Label update: The Flenser

Ever since its inception in 2010, The Flenser has built a fascinating catalogue of experimental music, spanning sounds ranging from within the black metal world with the likes of Botanist and Mamaleek, to the industrial leanings of Street Sects and Wreck and Reference, the idiosyncratic avant-garde of Kayo Dot, or the shoegaze realm from which the likes of Drowse, Have A Nice Life, and Planning For Burial have emerged. In that respect, 2019 is no exception and has seen the San Francisco based label already release three albums by All Your Sisters, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, and Vale, as well as announce Drowse’s «Light Mirror» and Wreck And Reference’s «Absolute Still Life». In this piece, we will look at the label’s activity this year in chronological order.


The first major announcement of the year by The Flenser came in early January and regarded the introduction of the first instalment of their membership series, a curated selection of the label’s 2019 releases comprising six LP and three 7” records. The records in question are the aforementioned albums by All Your Sisters, Drowse, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, and Vale, as well as the upcoming new album by Have A Nice Life, entitled «Sea of Worry» (more on that later), a “members only exclusive,” described only as a 12” album by a classic Flenser artist, an unannounced project by another classic Flenser artist, and the three 7”, which remain unannounced. The membership is still available at this location.

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Picture by Suzanne Yeremyan, who also authored the cover of «Nocebo», below.

The remainder of January saw continued promotion of «Nocebo», the debut album by Elizabeth Colour Wheel, which you can hear below and that would eventually be released on March 15 to critical acclaim. As explained in its pressed release, «Nocebo» came to be “over the summer of 2018, when the band embraced a heavy “kill your idols” mindset, crafting an album that is distinctly chaotic yet familiar, touching on ’90s heavy rock, shoe-gaze, and black metal influences.

Far from a straight-forward affair, «Nocebo» defines all attempts of easy categorization, masterfully navigating amidst angular noise rock, post metal, punk, and the occasional trudging doom pace. It gets to the point where the self-description of “shoepunk/doom” might very well be the most fitting one we could have envisioned. This would all ring true even if the vocals were what you’d expect from the many ingredients of this sonic cauldron. However, the singer Lane Shi displays a truly idiosyncratic approach and puts out one of the most memorable vocal performance of the year so far, managing to switch from a beautiful clean approach, to frail sounding wails, unsettling screams and everything in between. That this was their debut only makes things scarier.

In the meantime, Flenser had capped the month of January with a first announcement of a 2020 release, namely, that Midwife‘s follow up to 2017’s «Like Author, Like Daughter», then released on Whited Sepulchre.


True to the Flenser’s ethos, the next record on their pipeline would be completely different from «Nocebo». We’re talking about «Trust Ruins», the third full-length from Californian quartet All Your Sisters, which you can hear below. It was announced in early February and released on April 15.

We wrote about the announcement here, detailing the real-life events that shaped the creation of the «Trust Ruins», which range from personal events afflicting band founder Jordan Morrison, the Ghost Ship warehouse fire, and the 2016 presidential election. The result is a refinement of their future leaning take on post punk, which expertly manages to not forsake emotion at the expense of its mechanical side.


A month later, things got decidedly heavier in the sonic department with the release of «Burden Of Sight», the debut album by blackened crust quintet Vale, who self-released a demo in late 2017 (available at this location). Per its press release, their recently released debut, which you can hear below, channels “visions of a grim future in which the world is barren and destroyed, where agents of opportunity consume everything they can get their hands on,” an apt metaphor for the worst features of late stage capitalism that we see around us today.

Released on May 24, «Burden Of Sight» features cover art by Cody Stein and was recorded early this year by Greg Wilkinson at the Earhammer Studios in Oakland, who had previously recorded not only Vale’s debut demo, but a series of albums by other bands of their members, namely, Ulthar‘s demo and Void Omnia‘s «Dying Light» (two projects featuring Vale’s drummer Justin Ennis), as well as Abstracter‘s «Cinereous Incarnate», and Atrament‘s «Eternal Downfall» and «Scum Sect», all of which feature Vale’s guitarist James Meyer.


This finishes our recap of the already released records by The Flenser this year. However, we won’t have to wait long for the label’s next offering, as Drowse‘s «Light Mirror» is set for release tomorrow and can already be heard in its entirety.

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Cover art of «Light Mirror», by Nora Fuchs.

Last year, Kyle Bates‘ personal outfit Drowse released its first The Flenser album (their debut, 2015’s «Soon Asleep», which you can find here, had been released by Apneicvoid), «Cold Air». As suggested by its tagline of “why am I afraid of my own thoughts?”, the record dealt with issues of anxiety and depression in painstaking fashion. After its release on March 9, Kyle Bates departed is home in Portland to undertake an artistic residency in the cold and barren Skagaströnd, which is where he began writing for the upcoming «Light Mirror», whose first single, «Between Fence Posts», can be heard above. As explained in its press release, much of the residency saw him “in self-imposed isolation, giving him ample space to ponder the nature of solitude, and what it means to be “closed” or “open” to the world.” Fittingly, the album’s tagline is “who are we when we’re alone?

The story goes that upon returning home, “Bates worked obsessively. Maya Stoner, a longtime creative partner, sometimes came to sing, but recordings were mostly done alone. The dichotomy of his Icelandic musings materialized in a very real way as he neglected his personal relationships in favor of his art. While he was confronting his life-long fear of intimacy, and reconciling himself to a diagnosis of Bipolar 1, Bates found that the means he employed to conquer those obstacles – self reflection through art – carried with them an equal measure of misery.” The aforementioned mental health condition gives title to the album’s haunting second single, «Bipolar 1», whose video directed by Bates you can witness below.

The press release goes on to contextualise the album amidst a lineage of “overcast Pacific Northwest albums” such as Grouper‘s «Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill», whilst adding that it sees the band “pushing past its slowcore roots. The album’s prismatic sound reflects experimental electronic, noise pop, black metal, krautrock, and more through Kyle’s distinct song-worlds.” As intriguing a mixture as one could conceive of. The album’s subject matter is far from a light one, with its lyrics said to comprise “ruminations on the idea of multiple selves, identity, paranoia, fear of the body, alcohol abuse, social media, the power of memory, the truths that are revealed when we are alone, and the significance of human contact,” under the influence of artists like director Andrei Tarkovsky and poet Louise Glück. Below, listen to «Light Mirror» in its entirety. Further note that the lyrics for each song can be found in their individual descriptions on the playlist.

«Light Mirror» is set for release on June 7 on digital and vinyl formats, whose pre-orders are both available at this location. It was written and recorded between Skagaströnd, in April 2018, during Bates’ NES artistic residency, and NE Portland, between May and November 2018, at Bates’ home. Its mastering was done by Nicholas Wilbur at the Unknown in December 2018. The cover of «Light Mirror» is a photography entitled «January» and taken by Nora Fuchs as part of conceptual series «Unterschleif», which can be seen here. The vinyl version of the album is further set to include «April», «December», and «June» in its back cover and labels.

Finally note, parts of the record were completed during another residency at Fukuoka’s Studio Kura in December 2018, while drum sounds used in «Between Fence Posts», «Shower Pt. 2», «Oslo», and «Betty» were captured in a live session at the Unknown in march 2017. There are guest appearances in a multitude of tracks by Maya Stoner (vocals and melody writing), Taylor Masley (violin, as well as warped and recomposed drums), and Thom Wasluck (weighted drone). Further additions to «Light Mirror» include field recordings of conversations between the author and Andy and Betty Bates, samples from Tuesday Faust‘s voice from the sessions of «Soon Asleep», a cassette recording of Miles Avila-Crump, and fog storm instrumentation built in collaboration with Jesse Keating (more information available at this location).


Come July, the ever sardonic industrial duo of Wreck And Reference will release the follow-up to 2016’s «Indifferent Rivers Romance End», entitled «Absolute Still Life». Note that we mean follow-up in terms of full-length records, as last year the duo released «Alien Pains», an EP of covers from the brilliant «Alien Lanes» by Guided By Voices, about which we wrote here. According to its press release, the upcoming title marks the band’s “biggest sonic evolution yet.” The text further explains that, “like past albums, the band deal in warped synthesizers and pillaged samples, but the absence of acoustic drums gives Absolute Still Life a colder, more alien aesthetic,” going on to warn us all to expect “fewer screams and stranger textures.” The first two tracks of the album, «A Mirror» and «Sturdy Down», can be respectively heard below, intertwined by the caps-lock laden manifesto accompanying their release.

STILL LIFE WITH RIND OF CHEESE, CAN OF BEER, APRICOT, AMULET, CANARY, TWO DEAD RABBITS, PITCHERS OF LEMON WATER, CLIMATE CHANGE, LAPSING THOUGHT, FACE REMOVED, APORIA MORNINGS, DEAF FALCONS, IDIOT SONS, STRETCHED OUT YELLOW ROPES, COLOSSAL RUPTURES, IMPENETRABLE SMOG, RAW HAUNCHES, INDECIPHERABLE WAGES, ATONEMENT, SLEEPING CAT, SYSTEMS YOU THOUGHT YOU COULD DEPEND ON, JACARANDA STAINS, STONES INSIDE, COLLECTION OF WALLS, TICKING CLOCK, A SKULL OF COURSE, RAPTUROUS SPIRITS, LAVENDER HANGOVERS, FUNEREAL MOTORCADES, CROOKED TILES, YOUR OWN PROPAGANDA, EMOTIONAL CURRENT, HURTLING FORWARD, REELING BACK, THIRSTY BLACK BOX ROBOTS, SOBRIETY, SCREAMS OF CONSCIOUSNESS, SEVERAL PIG HEARTS EACH WEIGHING THE SAME, FORGOTTEN PASSWORDS, GRAY FIELDS LIKE FACES, ESCALATIONS, MANY ANIMAL GHOSTS, DEEP DISTRUST, EARLY WARNINGS, THRILLING BACKSLIDES, SATIRISTS, SMOKERS, COMPLICATIONS, KARLS, SMOLDERING OBSESSIONS, SONGS ABOUT THE DARK TIMES, TREMORS, TOURISTS, PEARLS, PEAR, ROSEMARY, NUDE, HORNETS, SAPPHIRE, CRASHING, JESTERS, GYRE, ITCHING, REVELATION, AND SPIT

«Absolute Still Life» is set for release on July 19 on digital and vinyl formats. It can be pre-ordered at this location, where both its artwork and the lyrics for the already unveiled songs can also be found. Mixing and mastering duties were handled by Samur Khouja at the Seahorse Sound Studios.


All the aforementioned records can be heard and ordered at The Flenser’s bandcamp, here, and at it’s store, here.

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