Northern Stains reviews (in English and Spanish)

The New York Times: “Fe-Mail and Carlos Giffoni is probably the most pedestrian sound on “Northern Stains” (Important), the product of a recent encounter between Carlos Giffoni, an electronic improviser, and Fe-Mail, a noise-proficient Norwegian electro-duo. Mr. Giffoni met his collaborators — Maja Ratkje, a respected avant-garde vocalist, and Hild Sofie Tafjord, who plays French horn — at the No Fun Fest, a smorgasbord of atonality he organizes annually in Brooklyn. Recorded in Oslo, the album has a predictably wide textural palette, rich in abrasive properties. But it rarely feels random. On a minute-and-a-half track called “Come, You Are,” a windshield-spray succession of splotches, burbles and bleeps only partly obscures a distinctly cardiac rhythm. Its pattern is regular but hardly metronomic — it seems to speed up as the track builds — and its dimensions are incredibly close. Hear it on headphones, and you might momentarily think the heartbeat is your own.” (Nate Chinen.)

Pitchfork Nov. 2006: “A collaboration between Norwegian duo Fe-Mail and Brooklyn’s Carlos Giffoni makes so much sense creatively, it’s surprising that Murphy’s Law didn’t find a way to spoil the result. Both acts see electronic noisemaking as the careful arrangement of small aural events rather than the sound-wall splurge that noise artists often fall back on. But pairing such sonically busy types could have produced musical overkill, with each participant fighting for space or canceling each other out. Instead, Northern Stains is a smart synthesis of Giffoni’s pointed, rapid-fire compositions and Fe-Mail’s mix of sliced vocals, horns, and samples. The five tracks here avoid becoming a blurry boxing match due to one simple strength: timing. By assembling distinct sounds that loop, pile up, and crumble back down, Fe-Mail and Giffoni have always used timing as a primary compositional tool on respective individual releases. Here, those crafty patterns hold up well when added together. Each piece is built around the when and where of each noise, perhaps even more so than what each noise actually sounds like. The strongest example is “Daymare Blues”, the album’s seven-minute centerpiece. Here, the sonic range is relatively narrow; nearly every sound is vocally derived, mostly cartoon-like squawks and yelps. But the way the trio release and retract each blip and blurt is uncannily rich. It produces patches of melody, off-kilter beats, rhyming figures that leap over each other, and loops that fuse into abstract wholes like strokes in a Pollock painting. The piece may sound abstract, but its careful structures make it more a song than an experiment, much like the way Raymond Scott’s sound-effect compositions are more like short stories than strings of one-liners. Similar patterns form, collapse, and rebuild throughout the album. “Moral Heritage” melds video-game lasers and spiky growls (reminiscent of Nautical Almanac’s impulsive rants) into a wash of guitar strums drenched by digital crunch. Later, “Come, You Are” sticks a chugging loop under stereo-spanning distortion ripples, while “Not in Santa’s Land” mixes rapid blips and engine-like roar into an eerie synth cloud. The only anomaly on Northern Stains is its title track, which doles out noise in longer, thicker streams. It opens with Fennesz-like wash, then builds into the kind of dense squeal favored by underground noise-hounds like Hive Mind and the Cherry Point. But even this track feels more like a brainy composition than simply a sheet of sound hung out to dry. The tactile surface of the escalating drone gives the piece a detailed topography that in lesser hands might have been a smooth, unspectacular wave. Like the rest of Northern Stains, it blurs the line between structure and abstraction, but the craft behind it is crystal clear. Rating 7.3″ (Marc Masters)

Boomkat: “I must admit I’m a total sucker for improvised uber-experimental noise, and crikey that’s what Maja Ratkje, Hilde Tafjord and Carlos Giffoni have done here. The trio met when Giffoni booked Fe-Mail (Ratkje and Tafjord) to play at his No Fun Fest in Brooklyn but ‘Northern Stains’ was recorded in the SPUNK studios in Oslo earlier this year. So as Scandinavian snow lined the streets, Giffoni, Ratkje and Tfjord were busying themselves indoors (with the heating on I’d presume) messing with electronics, synths, samplers and microphones and making white noise sound passé. I assume you’ll know what to expect here if you’ve heard any of the collaborating artists before, rich and dense experimental warbling and sheets of thick distorted drone babbling and bubbling in ways hard to imagine when you’re sitting in front of a computer screen. This is involving and powerful stuff, it makes you want to get up and DO SOMETHING… kind of like punk music but with less snotty attitude, you get the feeling that it’s sound straight from the heart. One for fans of uncompromising improvised music, this earth shaking collaboration will not disappoint and is another feather in the cap of the ever surprising Important records.”

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Ruido Horrible 31.12.06: “Del noise a la abstracción y de regreso, las chicas de Fe-Mail han ido explorando un enorme espacio de experimentación como dúo en sólo unos cuantos años y siempre mostrando una predilección por las constantes colaboraciones, habiendo trabajado con el demonio noruego Lasse Marhaug e interpretando algunos furiosos jams con Aaron Dilloway en su más reciente gira nortamericana. Su nuevo trabajo es también una colaboración, otra vez con un maestro del trabajo sonoro brutal, Carlos Giffoni. Optando nuevamente por tomar el frenesí del noise por aliado, este trabajo coquetea con el ruido, lo absorbe y luego lo abandona en aras claras de formar una estructura, por abstracta que ésta sea, y luego hacerla nuevamente colapsarse. Por si esto fuera poco, la adición de Gifonni hace que las dinámicas de “Northern Stains” parezcan episodios de intensa esquizofrenia. Loops que apenas varían en tonos se ven constantemente transgredidos por exabruptos de frecuencias altas y las típicas deformaciones a las que Maja Ratkje acostumbra someter su voz. Por momentos, la hostilidad logra imponerse, como hacia el final de “Come, You Are”, y la circuitería de Giffoni choca con los enjambres digitales conjurados por Hilde Tafjord. Otras veces, el delirio es simplemente dejado sin cadenas. En “Daymare Blues”, por ejemplo, el collage aural llega a sus grados más extremos en forma de frenéticas carreras de voces en desorden, llevadas a velocidades inhumanas y que sólo se detienen para caer en los desvaríos alucinógenos de los espacios demasiado abiertos. “Northern Stains” es pura psicodelia noisera; tomando el gis de la estática como background, el juego de voces de Ratkje se planta en el primer plano con una serie de manipulaciones tonales y retoques que terminan por llevarla hasta la desintegración absoluta. Con “Northern Stains”, Fe-Mail vuelven a ofrecen otro trabajo lleno de intensidad aunque bastante alejado de los interesantes aspectos que habían venido explorando en tiempos recientes con trabajos como “Voluptuous Vultures” o “Blixter Toad”.En este nuevo trabajo, el uso de ambientes y la experimentación acústica desaparecen casi totalmente para dar lugar a un ataque mucho más físico y visceral. “Northern Stains”, como aquel “All Men Are Pigs”, es un disco que va directo contra tus nervios y que transmina con fuerza una intensa sensación de incomodidad.” (S.S.)

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