As so many of his confederates in the avant-garde, Carter Thornton puts in work at a handful of projects, each seemingly composed of a lineup of names picked out of a hat. In addition to playing guitar and manipulating electronics, Thornton builds instruments, makes field recordings and organizes sounds. But, as mentioned at the outset, it’s almost impossible to fully appreciate any experimental musician without analyzing the musician’s interactions with others in the scene.
Last year’s debut album from Gnaw (This Face) features Thornton alongside a slew of characters from better known bands. Doom metal vocalist Alan Dubin (of Khanate, which features a guitarist from SunnO)))) howls and growls, drummer Jamie Sykes (Burning Witch, Thor’s Hammer) scrabbles over the kit in alternately tribal and brain-crushing rhythms, while sound manipulators Brian Beatrice and Jun Mizumachi add layers of fog and fuzz. In many ways, Thornton’s the backbone here; he contributes everything from piano and guitar to recordings of swamps, adding needed texture and structure to the psychedelic, doom metal on the disc.
Enos Slaughter is composed of members of Americana-loving avant-noise-makers Mark Orleans of No-Neck Blues Band and Dave Shuford of Sunburned Hand of the Man with Thornton along for the ride. béisbol, the group’s three-sided LP on Three Lobed Recordings is a mind-twirling combination of psychedelia, jazz and folk sounds melding in open space. The three-piece weave pop and bluegrass together with an improvisational fury, but they’re not afraid of stuttering gulps of analog synth or blistering noise either.
Zashiki-Warashi is, as Thornton writes on his Conduit Creations site, “stream of consciousness fictional collective that lives in a swamp.” Named for the Japanese spirit of fortune, Z-W (as it’s often abbreviated) recently put together a sort of crushing, experimental version of Postal Service. The vinyl-only release, titled Mail Wars!, features collaborations put together through the mail with Dubin, Shuford, noise-violinist C. Spencer Yeh (aka Burning Star Core), and others. “The Good Lupus”, featuring Dubin, is a crunchy mess of guttural cries and blazing sounds. “Z-W with Burning Star Core” is stunning, oscillators spinning slowly while hell’s tea-kettle bubbles in the forefront.
Kuwaya-Kijima with Carter Thornton is a project that I’m not sure includes anyone but Thornton. The twelve-minute long sample of Shrine, the vinyl-only release on Thornton’s own Conduit Creations label, relies on a mist of clanking field recordings with a few layers of twanging acoustic guitar thumbed on top. The piece is pure paranoia, skittering, plinking and ticking away without any end in sight.
Thornton’s got a solo guitar release under his own name as well. Ten Fingers for Forefathers is much more straight-forward than the rest of the samples on his page. The fingerpicked and quietly strummed acoustic guitar swim around in the lo-fi recording, creating a perfect, woodsy atmosphere. After five minutes of folksy goodness, the recording turns slow, minor, the piece suddenly dark, tragic.
Beyond all this, there’s a free Zashiki-Warashi EP called The Build Your Own Oscillator EP, composed entirely of home-made oscillator sounds. It’s nowhere near as dense or entrancing as the other material, but you shouldn’t look a gift-horse in the mouth.
“I Like To Whittle”