Monday, June 30, 2008
This past Thursday I headed up north to Albany, that burgeoning mecca of sonic delights, for a killer line-up at a small art gallery on Lark St. Pocahaunted and Robedoor have been making the rounds on the east coast as of late, and for this appearance they had gotten two guests, Century Plants and Northampton Wools. Now I've waxed long on Century Plants a few times here, but this set was the best I'd seen from them--Ray switched from his usual guitar to analog synth, and the result was a more driving, rhythmic sound. As usual, Eric's axe slayed, and Ray's vocals were a near-constant presence without ever becoming too much. The video projections behind them, featuring much flora of course, was also excellent. The best I've seen them. As for Northampton Wools, which is Thurston Moore (you know, Sonic Youth...) and Bill Nace (X.0.4, Vampire Belt, Open Mouth Records, etc.), their shredded beyond repair guitar duet was wild as hell. The way these two could go from pointillist scraping to sludge to drone was really something to behold. Picked up a Thurston Moore LP on Lost Treasures of the Underworld that I'm sure will make an appearance here soon enough, so keep your eyes peeled for that. It was weird actually.. much of the crowd was clearly there for Thurston, and afterwards people were taking pictures with him and trying to chat him up. I felt bad for him ,he clearly wanted nothing to do with it... hell, the guy had just done the least poppy set of the night.
As for Robedoor and Pocahaunted, they both arrived a bit late and pretty much played as they walked into the door, so all things considered their sets were pretty good. Robedoor especially did it right--their thick doom-drone is heavy stuff, my kind of sounds. I've never been all that in to Pocahaunted--a little too folky, precious for me maybe--but their set was pretty good. Robedoor sat in for a bit of it which added an industrial pace to the whole thing which I was into but overall, I don't know, maybe it's just me. I have to be in the right mood for it I guess. Plus, if you're gonna name your band Pocahaunted, which in theory I really like, stay away from the Native American vocal chanting... it just seems a little obvious, I don't know.
That said, the show was really great, and I of course picked up some merch at the end including a Robedoor LP and this Pocahaunted/Robedoor split which I'd seen around a bit. When I got home and threw it on, I realized that their were a few great ideas going on here. First, the two discs both have tracks from both bands rather than a single disc being given to each. Considering that one member of each band is married and that the two share each others' space (the husband and wife team also co-run the great Not Not Fun label) this works surprisingly well despite the despairing black plague of Robedoor and the relatively loose, airy neo-psych drone of Pocahaunted. The two work surprisingly well back to back, and the deeper connections between the two become apparent: both are all about restraint, repetition, and creating big things out of little ones, so though the general feel may change from song to song, it does so slowly enough as to maintain a level of coherence within the album as a whole. The other wise choice, and this I'm sure was an obvious one, is that the last track on the album features both bands in collaboration, a team-up that splits the difference and goes for broke. I'll get to that later.
The first disc opens with Robedoor's "Plague of Settlers," a guitar and electronic lurch full of whispered screams and hellish smudges of black. This is the dark and slow soundtrack to some satanist worship (on a war ship, no doubt). The high ringing lunges over that freakishly low-end mass is just endlessly brutal, and the vocal cries are patient and well restricted enough to make them sound just as inhuman as this kind of stuff calls for. Some opener. "Roman Nose" changes the pace a bit, not the least because it's a Pocahaunted track, but somehow it fits right in. I like this better than any of the other stuff I've heard by them; it's less overtly tribal and has a broader sonic palette. Starting out with a guitar finger pick, a deep industrial groove eventually enters, driving it along into the echoey cavern where the phoenix roosts. Starts to get pretty fuzzed out actually, and when the vocals come in they sound more like some angelic shaman inhaling smoking roots and reciting prophecies. Despite all that talk, the sound has little to do with the Native American chants. It's too weird, too grinding and confused. Instead it just goes and goes, shaping itself at its own patient pace.
"Crow Scout" is another Pocahaunted track, and again the sound is too rich and intricate to be some cheesy rehash of stereotyped Native American war cries. The two discs are recorded and mixed by Bobb Bruno, and you can tell--each sound is distinct and full, its own character. There's a lot to get lost in here before "Spectral Outpost," Robedoor's closer to the disc, swiftly carries back down into the trenches--which is where "Crow Scout" was headed anyway I suppose--for a lush slow paced shifting of waves and waves of weight. Beautiful closer that both fittingly closes the hour-long disc and gets you psyched for the next one.
Disc two is a bit shorter at about 45 minutes, but what it lacks in time it makes up for in really pushing the envelope for both bands. The opening cut is an unheard of four and a half minute one from Robedoor, "Ancestress Moon." This one is so motionless and icy that it might as well be the sound of an orchestra of bass frequencies and guitar strings tuning up and down. Undulating forward, the piece takes only a tangential form, instead weaving in and out of itself, the guitar the head and the bass frequencies the tail. Lovely. "Warmest Knives" is Pocahaunted's follow-up, and this one follows on a similar course, taking its time to move as it may. Building from a simple two guitar chord vamp, the piece goes deeper and deeper into itself, vocals entering and bouncing off echoing guitar chords before timpani like drums build themselves up like some spaced-out tribal orchestra. If that analogy isn't enough, strings even make their way in, weaving around beautifully to create a wall of sound fit for a huge, empty auditorium filled with trees and rain. Robedoor's "Razed Terrain" follows, and it's their harshest on the disc, thudding along to a wall of black smoke behind them. The vocals sound especially tortured here before wild drums enter in and take the shuttle into lift-off mode, only you're in the engine. A heavy one, dense and chaotic.
The last track on the album is "Hunted Gathering," and this time it's, as mentioned before, a collaboration between the two groups. This track seamlessly melds both band's aesthetics, incorporating the grim sonic torture of Robedoor and the airier, albeit in this case darker, edge of Pocahaunted. Slowly and steadily the thing builds steam, thudding along with the distinctive female vocalizing of Pocahaunted over top the darker and less conspicuous ones from Robedoor's side. A real meeting of the mind's though, it's tough to say who's catering to who on this epic drone sorcery. Heavy and hot, it's a claustrophobic hall of earth and soil somewhere way, way down. Beautiful and mysterious stuff. Special mention too should be made of Yellow Swans' Pete Swanson, who mastered the whole thing, as well as Changeling's Roy Tatum who has a guest appearance somewhere in there along with someone named Laena. Whatever each does, it's unobtrusive nature reveals its success. Everything is in place on this one.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Alright, now it's time for a bit of shameless self-promotion via Fossils. Seeing as how I just received this cassette from Jeffrey over at Housecraft Records, I figured it might be a good avenue to shove my band Herons' upcoming release down all of you fine readers' throats (it should be coming out sometime in August if all works out). There. That's all. Quick and painless. On to what you're here for.
I can't really figure anything out about Fossils other than their being (or one of them anyway, I don't even know how many members the group has) behind the great label Middle James Co. and being involved with both Offensive Orange and DueEastBySea. They've had releases all over the place, including a bunch with American Tapes, but I still can't decipher what the personnel actually is. Maybe the sounds reveal more than any name could...
Side one is a ripping, thirty-five minute grinding fuck fest. Full of vocals hacked to shreds, guitar bent to hell, and odd high-pitched drones, the whole thing is as full and noisy as I had hoped for. And yes, I've been referring to a lot of stuff on here as "noisy" that may not actually be so, but this fits the profile. Curdling its way along, the side just gets sourer as it moves from grim chasms of instrumental madness into hauntingly twisted squeals of static over the hushed screams of something exceedingly dark. Hair-raising indeed. Once in a while loops become apparent and electronic blips make their way across the barren sound world, but mostly its just hazy shredded stuff--is that whistle at the end the sound of a tea kettle through a processor or the blades starting up their daily routine down on the pig farm? Lies somewhere between Pluto and Planet X I'd say.
Side two is a different beast entirely though. Starting off with some kind of engine starting up before a hair dryer--Medusa's no doubt--blows across the space, the side features discernible vocal chatter as cracks enter in and out of the mix. Geese come and go over erratically placed blips and spurts of oil so thick it makes Exxon/Mobil look like Dasani. It's a dirty and slow start, lurching along in no rush to end the sublime submersion being attained. The birds are so out of place in this landscape that one starts to feel like they're coming from within, and the chattering is merely a snippet of a world we knew.
There are some serious ideas on here. The sound is so lo-fi and crude that it seems to at first lack detail, but there is immense intricacy here, and textures and shapes emerge over the course of the tape. Moving from the razor blades of side one to the pool of lukewarm lava on the second, the tape holds your head under good and long but, at least in this strange and melted world, let's you come up for air when the timing is right. Side two's dense underlying drone and scraping play with the all too familiar airport announcements and water fowl (foul?) to create a truly alien world and a highly distinctive sound. When a vocal is entered and slowed to the point of complete abstraction the bad trip only gets grizzlier, especially when the over the counter cosmetic store welcome is looped into oblivion. Could anything say "get me the fuck out of here" more? Welcome to the fried zone. Now bask in the blaze. A real beauty, and only limited to 48 so git up on it--it be a zonked one.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Finally. Ever since I started this blog, I've been hoping that a new Brokenresearch run would come out so that I could review them. Run by Ben (Hell) Hall and Hans (Bunny) Buetow--respectively the drummer and cellist for Graveyards among other things--the label was probably the one, along with American Tapes, that led to my descent into contemporary experimental music. Packaged in elegant white sleeves with printed sandpaper on them, the whole sound and aesthetic really did it right for me. Well, the time has come, and a new Brokenresearch run has come. This time around Ben was nice enough to shoot me some copies of them, so thanks again Ben. They were a real pleasure to receive.
Figured I'd start off with the one I've been spinning most in the last week. Graveyards and Dead Machines are both groups I really dig, though this one could have just easily been called Graveyards and Tovah Olson (John's in both groups anyway). Still, I like the two on two set-up here, and either way you cut it this is some murky material that highlights the strengths of both groups: Graveyards' monolithically slow and ice-cold lurching and Dead Machines' ability to make beautiful soundscapes out of an otherwise dissonant sonic palette. Despite both group's reputations, there are some glimpses of warmth on the tundra here.
The one-sided LP starts out as quietly as one would hope. Just hesitant reverberation and the slight tinkling of bells. Already, Graveyards' always physical sound is present--I find it tough to hear this stuff without picturing a cymbal ringing or metal pipes being clinked steadily. When a strange fog-horn call comes out (I'm guessing John, though it might just as easily be Hans' cello), the piece starts to gain a bit of momentum before slipping right back into its opening section. This is some typically cautious material and they really do it right, never trying to blow you away. More like freeze you in place, really.
John enters on bass clarinet at this point, playing a slow and hazy line that's surprisingly classical in nature--sounds almost like a section of Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time" or something. Washes of electronic hail shower in and out over the trickling cymbals and thudding electronic undergrowth. The whole thing bobs and sways back and forth, and really manages to sound more taut than most things Graveyards have done--and that's saying something. The response times are spot on as the group bounces off each other, at times recalling Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," and at others recalling, well, Graveyards or Dead Machines covering Stockhausen as conducted by Feldman.
The real strength of the release though is how it hovers seamlessly between the harmonious lines of the horn and rich electronic and cello tones before swaying back into less clear territory. The thudding continues to hold it all together rhythmically while John's line flows back and forth. It almost sounds like the soundtrack to some Arctic horror flick, before the monster arrives of course. Squeaks and bells are coersced out of electronic equipment as Buetow's cello fits so seamlessly in that you barely notice its presence--his long drone notes keep it lilting along with a delicately weighty calm.
Special mention should be made of Tovah Olson, who acted as the mixer (as well as musician) on this number. The production really comes together, and one gets the sense that Tovah's really controlling the momentum of the thing, tying bits together and phasing things out with an unobtrusive and painstakingly careful approach. The distant rattling of Hall's cymbals blend into high frequency electronic mutterings before disappearing with the crack of the needle lifting, as if the whole thing was never there at all. The machine yard seems to have shut down, and the sound world just ain't the same without it. Way limited (of course) to 200 copiesand printed on thick cardboasrd stock with nice printed covers. According to the website they're still available, so grab one right quick if you're planning on it. The masters are back in town, and they're doing what they do best.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Well well, look what we have here. Yet another post, and only three weeks between them! It's true, a hiatus of sorts was taken, but given school finals before transitioning into a job that requires 6:30 wake-ups, it had to be... my apologies though for leaving this thing high and dry for that stretch.
Needless to say, a lot of stuff has piled up. Between numerous orders, No Fun Fest (more on that later, I'm sure), and a generous package courtesy of Tynan over at DNT, the list has grown considerably. Had to start with this one though.
Super Minerals is Phil and William from Magic Lanterns, a Long Beach, California (thanks for the correction Tynan!) psych band that I've heard a bundle about but have yet to acquire anything from. Rumor has it that this isn't even close to that band though, and listening to it that sentiment doesn't surprise me at all. This is hardly psych rock, if even rock. Instead, The Piss opts for the kind of murky meandering often tread by the likes of Sunburned, though this is perhaps a bit slower and grimmer than that band usually gets.
The whole thing starts out with "Viral Cycles," an odd and drifting piece featuring an endlessly delayed acoustic movement beneath some spirit like vocals, one low and one high. The delay is tampered with gently, but mostly this is some stagnant stuff--just the way to kick off an album in my book! Throw the listener right in and get them where you want them. That high vocal is especially haunting, riding above before the whole thing morphs into the second track, "Sativa Dungeon" (though the song seams are more than a little unclear). Still, if this is the track the title hits it on the head. Have you ever seen that video of the guy giving listens about how to garden after smoking sativa? If you haven't, Youtube it. You'll get the idea. This one is grim as fuck, lurching along with static sounding loops--like if you kept playing the first half second of a scream over and over after distorting it beyond recognition. Harmonica pops in at one point, meandering along to this lurch while various unidentifiable frequencies cut in and out.
I'm assuming the next section is "They Said It Couldn't Be Done," though it could just as easily be part two of "Sativa Dungeon," or even part three of "Viral Cycles." Who knows... Here, the duo straightens out the riff, blanketing the static across the sound before an ocarina or Indian flute comes in, acting in much the same manner as that previously mentioned harmonica. Things get especially Sunburned when the vocals start muttering along, deep and echoey in the mix before some weird keyboard line descends over and over like a fog horn on the moon. They sit on this action for a while, zoning out--truly zonked. I guess they're right, it can be done. Eventually the whole thing fades out and is replaced by, again guessing, "Done." This one starts off with, and there's really no other description, the sound of an airplane flying back and forth over your head (mind/skull/inner ear) before those vocals emerge along with some rinky-dink riff that sounds like the Blue's Clues theme played on thumb piano. Slow and steady, the thing evolves, with choir like vocals emerging and reemerging, intermingling with the feedback tangle they've created. It's all like some big gumbo of industrial, drone, and ambient with a decidedly soundtrackish vibe. At a certain point, it gets so quiet and minimal that you practically forget you're listening to it--only a momentary percussive clatter shakes you back to the real world.
Side two kicks off with the percussive line of "Reuptake." And by percussive line I mean the sound of an occasional shaking of a bag of plastic silverware. Weird and hollow drones emerge like a million insects flying at you, building itself into some gigantic cloud of black and hissing before dropping a mother of a chord on you for, I'm guessing, the beginning of "High Spear Trial" (though I see now that track three is called "Descended Swarm of the Undead," so maybe I'm way behind). This one really crushes--it's all feedback and fuzzed out madness, albeit of a rinding and stationary sort. At this point, there being eight songs listed on side two, it's impossible to keep track. These drones thin out eventually, sounding like the space right before you hit a radio station on the dial. Faint recognizable traits emerge, but for the most part it's thick as mud.
Eventually the whole thing starts to gain some tangible mobility, thought he thrust is hardly forward and it certainly isn't getting where it's going fast. Sounds slip in and out, filling the speakers before cutting off and being replaced by near silence, only to have that hollow vocal call to be filled in by deranged chanting and cries for help from deep within some horrible jungle. This must be the sound of desperation, just guitar tinklings and loneliness. The balance between these beautifully full and lush echoes ad the harsh grating of metal on metal make for some kind of weird landscape, full of whistlings and odd wind instruments, yet lacking all of the guiding principles of those items. Sometimes it sounds like it's just the amp fucking up for a bit before some beep reminds you that this is all conscious, or at least some of it is. Part of the excitement of the whole thing is that you can't really tell who's playing who--sometimes it seems like the amps are rocking out with the musicians. Crazy stuff.
Comes in a killer cover with weird fish skeleton drawings. Limited to 75, so snag one quick. More reviews to come soon(er than a month from now).