Monday, February 23, 2009

The Second Family Band - Our Way is the Right Way (Housecraft CS)

Another Housecraft release, this time out from Wisconsin residents Second Family Band (good time for a cheesy joke, no?). This mysterious clan has more members than I can count, but as far as I can tell they sure as hell aren't all playing on this little 19-minute jammer documenting a live show from December 1st. Seems like this is more a communal tag and is probably one of those situations where whoever shows up shows up, which judging by this recording sounds like a great situation for all invovled.

The name of the game here seems to be weird pseudo-prog synth moves along with clattering rhythms, all torched down via handheld cassette recorder. The first side, "Taking Cloud Mountain," has some steady tribal style drumming, using the pulse as a nice means of keeping things moving along without overtly grabbing onto any cliched sound sources. That the synth underneath is as tonal as it is makes for a strange combination, especially buried beneath the piles of muck bestowed upon it by the tape. This is definitely a band who uses the recording style to their advantage--would be curious to know just what this sounded like without it in fact, can't really imagine it... anyway, things just hover along nice and patient-like for a while here, drifting through little pockets of two chord moves and odd little background buzzes. Not unlike a basement version of the Eno album that the title seems to play off of actually, at least in terms of sound sources and the way they use these super subtle little echoes to round out the sound as a whole.

Second side's called "Return of the Native," and this time around the band opt for some darker territories while still tending the same field of drumming pulses and synth riffery. Half of the synth here sounds like some ELP side taken out of context, smooshed between about eight layers of hiss, and played over consistently driving hand drums. It's a really unique and weird combo, and when exploring darker territory like this the whole thing together really reads more like some odd soundtrack for some super cult horror flick set in Milan, 1980. Very strange stuff indeed, but not without a certain sense of odd grooveology and psychedelically inclined aesthetics. Simple meets complex, you know? Like some burned to ash Camembert Electrique... camembert... Wisconsin... see, it's all coming together. Another winner from the Housecraft vault and special mentions got to made of the beautiful insert card and cassette itself. Front half is this rich sky blue and the back is totally clear--mindbogglingly good!

Josh Burke - Imagination (Housecraft CS)

Perhaps better known as Sky Limousine, Josh Burke is a synth maestro out of Chicago who as far as I can tell also runs Avocado Jungle cassettes. This being my first exposure to the man other than endless hearsay is criminal, I know, but it's not like ANY Housecraft release has ever been a bad place to start...

The tape's nice and subtle too, in the grand tradition of Housecraft sound exploring. Warm synths drift beneath tape hiss, gliding along under the weight of sometimes as little as one tone in a manner not unlike the ultra spacious new age excursions of Dolphins into the Future. Similar recording approach too it sounds, opting for the kind of "pretty as recorded cruddy" sound that Skaters love. Alot of this stuff sounds like it's actually quite light and fluffy stuff, but it also sounds like all of that fluff is being played about three floors below you, so all you get is the skeleton of the sounds.

It's no secret that I'm a total sucker for this type of thing, and Burke presents a solid 20 minutes of it here, just long enough to get you hooked before cutting it off and leaving you hanging. Some of the numbers trickle along lightly, with mini melodies interweaving with dainty aplomb, sometimes so gently that it sounds like one of those little baby mobiles that plays cheapo 8-bit lullabies above your head. Wonder if sleeping to that for the baby--before those melodies are so ground into you that you can't separate the song from the feelings it evokes--is like this for any so inclined adult. Maybe if I listen to it enough it'll become as safe and recognizeable as those... or maybe not... there are enough quick jaunts into slippery psychedelica here that are cut off before they hardly begin, immediately being replaced by equally glazed affairs. With nothing in focus throughout, you'll just have to keep squinting. Just watch out for those crow's feet... a lovely Sunday arm-stretcher, this one will have you prepped for uberslow liftoff. Quite beautiful, and still available as far as I can tell.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sean McCann - The Truth is Marching In (Peasant Magik CS)

And just had this published along with Graduating from Clocks to Watches over at Brainwashed too...

Although the Roll Over Rover label co-head Sean McCann is a relatively recent addition to the underground experimental scene, he has already carved out a name for himself with fully realized releases on a number of labels. On this album—loosely based on Albert Ayler's work of the same name—McCann uses bowed mandolin, processed banjo, vocals, and a plethora of other techniques to create a work that doesn't so much pay homage to the jazz legend's work as take off from where Ayler's spiritual approach left us.

If McCann's sound is defined by his tools, then his vision is shaped by his approach. Improvisatory as it may be—and surely it has all of the energy and excitement for which spontaneous music allows—McCann's real strength is in his ability to balance this chaotic and kaleidoscopic musical landscape without ever losing a sense of compositional control. The opening piece (all are untitled) opens with an explosion of processed strings and thick synthesized drones that leave no time for mental adjustment; yet McCann's sound is so well honed that the result is exhilarating rather than overwhelming. As everything careens around in celebratory fits, hollow rhythmic pulses echo beneath, giving amorphous shape to the loose fitting flow of the work.

Elsewhere, McCann explores near post-rock territory, bringing in slow and steady bass and drum work beneath drifting vocals and aimless string moves that bend and sway their way toward some beautiful nowhere. That the following side closing track fits right in despite eliminating any overt use of electronics is yet another display of the close attention paid to these works; the lilting bowed string melodies continue developing the same mood without rehashing the tactics that have already proved to work at achieving it.

The second side of the tape opens with the most overtly Aylerian work on the date, though nothing instrumentally would draw that comparison here. Plucked strings mingle between huge swathes of bubbling, choral drone that recall the same cathartic emotional release of Ayler without even a hint of saxophone to be found. That it comes to a stuttering and dark end is perhaps poetically in line with Ayler's own tragic death, but more importantly it infuses the work with a dark shadow that is otherwise largely missing from the rest of the tape. Parts even approach a level of Skaters-like murk, babbling about in confusion that seems the anarchic antithesis to the work's cleansing beginnings.

The next piece's clattered, gamelan-like strings draw on even more comparisons but again, McCann's distinct sound is fully on display. That he is able to garner this much excitement out of sounds too often used for tired ends is impressive in itself, but it's the bigger picture that is this music's greatest asset. No mere collection of "experimental" or "drone" works, the release sees an up-and-coming artist continuing to pursue an already mature musical stance. And that's not something that happens often enough at all.

Hoor-paar-Kraat - Graduating from Clocks to Watches (Eureka Tapes Vol. II0 (Peasant Magik CS)

Just had this published along with The Truth is Marching In over at Brainwashed, figured it applied:

With well over 20 releases to its name, Anthony Mangicapra's Hoor-paar-Kraat project has taken on many guises over the years, containing no less than 14 different collaborators over the course of its varied discography. No matter the personnel though, the unit has consistently pushed at the boundaries between drone, noise and musique concrète to masterful effect. Here, Mangicapra teams up with four cohorts and comes up with a beautifully consistent and thematically realized piece. That it has been printed in a relatively large run (for this sort of release anyway...) of 200 is good news, but unfortunately not so good that anyone who wants one can afford to bide their time should they desire a copy. Such is the tape world I suppose; c'est la vie.

Consistent with the standard working mode of the band, this release tip-toes around the darker precipices of its various genre dabblings without ever submerging into total blackness. Spread across the six lengthy tracks are thick and tactile dronescapes, disturbed vocal babblings, and creepy guitar dirges atop squawking synthesizer cries. This dark and mysterious atmosphere, consistent with the group's enigmatic existence, is hardly a dip in the relatively safe waters of the overdone doom and gloom rock pursued by so many though; Hoor-paar-Kraat merely use this as a starting point from which to uncover deeper pockets of mystery. That they never tell their listener exactly how to feel is one of the great--and ultimately frightening--strengths they display.

Each track here more or less represents a single approach, and the patience exhibited in working within those specific and relatively limited fields makes each piece its own whole without becoming so cluttered as to take away from the album's sense of focus. The first side, for example, opens with "Lacking a Cast Shadow," a slow and smooth drone buildup that shimmers with gray stillness as swathes of air bellow beneath scratching claws and tiny bells. Nearly unmoving, the piece serves as a palette cleanser, easing the listener into the decidedly more elusive and eerie version of bleak pursued on "Habit and the Smooth Sailing of the Psyche." That this too finds its groove, opting for odd tape clatterings and distant, crawling gamelan moves that keep the descending trajectory of the album as restrained and patient as possible.

If the first side of the tape is the journey downward—especially with the closing "departure of the Icicle Man" and its dark and knotty drone loops—then the second side is the arrival and subsequent blind exploration of that realm. "Relics of the Inheritance" features odd guitar string tuggings and hollowed out verbal ramblings that leave little to grasp on to. That the group is willing to do so is wholly unsettling, and remarkably effective as a logical progression from the hints of this amorphous approach presented on the first side.

Perhaps the most oblique and overtly gloomy material on the tape is found on "The Broken windows of a Fertile World," whose bird calls and playground chatter hover menacingly under austere guitar explorations. This is a sparse and dismal landscape indeed, but Hoor-paar-Kraat handles it as delicately as it does everything here; the piece never erupts with anything near a climax, instead floating with delicate hostility whose unending patience grinds any safety net to a pulp, leaving you fully unsuspecting of the harsh blasts of static din that erupt on the closing "The Self is an Onion-Self."

The keen sense of timing and clear division between approaches on each side marks the basement academicism of the release. While many artists working in this vein achieve liftoff with nearly every track, it is refreshing to hear a unit at work that understands the power of sonic confinement and the dire connotations of time. While the title may suggest a technological move forward, it also means that the clock is always present, counting down the hours one by one to be monitored at your convenience. And this is just the sort of dark momentum forged from track to track as this fully realized outing unfolds.

Xiphiidae - Crystal Marvelous Fruit (Excitebike Tapes 2XCS)

Just got this brain bender courtesy of Jeff over at Housecraft, though this beautiful double cassette was put out by Uneven Universe Dan's Excitebike Tapes label (often referred to as ExBx Tapes). Need one word to describe this? Awesome. Need two? Massive. Each cassette is just over an hour long, making this one suitable accompaniment only on those long nights where you need Astin's spatial new age zoners most. Of course the beauty is that more is more, and if you're not looking for a commitment the tape can be thrown on anywhere for whatever amount of time and you know you're gonna get that signature scrape and drift freshly cut every time.

Where do you start with something like this? Culled from recordings made over the past few years, this isn't so much an album as it's an anthology that demonstrates the consistent strength of Astin's output. Never one to over saturate his work, each piece here, whether it's a field recording/scratch and scrape duo, a synth sprawler or a tape mangling monolith, has plenty of open space for each sound and gesture to breathe. The result are works that, no matter how far off they take your thoughts, never lose a sense of grit and weight. This is all electronic stuff, sure, but it is also humbly and resolutely human. It just so happens that the human is working in some pretty far reaching areas.

Another result of this tactility is a totally unique and individualized aesthetic which is sadly too hard to come by in a heavily saturated tape scene. Yet Astin's stuff has all of the power of any of the best working in this field--(maybe he'd argue otherwise but... Emeralds, Oneohtrix Point Never, etc seem to fit right in)--without any thievery at all. His synth undulations are so deep and so in touch with the waves themselves that real life is yanked from these machines, just as pittering contact mic table rubs remind you that yes, there is someone back there twiddling those nobs and yes, dude knows what's going on.

Bummer that this review has to be vague but to some extent the whole release is. Piece by piece slips by, each exploring its own corner of the Xiphiidae universe like some swordfish charting the open waters and discovering here a reef, there a whale, and somewhere else some curious floating bottle filled with green herbs. No specific part ever gets so bold as to become "central," a quality that urges complete entry into the sound world and rewards you unendingly for it. Totally mammoth release on a killer label--nice fold around American Tapes meets Housecraft cover art too (actually, all Dan's artwork is killer...). Definitely a heavy release in the early months of the year, but there's enough here to get you through till 2010 for sure. Another vague review for another rave lagoon...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Patriotic Window Klings - S/T (Abandon Ship Records CD-R)

Cutesy cuddle bear cover art aside, Abandon Ship scores another one with this weird shamble work from some unit called Patriotic Window Klings. Know nothing about these dudes whatsoever (anyone ever heard from them?) but the sounds they produce are truly warped little rock excursions that deconstruct any connotations that term might have to the point of complete abstraction.

The disc opens with "Bertha," whose Link Wray-style guitar lines are interwoven with so many odd effects and electronic babbles that the whole thing comes off more like some k-hole product with a total go-nowhere but still hold a riff mentality. "Green Wine Blues" is no different, with side to side synth warbles beneath heavy, Sabbath bass riffs and guitar echos that culminate in something not too far off from some Hawkwind mega-jam as covered by some inept high school stoners. Which really is where Hawkwind was coming from anyway so of course it's great.

The name of the game throughout reads more or less just like this... a bunch of people trying to play some really slamming stuff but being too messed up (if you can believe that...) to actually pull it off. "Piebald" is actually way less aggressive than that, although still pretty fried with moves from angular guitar lines fucked tape samplings, etc; pretty much runs the gamut from loose to destroyed. "The Midnight Hum" eases things up with a plunky little Mario in the pipe soundtrack stuff that mixes in tribal style drumming, synth and Dead-style guitar moves and weird clavichord style piano stuff. Probably the most together thing here, but still completely zonked and totally inhabiting its own little world somewhere between Gun Club and Bowie... maybe?

The rest of the material here is essentially various takes on these moves--"Midnight Cougar" undulates with epic fervor, "Black Mary" hails the coming of a darker age and "The Unicyclist" has enough Doors-meets-wah-wah death rattling to wake Hendrix. The closing "Lakewood" is another basement jammer. Only two odd men out here are "Two Crows," whose field recorded birds and acoustic guitar find a more relaxed mode to explore their fuckery in, and "Free TV," a synth zoner that eventually becomes straight saw wave dentist dementia. Odd stuff, but actually quite worthwhile despite my less-than-insightful review treatment here... been writing all day, a bit on words. So yeah, sorry, but definitely another winner from Abandon Ship, who seems to have a real knack for releases perfect for those days where nothing's quite going right and you need to hear something far more out-of-whack than you've ever been...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sean McCann - Midnight Orchard (Roll Over Rover CS)

Here's another one from Roll Over Rover... really heavy stuff from both releases I've heard from them so far. This one's by co-label head (along with Stew of Ugly Husbands fame) Sean McCann, who's been melting minds lately with releases on Peasant Magik and Cloud Valley (both killer) and now this, easily the heaviest date I've heard from him yet. With these dudes at the helm the label's sure to continue on some wild pathways seeing as how consistently this dude's been slipping into some marvelous inner stratospheres...

I guess the key factor on this release is its length. Its over 90 minutes long, and while his previous releases are mostly infested with warm synth goop and guitar moves, the opening title track here is pure symphonic drift. Bowed strings are caressed over and over in rich layers of lucid dust, building small melodic fragments in a soupy whole as it sways along with a definite aquatic Appalachia stance. Really slow and gentle lulling stuff, but with enough emotive sense to carry it along for its entire 40 minutes. The string quartet that Arvo Part didn't dare write, and a real and rare achievement that moves far beyond the sum of its parts. A must hear. That "Spun Around," the last five minutes of the side, aren't a total let down afterward is impressive enough, but the piece actually serves to strengthen the previous by exploring a different take on the same approach as strings glide around one another, humming and plucking like some backwards, pointillist sitar met with Derek Bailey. Beautiful.

The second side consists of a series of "Straw Hats," 16 to be exact, and each one explores more explicitly various facets seen in the previous side; country ramblings, lush drone realms and heavier fare that eeks toward the sublime. One minute light drifts of banjo meld with other strings to create soft and shattered ditties that both Henry Flynt and Fahey would surely approve of, making for a nice deconstructive vibe, but not without losing any of the melodic beauty of those forms done right. The next, repetitions of synth swirl and choral stretchings turn otherwise lovely drone sprawls into slow burning mountain movers. Each one is equally beautiful and well structured as it dips into another of McCann's seemingly endless streams of ideas.

Total mind burner of a tape and easily the best thing I've heard from McCann yet. Lucky for us there's 92 minutes of it. That McCann is capable of exploring such different realms with such impressive ease is comforting in a day when too many people play the same thing every time they step up to their synth. McCann will have you comparing him to different people all over the place, but he's doing it all as well as any of them; and he's doing it all. Limited, of course, so bust a move on this before he's on Deutsche Grammofon or ECM or something.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Graveyards - Cinders (Sergent Massacre LP)

As I mentioned earlier, Ben Hall came through campus recently as part of Trauma, and as he is wont to do he lay some beautiful stuff on me, this LP being one of them. Only the second release on the up-and-coming Sergent massacre label, the disc sees two side long explorations with the Graveyard crew in full on quartet mode, aka Coccyx (I believe...), Hans Buetow, John Olson and of course Hall.

The first side opens with some tingling bells and electronic lurch along with Olson and Coccyx's saxodrone sputterings. Soon the whole thing drops down to an electronicless zone of echoing horn lines and Tibetan style bell clatter that is some of the most focused and restrained work I've heard from the unit yet without slipping into any sort of silence-as-composition forms. Not that they aren't perfectly capable of that too of course... actually, much of the first half of the side is little more than a tapering off from the beginning, everything slinking backwards into the night as the saxes scream and careen around their concrete studio. Soft murmurs from Buetow's cello interlace with breathy crevices that are so thick and steamy that they can melt the skin right off you if you're not careful.

Second side starts off dronier than the group usually gets, with nice crispy shimmers below undulating waves of feedback before the electronics enter full force, splurging all over this tranquil terrain. The electronics slip in so nicely with the rest of it though that it all builds into genuine communication, creating deep pockets of fragile improvised spaces for events to unfold. Really get in to the sounds on this, committing to a heavy approach that the group usually achieves through spontaneity rather than the relative consistency on display here. Soon the whole thing sifts back to just some drum scrapings and super high, nearly indecipherable Waves style electronic work... fumbles along for a bit here, with momentary drum moves that get so quiet so as to become textural. That the group can then rebuild it into its own machinistic improv hole speaks volumes to the abilities on display here. Really one of their best sides yet.

Never really ceases to amaze me with these guys... their level of interaction and shared sense of improvisational modes is so fully realized that the unit keeps dropping bomb after bomb and bomb after bomb keeps getting overlooked by every community that should be appreciating this stuff aside from the noise/experimental basement scene... it's too noisy for the general jazz community, but the free dudes should be all over this... even with a nice write-up in a recent Wire, and Hall's stint with Dixon and all, this is some heavy duty shit that manages to find all its own zones and rides them out over and over and nobody seems to be the wiser. Dudes just get it. When will everyone else catch on? BEAUTIFUL artwork too, and with another LP out by Spykes (his first release, believe it or not...) you know this is going to be a major player.

Ugly Husbands - The Faith of the Family (Roll Over Rover CS)

Here's a wild little package I just got from Roll Over Records, an upstart label out of California that already has a nice Sean McCann out (review on the way) along with a few other items of interest. Couldn't resist jumping into this one though, as it comes packaged in a book with the pages cut out and glued together (think the secret storage book for your crack pipe or something...). Mine came in book called "How to Make Good Pictures." Maybe I'm a sucker, but this release is totally done up, complete with a mini booklet featuring some writings by Glenway Westcott, who the release is dedicated to. Don't know his work, but there's some musings on Christianity etc. here.

As for the musical accompaniment, the whole thing is packed with weirdo excursions from Stewart J. Adams that move from synth sprawl seshes to folkier fare that mintains a definite sunrise over the moon vibe. Opening with "Pee-Chee," a gentle ambient synth number, the tide quickly turns with "The Daily Record of C.J. Whitman," whose rockish fervor features McCann on drums. "Mrs. Towers' Dead Trophy" is a more lonesome number, as is "Off-Hand with Alwyn," whose production is nice and blown out as the guitar hums beneath Adams' poppy vocal musings.

But this is no pop record. There are interludes every now and then that are pure synthesized ambiance, no vocals or anything, and on the other more songy numbers the recorded quality of the material alone would be far too much for your average Tiny Mix Tapes reader to digest. And sure, the material is songy, but "Off-Hand with Alwyn" goes on for far too long and explores too many odd dusty nooks for you to not be wearing your face mask. The piece ends with an excursion into tape hiss and feedback crunch that sounds like some transistor radio as intercepted by UFO flight paths. And this is just the beginning of the weird. "Red Hot Hot Doggies" has piano and stunned mental clanking babbling below Jandekian loneliness that incorporates equal parts musique concrete, Shadow Ring, and straight Prick Decay. And "Zipper" has this little carnival theme buried beneath three tons of nuclear residue and various boinging cartoon sounds.

Real odd and compelling stuff that I could muse on forever--hell, I haven't even spoken of side two yet...--but won't because there's just way too much here. Well worth checking out though, the guy's got some tricks up his sleeve, and way cheap considering the decades it must have taken to put all fifty of these together. Maybe that's it... maybe this is actually from some Midwest nowhere town circa 1982... it just might be that good, actually. A label and dude to watch for sure.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Magic Lantern / Hop-Frog Kollectiv - Underwater Dynasty / Somba (URCK Records LP)

Here's another digital promo I got from Carl Off of Hop-Frog Kollectiv. URCK Records (Unified Research for Chemical Karma) just put out this tasty split between his own unit and Long Beach psych monsters Magic Lantern. That each side is comprised of only one work allows the unit's to both stretch way out, a trait which gives the Kollectiv ample space for their exotic excursions while allowing Magic Lantern to take it nice and easy and enter some territory as rich as the slow jams on their recent Not Not Fun and Woodsist LPs, but with enough time to submerge entirely.

I'll start with the Magic Lantern side, though I'm not so sure there is a side A or B here. The whole record stems from the mutual admiration both of these groups share for one another, so it only seems fitting that every side is a first side here. That the music speaks to that is even more remarkable. "Underwater Dynasty" starts off with some slow and drifting percussive stuff that veers into the same waters as member Cameron Stallones' Sun Araw but with the weird creeping factor of members William Giacchi and Stunned head Phil French's Super Minerals project. The instrumentation here is perhaps the main indicator of the sound. Ukelele, guitar, flute, piano, bells, hand drums and voices splay out beneath the shimmering shallows and bask in the sunlit tides here, totally removed from any sense of riff-driven direction. All of the sounds bleed out over each other in a warm wash of sound that is tropical to the core, but rich enough so as to not fall into the same category as much of the other work that has been tapping into that aesthetic recently. Parts of it almost sound like a blissed out Don Cherry circa Brown Rice, only with Florian Fricke at the production helm. The whole thing just never stops, taking psych folk guitar lines and weaving them with flute exchanges and jingling atmospherics until it all rolls upward into a cavernous realm of bell shards and echoing rhythms. It all feels highly composed and organized without being stiflingly so. As together a psych workout as these guys have concocted yet--mellow, mystical and mysterious.

That Hop-Frog's side isn't a disappointment after Magic Lantern's really speaks to the strength of the unit and the sincerity of correspondence between these two groupings. In fact, "Somba" fits right in next to "Underwater Dynasty" as it concocts its own batch of world music fried zones for morning basks and late night come downs. Comprised of core members Carl F. Off, Jeremy Morelock and the aptly named Hermit the Flog, the unit again takes relatively obscure instrumentation--in this case, Yanqin (Chinese dulcimer), ruan (moon guitar), been, electric guitar, midi guitar and flutes. I don't know what half of those are, but the whole thing writhes along to an accordion like progression and hammered chordal textures that continue their outward expansion as they head out into open sea. Apparently "Somba" is the name of these three clans in the mountains of the Sahara who believe that the dead are continuously among us, influencing the outcome of things which is exactly the kind of creepy yet mystic vibe that this work exudes. Spces are created as parts come and go, allowing for these miniature pockets that create some beautiful moments. After stripping itself down to just bells, the work rebuilds itself, this time from a guitar (the moon one perhaps?) that creates a folkish melody with cosmic connotations. Really together and genuinely worldly--each of these instruments is so easily identified with specific regions that their combination really creates its own space, and with the time they have to stretch out--over 20 minutes of it--Hop-Frog prove themselves to have plenty of ideas and a strong and organized approach that continues to evolve, devolve, and evolve again. That the piece can go so many places without losing any sense of continuity is impressive in itself, but it's the consistent creativity that keeps the piece afloat in details.

It's a totally great split, equally suited to Sunday wake-and-bake sessions or Saturday night zone material. As calm and pulsing as it is, none of the material here ever slips into any easy category, instead allowing the works to unfold as they will with composure and delicacy, but not without balls.

Queen Victoria - Auld Lang Syne (Unreleased 7")

Here's a unique situation. Nick aka Queen Victoria e-mailed me saying he had a 7" ready to go but that he hadn't found anyone to release it yet, so as of right now this little thing is actually unreleased despite its being fully ripe from a musical angle. Only three tracks, Queen Victoria is actually just Nick doing a bedroom psych set that is wholly together.

The longest track on here (at nearly seven minutes--quite a length for a 7" side, no?) is the title track. "Auld Lang Syne" reads like a Jandek meets Amon Duul situation, switching gears between the hazy light and lilting vocals of the verses and a more orchestrated psychedelic songwriter bent that by the end fully expands into an acoustic kraut rock jamboree with a heavy dose of Skip Spence delirium. The following track, "The Ornaments," opens the second side with a more interior take. Nick can write a song for sure, and he knows how to adorn his craft work, adding trumpet sputterings behind his guitar that awkwardly play along to the vocal line, barely hanging in there. It's just this kind of minor surprise that helps to keep these songs alive and aloft, solidly afield of any kind of "freak-folk" genrefication or something.

"To See Him as Human" closes the 7" with a more upbeat psychedelic folk track that opens outward from finger-picked guitar beginnings sun drenched spaces that ooze warm loneliness. Nick's voice is wonderfully emotive and carries the weight of the track before it devolves into a scraping and creaky little realm that soon reemerges as the song begins to wrap up. It's a nice little release that deserves some attention for sure. Beautifully recorded and a great early morning head scratching vibe. I'll keep you posted if it ever gets out there because otherwise this post is more or less for naught.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Christopher Riggs - Pictures of Women with Dogs (Holy Cheever Church Records CS)

Here's another one from Chris Riggs, one half of Trauma and one third of Traum. He's flying solo here though, splitting the cassette between a live set at Oberlin and a self described Don Dietrich-inspired jam.

The first side opens with some super weird guitar moves that keep tons of space between quick interludes of frenetic play. Sometimes his guitar sounds like a guitar, but more often than not it resembles a cartoon spring, a cello or some insect chatter. Think there might even be a drill in there somewhere, shredding the strings to bits while low end resonances echo and hum. Allowing plenty of space for each individual sound to fully make its mark, Riggs emits a playful and democratic approach that allows the joy of each rub, strum or clang to come through fully, all while demanding your full attention with its quiet and thoughtful motions. Never playing weird for weird's sake, Chris has a truly unique take on his instrument as an object for the creation of sound, incorporating every facet of his axe's build into some unique and hitherto unheard stutter or groan that continues to move throughout its length, though to where exactly is anybody's guess.

The second side opens with some low end mutter, and already Dietrich's presence can be felt. Thick billows of organic sound spew out of the guitar with little trajectory, instead bubbling out of it like tar out of a washing machine. Little rattles and shakes only deepen the mystery of this one sided affair of steady destruction. This is the sound of dentures rattling against glass during an earth quake. Small sproings flit about like firecrackers, taking turns with the low end murmur that will not cease. Really a beautiful pacing here, as the low end stuff slowly makes room for the high end turmoil--the two make a beautiful pairing. Before you know it the rumbling is gone, allowing the entrance of laser beams and bent metal before quickly returning to continue building the work with those pieces now present.

Another totally gorgeous release, and how bout that title and cover concept! If you're as sick of being beaten across the head with those little dog pictures as I am, then this cassette will make you feel like you've won. Another highly limited one from Holy Cheever, so fetch quickly. A killer one from a true original.

Albero Rovesciato - Ancient Shining Drums of the Covered City (Stunned Records CS)

Albero Rovesciato is actually a composite of two Italian dudes now residing in Berlin, Francesco Cavaliere and Marco Lampis. Self described as desiring to escape electronic effects in favor of material contact, the duo successfully opt to do weird the old fashioned way, using vocals, drums, bells, gongs an "objects" to concoct an immersive percussion orchestra piece that travels the spaceways between Varese's "Ionisation," Andrew Cyrille and Milford Graves' "Dialogue of the Drums," and Balinese gamelan.

These guys aren't slouches either. It may sound like chaotic pot and pan handling, but the duo move through their sound realms with a speed and energy that's pretty tough to come by. Hharsh blasts of feedback will enter and disperse as rattling and skittering mini melodies and percussive jaunts explode outwards, creating a classicist meets isolated genius meets mad professor vibe that's pretty strange and hard to pin down in terms of placement. Sometimes it comes across like a Henry Cowell piece and other times it sounds like a three year old dinnerware solo.

The depth of the whole thing is actually pretty astounding considering their instrument choice. One track will be all rattle and crazed percussion worship and the next will be an exploration in the resonance of some crystal bowl or something, ringing about as small gestures are done above it. It is an airy and tactile psychedelia that these two subscribe to, one moment slamming down the soup can stack and the next hovering above the tree line, spatula in hand, all the while exhibiting a directional control subtle in its unpredictability but definite in its shape.

Definitely one of the more difficult releases on Stunned yet, not to mention one of the hardest to describe. Not really any way of summing it all up except that there is as much there as you could ask. Real works that drone and splatter their way into some sound worlds not often explored. Also worth mentioning is that despite their lo-fi approach, the recording quality here is actually quite impressive. Every nuance is beautifully captured, giving the whole work a spacious quality that really takes into account the room being played in. One to return to again and again, thee guys will have you finding new moments of beauty forever with this one. Great artwork too, complete with J-card. Unfold it for full effect. Can't quit these guys.

Sparkling Wide Pressure - Seven Inside and Out (Stunned Records CS)

More from Stunned today, this time around with Frank Baugh's absolutely beautiful Sparkling Wide Pressure project. Having put out stuff on Students of Decay and a couple others, Frank's stuff has had some time to gestate, and this is easily his best yet. A half hour of total lucid dream sound journeys that meet somewhere between the outer reaches of your memory and the inner workings of your pulse.

The first side opens with "Color First," whose high pitched undulations and thick bottom drone create a vast space in between for Baugh to inject drifting melodies via glitched out electronics and circuit bent toy tones. Airy and light, but hardly cosmic, Baugh instead goes for a kind of birds' eye view of the orange marshes of Minnesota--a kind of quiet and settled solitude that pervades the work. "Creeping Cloth Roadway" follows in to grimmer territory as organ progressions and mournful vocal lines loop about each other Phantom of the Opera style, only this time around the Phantom is wearing ear muffs and playing some analog synth, patch cables abounding. A slow pulse enters as strange melodies interweave among one another, never becoming so cloudy and aimless so as to not maintain an ample sense of space. Drifts apart slowly too, like leaves decomposing in the snow--more melancholic than angry or outright sad. Far too insular for that kind of outward expression of established mental states.

Second side opens with "Outside, Above my Head," whose guitar strums and back porch vibe feed off of the same intimate quietude as the first track had. Baugh's gentle wordless, worldless vocals are met with subtle synth undulations and bird calls that sound less transposed than simply present at the time of recording. Soon the vocals drift off into thinly spread synth lines that boundlessly emit themselves to the outer corners of some distant lake before echoing back to contribute to the patiently building works. Baugh lays down some guttural vocalizings that move the whole thing into some weird nowhere land of Appalachian ritual. The closing "Rock Wall" is, as its name suggests, a total stagnant brewing of locationless, colorless glacier sound worlds. The thickest thing on the tape, the piece just lurks around the rest of the terrain Baugh has woven like some mythic shadow spirit--no one seems to see it, but you can sense when it's there. Beautiful wall of crescendoing notes above a thick bassy drone that just mumbles and grumbles under its own weight. Totally crushing in its mysterious beauty.

Total winner from Sparkling Wide Pressure, easily the best thing I've heard from him yet, and of course beautifully packaged from the ever-amazing Stunned label. They nail the cover art over and over there--if you ever need a good argument for the package as a whole, their stuff be it. The music, the look, it all contributes to a new whole that you just can't get with a digital file. Duh.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Speculator - Premier Authentic / Speculator Radio (Mix Tapes CS)

Here's a total bomb from fellow Heron member and partner in crime Nick Ray, aka Speculator. Lately it seems that every time I prowl on past Nick's room he is kicking the most heavy duty jams I've heard from him yet with burnt out tape zoner zones as transfigured onto eighties hair metal motifs for a sound that's half James Ferraro, half Wavves, half Sun Araw and half straight up Billy Idol. For y'all keeping count, that equals way more than just one.

First track is called "Coolest Car," and it's a total summer roller. Finding a tasty Van Halen morsel, Speculator grinds the shit down until it's so fried that it just lopes along in head nodding nowhere zones that just spread and spread. "Game Day" follows with some anthemic blowout jock jam as rendered by your home cassette player after you've smeared some football face paint across the medium. Goes right on in to "Harpur," some pulsing free ride bloops with enough bass to make Chingy cry. Nice and minimal too, Nick's got a hell of a way with expanding one idea to it's logical conclusion, infusing each bit with his own vibe. No hipstery nonsense here either, just ride till you die attitude. Would make a killer soundtrack to one of those extreme snowmobiling videos for sure.

Best part of the side is that the each bit is so short that it never runs out of steam, instead just bouncing off the walls in total maniacal mental weirdness. "Bar Fight," "Motorcycle Tough Guys," "Downtown," just hit after hit of total adrenalin amphetamine burnout. And when the second half of the side hits (that's only seven a half minutes in despite being ten tracks down for those keeping count) the whole thing switches modes to some beach front crack house with "Coconut Water." Explores the same Miami vice territory of those much loved Ducktails, Skaters, etc. only as rendered through brief chopped up snippets, total flashes of Hawaiian shirts and Landshark beer. "Waterski/Wipeout" rides on before moving through another four tracks ending with "Intelligent Tabloid Star" and "Spear Gun," which just exudes awesome all over its sixty seconds.

Speculator uses the same approach on the second side, Speculator Radio, which tones down the headbanging in favor of straight remixes, some of which are way messed with (i.e. the opening waaay slowed down R. Kelly remix "Bump'd & Ground") while others are totally recognizable despite their being tampered with. "God Damn the Pusher Man" slows down the Steppenwolf classic before "Cascade Miller Band" takes "The Joker" and turns it into a wash of twenty plus staggerings of the song, turning it into a wash of tone, of course with those signature Speculator highs and lows. Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, Big Youth, they all get covered--hell, dude's even got the gumpshun to go ahead and remix Led Zeppelin with "In California," ragaing the hell out of it to let you know we've arrived. Dylan's "In Acapulco" takes the whine out of the original for a slower but totally true version before the closing "Up & Smoked Out" gives the original Cheech & Chong title the treatment it deserves for the proper state of mind.

Total killer, and I'm not just saying that cause I know the guy. Well worth getting, and I'm sure he'll hook you up for cheap if you get in touch with him over at his myspace. Nick's no fake either--I caught him listening to Billy Idol this morning. And you should hear what he's done to it already. Dude's just exploding with sick track after sick track, so get while the getting's good. Total gold.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Christopher Riggs - Toba (Holy Cheever Church Records CS)

Ben Hall and Chris Riggs rolled through town last Thursday for a slaying set as Trauma. Actually, we were supposed to make it up to Albany the night before to play with them and Twilight of the Century too but no go due to snow. Bummer bro. Anyway, they played a real heavy jammer of a set that seemed to have most of the attendees scratching their head for a while seeing as it was post the sampler blitz of Dana and the weirdo rock antics of Bobo. They really lay down the law, and afterward they unloaded a bunch of stuff on me, much to my pleasure of course. When Chris came up with a stack of tapes I was totally psyched since I hadn't heard any of his stuff before the show and was totally blown away. Turns out he has a label and has been putting out wild stuff with a killer, Mexican folk aesthetic. Of course the sounds are anything but.

Toba is the only one of the tapes I got that features Riggs' homemade reeds, so I was of course right on top of that one. The thing is filled with these little miniatures of acoustic guitar malfunction and little cattail style reeds. More often than not his guitar sounds more like a washboard than anything Paco de Lucia would pick up as the strings are scraped apart by the fingernails. Chris just got out of the conservatory at Oberlin where he majored in classical guitar, so it was no surprise that his professors weren't too pleased with this aspect of his work. Just heavy duty noise realms that focus way more on pacing and movement than harmonic developments or, er, flourishes... of the traditional virtuosic variety of course.

Some of the stuff here consists of no more than Riggs slapping his hands against the body of the guitar or just bowing the shit out of these mangled strings while huffing a go on his reed instruments, which somehow manage to have full timbrel ranges all their own. Yet each of these little works is evocative and Riggs is clearly fully committed to his aesthetic as explores harsh, layered drones whose near ram-horn bellows are supported by meandering repetitions on the second side's (as far as I can tell) only track. There is a personal quality to these recordings that is genuinely experimental and explorative but completely unpretentious. Like Roland Kirk letting loose... REALLY letting loose... Tons more beautiful pieces too, and all super limited. Check out his label's blog for more info, though be warned that it's not fully up to date and there's some recent stuff on there (one with Ben and one with Mike Khoury and Matt Endahl) that are totally killer. More to come from this one for sure.