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.

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