Thursday, February 21, 2008

Blues Control - Puff (Woodsist LP)

This past fall, Sunburned came and played their almost becoming annual show at my school, and a unit by the name of Blues Control opened for them. Now I must have been living in a tin can, but I hadn't heard of them, and frankly didn't expect much despite Moloney's cautioning of their rockingness. I stood and waited for them to set up, yapping with friends and such, when out of nowhere came the loudest guitar howl I'd heard in along time. Needless to say, I didn't pick up anything from them that night. Sunburned rocked equally hard, encircled by the frenzy of mayhem that was the Bard student body, so I had to put my money in to the old dependables. Well, I kept reading about them after that, and it seemed their new record, Puff, was a real dinger of a ringer. It also was a Woodsist release, the vinyl end of the fantastically great Fuck it Tapes. So I finally got it. Took me long enough. Let's see what the hype's about.

Blues Control is a duo from Brooklyn consisting of Lea Cho (keyboards, vocals, harmonica) and Russ Waterhouse (guitar, tape effects). They have'nt released much, but from what I've heard--which isn't much so mind who you're listening to--the unit is consistently killer. Their self titled CD released on Holy Mountain is a great mix of keyboard scenery over patch worked tape loops and crushing guitar demolition. Puff is a bit more sprawling considering that there are only five tracks on the album, and this seems to work to their advantage, allowing for ample space to construct the tomb I'm currently residing cozily in.

The first side consists of only two tracks,"Puff" and "Always on Time," though I'd be hard pressed to figure out where one ends and the other begins. The slowly building keyboard work of Cho, who seems willing to sit and rest on the same expansive riffage just long enough for the next addition to make complete sense, is unreal. Behind these meandeirngs are Waterhouse's environmental loops, subtely swaying in and out of the breeze while his guitar points towards the demons dancing just behind the light. The group's clearly got a concept here, and these are immense constructions with a bit more subtlety than your run-of-the-mill bong band. As Cho's keyboards gradually disperse the goblins reveal themselves. Turns out they're not all that bad after all. This is skull-stretching beauty, heavy enough to cause a stir in your bones but with such effervescent translucence that it keeps you fastened. It screams quietly, if you will, evoking huge summer storms over some arctic jungle.

Side two opens with some heavy, crushing, axe-wielded mayhem from Waterhouse while Cho sends shards of scattered humming above via that harmonica I mentioned up there in the proper intros. Fuck, this is totally different from the first side, and fuck, thank god it sought to take me there. I could ride this riff straight to the monochrome motherland. The rumblings build in the background like they're tearing those tape players apart. Like dull yellow, one viewer added. Sounds more like the darkest, deepest purple if you ask me, and that isn't even a reference to the band that might suggest.

The riff continues its disintegration into the second track, always building and shifting like a slowed down, spaced out Reich line. This googleplex of nod off behavior always tickles me in that specialist of places. Don't disbelieve the hype, it really is that good.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Graveyards - Formless Music from a Coming Age Graveyards - Enlightening Minds, Enriching Souls, Extending Hands (American Tapes LP/CD-R)

You know the boys. The Graveboyz. Those three arbiters of sound and aesthetic who coalesced into one heaping mound of gritty, zonked out dreariness. You got the ever-present John Olson, sax slung around his neck, warped gadgetry at his feet, a regular outlaw of the sound waves. Then there's Ben (Bunny, Hell, etc.) Hall, the drummer from another mother who sculpts his cymbals with bows and weirdness like Michaelangelo himself. And of course Hans Buetow, the classical demon, brought forth from the bowels of god-knows where to haunt Yo-Yo Ma forever. This is them, a rowdy cast of infidels. And they are Graveyards.

Despite their chilly sonic disposition, Graveyards is one of those groups who will always hold a warm and fuzzy place in my heart. They were the ones who really kick-started my decent into limited edition, handmade mayhem, and I still maintain that among their compatriots they stand just a little higher. Problem is, like so many of these groups they release more shit than a horse on hay day, jumping labels with such frequency that it's next to impossible to keep up with em. Recently, I got lucky enough to be able to snag their two most recent American Tapes releases, although, shit. Too late. Endings Vol. 8's already out, and long gone. Nay, that won't deter me. I'll press on blindly into these blizzards. But seriously. These things came out what? A month or two ago? And Olson's already got at least thirty more releases under his belt. ACTUALLY?... The man is truly unstoppable.

But enough of my yackin, let's get crackin. As far as I can tell, these two releases came out at the same time, probably to be brought on tour or something. One, Formless Music from a Coming Age, is a one-sided LP limited to 100, and the other, Enlightening Minds, Enriching Souls, Extending Hands, is a cd-r, also limited to 100 or so I would assume. Guess I'll yack short on the long player first.

Graveyards on vinyl is always a treat, and to my reckoning quite the handsome sight. Those early Brokenresearch releases (Bare Those Excellent Teeth, Vulture's Banquet, etc) are fucking gorgeous, and even that Lost Treasures of the Underworld release, which was unfortunately packaged in a clear slip case, utilized the drawbacks for the powers of good with that beautiful Olson etching on the back. Maybe it's just something about their sound that bodes well for vinyl--a dark, stark package always looks sleak, especially big, and that aesthetic just happens to be exactly what those Graveboyz residing on the grooves sound like. So when I heard American Tapes was cutting up a piece of vinyl I got psyched. And rightfully so it seems. Formless Music from a Coming Age is just the kind of directionless exploration that Graveyards are so good at. But get this. The track opens with a real live drum beat. Minimal it is, and primitive too, but it is a clear, clean beat. Basically, the track is broken up into two parts I think. The first part uses this slow beat to build on top of, underneath, and all manner of angles and dimensions through. Electronics creep themselves up out of the silence to mourn their mortality before slinking back into the shadows, and Olson's sax, which sounds quite a bit looser here than it does much of the time, bounces sound off the cavern walls with huge bellows of smoldering sax. My girlfriend thinks Graveyards sound like cow fucking, and honestly she's not so far off on this one. Guess the difference between me and her is that that doesn't detract from it for me. Quite the opposite really. By the time the beat dies down, it is left to just the electronics and the sax, although Buetow's cello seems to make appearances. Part of what's so wonderful about these guys is how well they play together. Buetow can here a squealing electric drone and virtually mimic it on his cello, creating a sea of uncertainty as to who the hell is doing what, and how the hell are they doing it. A real sonorous space for your consideration. Anyway, as with all the best Graveyards stuff it goes nowhere quick, and stays there right up until the record stops.

A brief hiatus, and on to the CD. This one might be even more smoking than the vinyl platter, though I guess it mostly is your personal taste. Me, I like Graveyards at their most intoxicatingly sludgey and aimless, and Enlightening Minds, Enriching Souls, Extending Hands is that. They actually expanded this one to a quartet, bringing in Lambsbread guitar slayer Zac Davis to add some variety to the mix. Anyone who knows Lambsbread knows how maniacally Davis tears his guitar apart, but on this one he displays a wholly different side, strumming his guitar for an eerie warmth when necessary (a la Loren Connors) or scratching at the strings with wands of walrus tusks (a la Derek Bailey) when things could go just a little deeper into the abyss. Instead of sounding like Graveyards jamming with some stoner-rock king, it sounds just like Graveyards as we know and love them. Still no shortage of that enveloping, intimidating silence. Anyway, the band slogs their way through four tracks on the disc, making for some forty minutes of Stockhausen meets Threadgill meets lucid dreaming bliss. Davis' guitar at times adds just the slightest psychedelic flourishes to the mix, but these come and go as quickly as any of the other textural shadows. Olson's sax yanks and tugs at the harsh electronics, and when Hall joins him on saxophone on the second track, it makes for blissed screeching that is oh so lovely to my ears. This is some weird, weird jazz. When it comes down to it, I don't really care if any of these guys even know how to play their instruments. They listen better than virtually any unit out there, and with great sensitivity add just a little more ice to the world. Keep em coming boys, global warming is real. I'll try to keep up.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Sunburned Hand of the Man - A Taste of Never (Ecstatic Yod LP)

Alright, I know I haven't been so great about consistent posting, but I'm in school and I'm busy, damn-it. I also don't mean to be overdoing the Sunburned material, but that last release was so disappointing (despite the obtuse, polite description I had to give for the folks over at blogcritics) that I felt I needed to post another about one that's actually quite smoking. A Taste of Never is a vinyl reissue of a previous CD-R that was released in 2007 (or 2006?) containing music that as far as I can tell dates back to 2003, but that release, which came with a poster by Hexit, was limited to 32 copies, so odds are you don't have it, making this beauty a (slightly) more viable option. If that's not a convoluted start to things, I din;t know what is!

Ok, on to the music. But first, allow me to weave you a tale. I have just gotten back to school, moved into my new digs in an old converted barn, and am settling in nicely to the trash heap that was becoming our living space. All the moving and schmoozing exhausts my poor little body though, so I come down with a bit of a bout with a head cold. Engulfed up to my britches in congestive grossnesses, and sprawled on the couch in a blanket, I thought that it might be a good idea to catch up on my music accumulation from over break. Figured this groggy state warranted dabbling in some new sonic territory that typically would call for a much higher aspirin dosage. Turns out this was the right medicine after all.

So what's it sound like you ask? This is the kind of meandering layering that Sunburned have always been so good at. Chock-full of bubbling vents of sound, Sunburned maintain their spacious constructions in just the right way; always, there seems to be too much going on for it not to be a mess, but they never let it get there, patiently building, each member sometimes repeating lines for entire tracks, never giving into to the urge to break out of it all and let loose. You know, really express their feelings! Nay, Sunburned is a wise collective of gents and dames, working together to weave a collective tapestry (cliche, no?) like some medieval wall-hang of a deer and men with funny haircuts and petty coats romping amongst maroons and yellows. If this was a carpet, it would be have to be a damn big outdoor one. Maybe it would be orange and cover a mountain. If it were a tree, it would be a weeping willow who's so zonked out that he's stopped his blubbering. If I were a good reviewer, I would be less obvious when I'm making analogies.

Despite one lame attempt at a "song" on the first side, the whole thing is just good. This is what Sunburned is best at. And of course, as usual, the package is totally beautiful. Letter-pressed cardboard sleeve, clear vinyl, and each one comes with an insert, though everyone I've seen has been different. Mine came with a little sticker and a xerox of some bizarre note speaking of mixing, cheese, and how "in order you have to play you have to remain alive." Pretty esoteric stuff. It also happens to be Ecstatic Yod numero uno, the first release of a label that has no reason to continue putting out exceptional, beautiful releases. These guys know what they're doing. Limited to 400 (why can't everyone just have one?!) and absolutely worth picking up if you can snag a copy.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Aaron Dilloway - Chain Shot (Throne Heap LP)

Opening with the gyrating scum of a lint-filled wind turbine, Aaron Dilloway's Chain Shot is a go-nowhere-quick exploration of the bowels of an inferno. This might just be what it sounds like inside the volcano, the lava spluttering up on you before it hardens into its shiny metallic coating.

With only tape loops, metal, and horns (and sometimes, it seems, metal on horns) the two side long pieces, "Chain Shot" and "Execution Dock" respectively, explore the ugly underbelly of noise before just scraping right through and aiming for the insides. In a genre that has quickly turned into a broad and often inaccurate description of a certain breed of every-man experimental music, Dilloway sticks to the old-fashioned definition of noise, doing battle with the materials in front of him as he continues the construction of his impressive body of work.

Dilloway, a former member of noise-titans Wolf Eyes, has recently been releasing solo work that explores much more abstract and thoughtful terrain than his previous group's onslaughts. "Chain Shot" is more a sound collage than anything, and while it is a heaping glob of muddled debris, it is also a highly controlled one. Looping samples on top of samples, Dilloway builds a slowly encroaching beast before slowly disintegrating it, bone by bone. This is some highly textural and immediately emotive soundscape work.

"Execution Dock" begins with a repeating loop of what sounds like the beginning and the end syllables of some nut's conversation with a lamppost. In the distance sounds a pained song of sorts, like a rodent's death cry, or maybe its birth one. I'm guessing maybe this is the horn, though it would be tough to be certain about much of anything here. Delayed creaks and groans float in and around as the vocal sample dissipates, leaving you sloshing through the mud puddle only to realize that its a tar pit the size of La Brea.

Dilloway continues to put out increasingly interesting records, and Chain Shot may be his best solo work to date. This is some slow, ambling stuff that offers far more than the average noise act. Actually, he offers a lot more than the average act, period. Only repeated listens reveal the depth of control and subtle manipulation that Dilloway is operating under here, and it is a joy to be dragged down with him. Beautifully packaged with a screen printed pirate aboard the cover, the album is limited to 500 copies on the always interesting Throne Heap label, so hurry before this monster disappears in the fog.