Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunburned Hand of the Man - Chinese Perfume (Manhand CD-R)

Before discussion of the main topic, Chinese Perfume, a brief bit of sham(eless)/(ful)/(anistic) digressing into the land of self promotion. My band, Herons, has finally released their first CD-R, Chillo Pillo, on our own Heronic Records. It's in a limited edition of 50, and features "6 tracks in 35 minutes of bliss/dementia." Pretty droney, exploratory stuff. Slow-moving cause it has to be, y'know? Anyway, if you're interested in checking it out or want to arrange getting a copy just leave a comment on this post or over at the old Myspacerooski. They're only $5 ppd. Trades are cool too. Also, if I've said a package is on its way, it is, we're just waiting a little longer for the next release so we can cram it with more goodies. Right-ho, on to the good stuff.

In keeping up with the one-Sunburned-a-month pace I seem to have ascribed to, this time around I present a disc which I'm sure has already become yet another member of the vaults of Sunburneds past. I just can't keep up with these guys. Why bother trying, you ask? Because it's a thankless world I recide in, that's why. Anyway, Chinese Perfume is in some ways a real return to form for these guys. Featuring many of the group's usual heavy hitters--Sarah O'Shea, Paul Labrecque, Taylor Richardson, Ron Schneiderman, John Moloney and Rob Thomas--the crew is augmented here by Goz, who apparently is a roadie or something for them. He's credited with vocals and presence, and I'm not sure which it was (perhaps both), but it worked: this is a sprawling Sunburned psych-out jammer that goes most every direction the group can and slays the whole trip through.

The album kicks off--no, scrath that, is spawned from--the opener, "Intimate Woodwork." This creepy number is pretty noisy, all electronics and strange grunting. Dark powers are afoot here, brothers. Actually, it's a pretty off-putting opening number. It doesn't really go much of anywhere for its almost eight minutes, just blubbering around in some weird cauldron as bizarre ghouls circle around and cry out as they operate some pretty heavy duty machinery. Grim stuff.

The next number, "Remote Dickhead Parachute," moves things a bit closer to where they will stay the rest of the album. It's all zoned out psych here, repetitive grooves continuing on into the fog, slowly shifting without losing its rhythmic underbelly. "Night Exam" explores similar, if even psychier territory a la earlier treats like Jaybird or Wild Animal. That signature Rob Thomas bass work, elastic and unendingly taut, keeps the whole thing grounded for strange vocalizations and warm guitar journeys. The following "Chestpain Serenade" is merely a gong being hit and allowed to reverberate, a trend which will reappear throughout the album like the ding at the end of a page in one of those follow along books from yesteryear.

"Iron Language Captive" starts off with Sarah looping some little cry before things go further out with the addition of deeper ramblings from beneath. Drones emit from the deep as percussion rattles along before building into "The Fix is On." Here, Sunburned channel their inner Hawkwind with foreboding spoken word over the percussive workouts of Moloney. This is some serious stuff, you know, "sonic attack on your system" style. Really the meat of the album, it chugs along at a rapid pace that evolves seamlessly, (if not seemlessly). "Convulsion Parody" continues the jams with some jungle style funk, hopping along as snake sounds go by and guitar meanders along the canyons. Like if Funkadelic soundtracked "Heart of Darkness" or something. "Virgin Swirl" is pretty krautrocky stuff, not too far off from Neu! realms; you know, all forward looking, drive into the endless horizon material.

Really, I could go on about any and all of these tracks. The thing is all over the map, 73 minutes of weirdo out-there mind bending stuff. Hell, "Mango Panorama" sounds like a 60s soul band playing right above La Monte Young's explorations in white noise. They'll be grooving along before out of nowhere static takes control for a few clicks before dissipating again. Pop music on Planet Sunburned. The title track really burns along: twelve and a half minutes of percussive heavy rockin with siren like screams and all over the map guitar and electronics lines. The group really has their shit together on this one, and when we finally hear that last bell chime we feel better for it. Or at least weirder. Grab it if you can though, it's limited to 100 copies and sounds great--still can't believe this one was a live show.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Shepherds - Bush Babies (DNT Records 7")

Finally moving on from that show which I've been talking about for way too long (thanks for the patience, by the way), this time with a 7" I've been meaning to review for a while now. Shepherds is a duo comprised of Jeremy Earl of Woods and Meneguar fame, and G. Lucas Crane of Non-Horse and the Vanishing Voice. So these guys theoretically know what they're doing.

I'd heard alot about these dudes, how it was a sort of weird melding of tape work and free jazz stuff, but to tell you the truth I was hesitant at first. Vanishing Voice isn't exactly my cup of tea see--I don't know what it is but something about that whole neo-hippie woodsy thing sort of turns me off. Probably haven't given them that fair a chance I suppose... but man, to my ears this is nothing like that material. The 7" is comprised of one track split over the two sides, and is really just one whole weird horn and drum driven slayer of a track. Not really sure who plays what, so let's focus on the sounds shall we?

The whole thing opens with these weird horn lines which I reckon are sampled and looped rather than actually played (after all, it is only two guys). The drums come in all skittery before taking on more of a thumping pulse, elastic and driving (quickly to nowhere I might add), guiding the strange interweaving horn drone created underneath. Doesn't sound that far afield from the work of Don Cherry circa Eternal Rhythm, only this time he's jamming with La Monte Young while some ex-punk drummer who discovered African approaches (come on, there's gotta be someone like that out there, right? any takers?) sits on the whole thing and let's it ride. Weird squawking blips fade in and out, riding over the mess of horniness (cheap, I know). It all sounds like a tympani player hearkening an army of philharmonic members as they tune up.

Every once in a while a group comes along that presents a truly new approach, and Shepherds is definitely one of them. These duos--Blues Control or Binges--have an element of control in their minimalist personnel listings which allows for a serious amount of communication between the two. It never once sounds like the duo is trying to hold the sound together. They are clearly always in control, and the music is more confident for it.

Take the quick turn into more ambient territory at the end of side one, the drums thundering into the distance as it fades out. Side two fades back in, this time rebuilding the whole thing from where it left off as organ swells fade in and out and weird electronic bat cries bounce off the walls. It's drone, I guess, but this is hardly the dark work that so many bands but out. This is celebratory and tribal stuff. Maybe it's the way the drums hold it all together, giving it drive in much the same way that Dead C might use them. With a beat this sure, anything can happen underneath.

As the trumpet lines, which may be samples or merely prerecorded (if so, more power to them--the work is quite nice), weave back into the mix, riding high above the thick tangle of lines beneath, I really can't help but think of Bitches Brew or something similar, though in actuality it's nothing like that. Still, the lonely melancholy of the horn line tears across the undergrowth, a kind of blue light above the cavern. It's beautiful stuff, full of excitement and willing to inhabit whichever space or mood it leads itself into. The tape work elaborately fades the piece out as piece after piece is removed until it's just piano and trumpet, drumless, and finally the last tinklings of the old ivories. A beauty, and a swell package to boot.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Shapeshift - Inna Basement Style (Maim & Disfigure CD-R)

Of the two Maim & Disfigure releases I picked up at that show (of which, I might add, this is the last you will be hearing), this was the one that really intrigued me. Zac said it was a collaboration between him, James Ferraro of the Skaters, Karl Bauer (aka Axolotl) and this other guy named Phil who was at the show in Albany but didn't play. Sounds like one hell of a super group, right? Well, no actually. I'll explain in a minute.

The name of the group, from what I gathered at the show, has got to have something to do with reptoids, whose shapeshifting properties were digressed upon for some time in Jack's living room (it was decided Oprah was queen). Weird part is I think they all were mostly joking except for James, who might actually be down with this whole reptoid conspiracy. More power to him I guess.

So when Zac laid the personnel on me for this one, I thought it really couldn't be better. Hell, Ferraro and Bauer together holds all sorts of potential, and I definitely dig Davis' guitar work in most any setting, speaking of shapeshifting. When I threw it on though, I became a bit of a believer as to this whole shapeshift thing. Was this the wrong disc? Definitely not, two other people had it too. Instead of the power electronics, blissed out drones and sludged mayhem, this was some weird group jam complete with bass, drums, guitar and only sometimes (very) minimal electronic work. But mostly not. Really, it's the last place I imagined this would end up, as if the whole lot of them decided to drop this noise nonsense and become some kind of feel-good summer jam outfit.

The whole thing is made up of two untitled tracks. No idea who plays what except that it's safe to say that's Zac on ye olde geetar. Other than that, what the hell's going on? Axolotl on maracas, Ferraro on bass, and Phil on trapset? God knows what instrumentation has coincided to create this strange loping groove session, which is about as aimless as Cheney on a quail hunt. At one point they really seem to be getting down when the bassist slides into some sort of ska dub thing, holding it down while the percussion stutter-steps around him. They hold it together as Zac comes in with a one note Neil Young homage sans attitude. At its best, it sounds like some kind of B-quality Can cover band, but overall it's pretty tired and amateurish stuff.

Yet try as I might, I can't bring myself to truly hate this disc, perhaps for the very reason stated above. The two cuts are clearly from the same take, and what it really sounds like is a few friends who have maybe been on tour a bit too long playing harsh noise and have gathered together to cool their jets over some mindless meandering jamz. About halfway through the second track, Zac says something like "that was twenty minutes of that shit" to which Phil replies, "oh my god" in disbelief. Which I guess let's you know that this really is exactly what it says it is. A drastic shift in shape as evidenced inna basement. Style. I guess we'll just have to keep waiting for the legit collab between these guys, and when it does come, I have yet to lose faith that it will kill. Reptoid drone, anyone? You heard it here first.

N.B.: Zac got in touch with me and corrected me on the personnel. Turns out it's actually only Zac playing guitar for about 3 minutes. "dr phil plays most of the leads, james and i play hand drums as well as karl (no trap kit on the disc), james plays bass and keys and so does karl....." I stand corrected.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Demons w/ Zac Davis - For Joy Rd (Maim & Disfigure CD-R)

Here's another one from that show that happened too long ago for me to still be writing about it. Hey, at least we've moved on to a different label, right? Ok, it's getting too drawn out, I know. It's almost over though, I promise.

This one is from Zac Davis' Maim & Disfigure label, a crude as fuck operation featuring unlabeled CD-Rs in paste on xerox covers. Sure, it looks half-assed, but truth be told this is really Zac's whole aesthetic approach. Lambsbread couldn't be a scummier sound, and really the guy seems all about rough and raw stoned out shit. As mentioned before (I think, it was so long ago really...) the only prop on the stage when Davis hit the amps was a hand held bong. Pretty much sums up the whole approach, I think.

I picked up a few things from Zac this go around, opting out on the Lambsbread material in hope for some different approaches. This one was a sure snag in my book. It was the last copy he had left of this Demons collab, Demons being the killer analog synth duo of Steve Kenney and Nate Young. Come to think of it, this means I've managed to review all three Wolf Eyes guys without touching on that group's material once. Not a bad accomplishment, I dare say. The album is four tracks, though the first three might actually just be the same performance cut up, and this is some scuzzy shit, all dirty, raw energy. Davis' guitar really does slay--whereas he resisted on that Graveyards release he played on, he really throws it down on this, ripping his guitar to shreds like Arto Lindsay on, well, dope. Meanwhile, Demons are synthing away in the background, creating some kind of Lake Michigan cesspool for Davis to skim his way over.

The whole thing is clearly Zac's show until about minute fifteen. At this point he backs off a bit and lets Demons show their stuff, highlighting their spaced out noise approach with feedback and grating, string-tearing shards of glass. Sometimes he gets his axe to sound like a sax, warm and mellow before gurgling back with a few pounds of ugly. It's these moments that really made the whole thing for me on this one. Weird spacious bubbling atmospheres--swamp music. You can see the green slime sputtering and hear the acid eating away at the bottom of your wooden vessel. Really nice stuff that highlights just how musically sensitive one can be to musical insensitivity. Ghostly stuff when it comes together.

The grating returns shortly though, and from there out it's back to the all out brawl, like a battle of the bands between two groups playing at the same time, in the same basement, through the same amps. Demons' slower approach does manage to tie Zac down a bit, but Zac's smart enough to let the contrast between his playing and theirs be the tension, tearing it all down as the synths just sit there and stutter along. It's like Zac's the rabbit and Demons are the hare, only before the jog they did some bong rips and listened to LAFMS together. It's a friendlier race for it.

After the first three tracks, the album's pretty much over. But I really have to mention the fourth "track." I told you this stuff was crude, but dig this. Whoever was recording this whole thing must have literally put the recorder next to some shitty radio station playing some lame-o T.I. or 50 Cent cut and just let the whole thing happen. Half way through, the guy actually moves it closer so we can hear it even better. Needless to say, it's as unexpected an end as one could hope for. Strangely effective at helping the come-down though... and just plain strange.