in architectural detail. Best of all is Missy Mazzoli’s title track, where Morse code woodwind splutters over keening string glissandos, like a balletic figure skater skidding around the rink but just about managing to stay on her feet.
Gigi Masin’s Calypso (released 28 February on R&S/Apollo Records) is pitched somewhere between Harold Budd, Steve Reich and the Orb. It occasionally flirts with ambient house, but the best moments – such as Susan Maybe and Nefertiti – are drumless and weightless, with muted trumpets and a haunted piano unfurling over heavenly drones.