Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sick Llama & Ben Hall - KillDevilHills (Brokenresearch 3")

Here's an oldy but goody that Ben lay on me a bit ago. Been waiting to get around to this for a while, especially as I'm such a fan of the 3" format, and Ben always does it right with his Brokenresearch operation. This time around its a tag team effort with Fag Tapes head Heath Moreland, whose twelve cassette box set last year was one of the most epic things I've heard in a while. Always wanted to review it but it was just too far reaching to wrap my head around... regardless, this combo is an intriguing one; Ben's drum work often gets into grinding cymbal explorations, and its this approach that he wisely takes in playing with the twisted tape and whacked clarinet of Moreland.

At only two tracks and eighteen minutes, the unit open slow, leaving ample space for each voice to individually be heard. Both of these dudes, though vastly different in approach, are into the industrial scrape and lowercase improv combo, and it is in this realm that they find common ground. Ben's cymbal batterings skim off Moreland's analog gestures and crunched clarinet lines as the duo move into stark and dismal waters. Very thoughtful in its own way, as neither party delves into their chaotic potential.

The second track traverses similar ground with muttering underbellies interacting among drills and shards of instrument remnants. Considering the typically singular vision of Moreland, it's nice to see him use these same techniques in reaction to Hall... actually a surprisingly elastic approach considering the usual depth of his lines. The whole thing ends up sounding kind of like a stripped down, half-buried Graveyards, though with a bit fewer overtly jazz influenced moments. Instead it's all texture and feel, and the two prove to mesh wonderfully. Too short, but killer nonetheless. Gotta wonder if the tandem will ever do it again, but we can certainly hope...

Ophibre / Hunted Creatures - Split (Oph Sound CS)

If I recall correctly, I mentioned in that last Ophibre review from Brainwashed that there was more on the way. This is more, and it's here. Ben had told me he'd be sending me some stuff, but when I got this tape I was floored. This beautiful textured paper tied with a rope encasing a transparent print with a tape inside? Put a shiver in me timbers, you know? It's the sort of mystery that too often is lacking with this stuff, and a lovely display of how packaging and music can combine into something greater than the sum of its parts... lovely.

As for the sounds, the first side is Ophibre's, and he opens the tape with a typically cavernous and slow-moving drone work called "A Harem of Moths." Rossignol really gets the power that can be generated by stillness, and this work hovers somewhere between the folds of two parallel universes as it drifts ever outward. There's always a sense of enormity with his stuff, as each sound is intricate and thick, but there's never an overabundance of it, so you really have the opportunity to find the different crevices and let them work their magic. Careful combination of barely perceptible high end weave about above vast stretches of didgeridoo monolith drones. Beautiful, heavy and mature in its vision, as is typically the case with this material.

The second side of this pairing presents Hunted Creatures, which I believe is Pittsburgh's Ryan Emmett. Practically anything would sound mobile next to Ophibre's work, but Hunted Creatures fits snuggly in there, presenting two tracks. The first, "Live at Brick Bat Books 8/22/08," has hovering bass dornes intersecting with high end bat (fitting...) cries and chirps that maneuver about quite nicely above the bestial undertones. Nice washes come and go, but this too has a distinct patience and caution about the sounds used, especially when he takes the drone back down to nearly nothing, leaving only a slow bass pulse and slight gestures. It's nearly ritualistic sounding, and one really gets the sense that he's closing the piece with a clear sense of story. The second track, awesomely titled "Himalaya of Skull," is equally vast and well crafted.

Too often drone works fade in, do their thing, and fade out, but both of these guys have a real grasp on how to structure this sort of sound. While Ophibre creates it and then more or less lets it be, Hunted Creatures brings in an unexpected sense of musicality and implores sounds and approaches not usually used in these contexts. The result is a beautiful tape that surely demands ample flippage. Killer.

Burnt Hills - Amphipacifica (House of Alchemy CD-R)

Ah, another Burnt Hills. The Albany crew's been busy lately, having just released this, a Ruralfaune number and a beautiful Noiseville LP, all of which will likely be covered here. Figured I'd start with this one though, as Adam from House of Alchemy just got in touch with me randomly about a day after getting handed a bunch of stuff from his label and Chapels project. Small world.

As far as this particular disc goes though, it's a totally wild one. Stripped down to, would you believe it, a quartet, Jack, Ray, Eric and Sick Llana get together for an hour long cathartic blast. If you're thinking that Burnt Hills are losing their edge then ("These guys are going all soft on us, what with this quartet approach--who do they think they are, the Stones?"), well, you thought wrong. Rather this is one of the most chaotic, noisiest discs in the unit's cannon, a total shredder of a track whose guitars interweave into a psychedelic cesspool atop gently writhing drums. The usual you say? Me thinks not. Eventually this thing dissolves into the thickest batch of noise these guys have ever conjured. Totally grinding, menacing stuff, the latter half of this bad boy is unforgiving as hell. Thick analog murk does battle with increasingly lethargic drum builds that speak to the physicality of the approach. Some weird synth stuff eventually takes over for a bit, bouncing all over the place with jubilant distress. I'm guessing this is Ray, as he's usually the man manning the pedal setup at shows, and he has a knack for taking his vocals and turning them into some truly odd blips, shrieks and creaks.

When the rest join back in, it is utter demolition, with screeching guitars rebounding around the concrete walls of Helderberg's underbelly as they ascend toward noise-screech heaven. Really sprawling stuff, and totally unforgiving in its vision as always. Gorgeous work in an absolutely beautiful package complete with see-through wax paper and gold prints. A killer manifestation of this unit which shifts personnel every Monday night. The fluidity of such an approach however, rather than closing off possibilities, opens them up into a canvas of thick internal instrument unification. As always, a slayer.

Scribbler - My Old Lady (Stumparumper Records 7")

The whimsically named Stumparumper Records sent me this 7" recently, and I've been trying to get around to it for a while but, of course, haven't had the time. Finally do though, so I'm gonna do it up.

Not sure who Scribbler is but it seems like it's probably a duo with an inclination toward Neil Young style acoustic folk. The first track, "My Old Lady," is a mournful little number whose guitar moves evoke a back alley vibe before crescendoing into the ether with a nice vocal entrance that keeps it exciting. Second track, "A Girl Should," is even slower and more stark, with the vocalist wailing distantly to very spare acoustic picking. Sort of a less hallucinatory, drunker MV/EE vibe that soon brings in some electric clatter that stomps out a good country rocker with enough lo-fi crud to keep it sounding earthy. Would fit in nicely on Siltbreeze or something, especially when a yalp leads into an ascendant jam that rocks right home.

The second side begins even grimier than the first, as the feedback laden band effort of "Ocean Floor" combines with a singer's stretched vocal capacities to move into some pretty harsh realms. Nice and chaotic, with everyone sounding like they're trying to play guitars about three times too big before they all come back in to ride the riff out. The next track, "A Few Days of Storm," is a brief acoustic jaunt that quickly slips into the truly warped mufflings and odd pipe lines of "Nothing but Pain," taking it all back to some unpleasant home, which is found and entered into on the final distopic moments of fried fuckery that are "Zzzzzz." A nice little 7", they manage to fit a lot in here without losing any sense of identity. Great grade school drawing on the front too. Limited to 300.

Warm Climate - Edible Homes (Stunned Records CS)

Oh man, this latest Stunned batch keeps slaying me over and over. And I know it's been a while since I've been doing blog exclusive reviews (time don't come easy these days...) but sometimes I throw something on and just have to write about it. This is one of those...

I hadn't heard of Warm Climate before, but apparently it's the largely one man project of Seth Kasselman, whose been at it for a good decade or so. Glad I went into this release naively though, because it wasn't what I was expecting at all. I don't know who this Kasselman guy is or where he comes from, but he's the real deal for sure, employing realms too diverse to cover fully without ever losing sight of that disappearing craft, the album.

Side one opens with "Lost Teeth / Organ Donor," and it's a wild one to be sure. Starts off with this twisted, deeply psychedelic pop tune that sounds like David Bowie covering Syd Barrett without any of the poser moves put on by most people who heard Hunky Dory or The Madcap Laughs and couldn't believe it. With Kasselman it's more like he just makes his own version, with strummed guitar and grim background organ accompanying his ridiculously compelling vocal lines. Goes from sweet to twisted on a dime before turning into synth grind for a hot minute that leads into a real groover of a number with bass, drums, the whole bag. Psych blues rocker that holds it down with the best of them.

Most wild about this tape though is that the whole thing turns on a dime at a given moment. After the brief rocker the second track (I'm assuming), "Cave In," has Nick Schutz's clattering drum work riding above a collage of tape loops and murmuring vocals that recalls the psyched out tape explorations of decades past--like some far out "Revolution #9" style thing. After that it's beat city with "Edible Homes & Gardens / Synth Pads for Homeless," with Kasselman tapping into Marc Bolan via 80s synth pop as covered by Burial... really tough to grasp, but goddamn if it isn't a catchy and effective pop number at its core. Closes with further glitched collage excursions into drone caresses.

The second side opens with "Devine Souffle & the Southern Approach," which features a drum pulse over Kasselman's twisting song forms. Highly orchestrated stuff in its own right. You can tell with this material that the guy is far more than just a songwriter with a predilection for weird. This is a smart dude making interesting music, and constructing it from the ground up with vision in hand. Each number here is well played, well placed, well paced and well spaced. The dangerous finger-picked fragility of "Motion Picks Glaze," the closing "Gross Polluter," everything here is amazing and it flows with the arch and timing of something that's the result of real ideas. I know I hype a lot of stuff up here, and songwriters aren't usually my thing, but this is something different entirely. A minor masterpiece--tuck it in there between Skip Spence and Zweistein.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ophibre - Drone Works for Differing Digital Audio Formats and Encoding Methods (Sentient Recognition Archive CD-R)

And another from Brainwashed. More on the way from Ophibre soon!

Presenting a whopping 24 tracks in just over 45 minutes, this album is exactly what it says it is: a series of drone works the titles of which indicate the digital works' file type, size, bitrate and other pieces of information. If this sounds like a disjointed mess however—and you couldn't be blamed if the quantity and brevity of the material suggested as much—don't be fooled. This is an extended work whose whole is simply attained through the slight differences afforded by so many partitions.

If anything, the suggested chaos of the number of tracks is quelled by Ophibre's distinctly placid sound. The moniker of Benjamin Rossignol, the project represents a study in the subtlest shifting of sound planes. Where much contemporary drone busies itself with overdone dramatics, Rossignol's works often end as they begin as he starts with a set number of sounds and allows them to interact as they will.

In this context, the results far outweigh the specific differences indicated by the track titles. With every track here lasting at or just under two minutes, it seems as though the work was first conceived of as a whole and then, perhaps, broken down and reformatted. While the differences between them seem negligible at first, they do have a way of causing just enough change so as to give the still nature of the work some shape. Thus the work evolves as more of an experiment than a statement, keeping the outcome unforeseen and subtly mobile as the third through sixth tracks drop their sample rates from 128 KBPS gradually down to 32 KBPS. The entire texture changes with it.

The step-wise subtlety of the changes here go hand in hand with the number of tracks then, as each section flows into the next and pushes it along with patient shifts of detail. This approach is markedly more thoughtful and, dare I say, academic than a lot of this type of work, yet it reveals little of the sterility that such approaches often yield. Instead the process behind the work, however intriguing it may be, takes a back seat to the inescapable beauty of the piece itself. Starting as a nearly ambient work, the whole thing slowly dissolves and restructures itself again and again as it goes through its variations, allowing differing portions to themselves as the work progresses.

Essentially what results is a nearly ambient piece, but one whose varying degrees of sample quality create grit that maintain the continuity of the whole through the common source material. When the last track arrives, it is the same exact format of the first one, and its high bitrate and clarity round off a disc whose travels are deeply inward. It is a direction drone could look more often.

Tenniscoats - Temporacha (Room40 CD)

Just published at Brainwashed:

Consisting of only seven spare pieces lasting just over 25 minutes in length, Tenniscoats find themselves having to make a lot out of a little on this disc. That the duo of Saya and Ueno are displaced from their Tokyo home base and immersed in the Amazon rainforest for a series of essentially live recordings seems as though it would leave even less room for error. Yet this distillation results in a poignant intimacy that seeks and finds its own niche in the realm of location-based music interactions.

Most clearly on display here is Tenniscoats' clever and cautious instrumentation, which unfolds the airy and peaceful qualities extrapolated on. "Ichinichi" presents each guitar strum or harmonica breath as its own statement whose presence is in constant contact with the chirping birds surrounding them. The result is an odd musical space that hovers somewhere between the gentle textures of musique concrete and the spatial awareness of Japanese gagaku.

Yet the music is not without motion. Instead of just attempting to interact with their environments throughout here, often it sounds as though they've worked out small scale pop tunes which they must try and fit in between the sounds of their surroundings. "Ninichime" sees a guitar and small organ interacting by a roadside. As the small lines interact in a near tropical breeze, the trucks nearby drift by like waves on a shore. It's a nifty effect, and one that avoids the potentially pallid results it could attain with the strength and conception of the material.

This is crucial, as not all bands could pull this out without it sinking into some sort of folky "live in the forest of life" schlock. But these guys pull it off and then some, and there is a sincerity to these works and their performances that keeps the entire length afloat with small surprises. Special mention on this front must be made of co-conspirator Lawrence English, who recorded and produced the album. His delicate balance of cavernous water dripping among light pattering rhythms and lulling pipes on "Timeless" never lets any sound source take hold on any other.

The following "Do" exhibits Saya's vocal prowess with small, syllabic motives among drifting water, while "Sitting By" features a finger-picked guitar line and clacking pulses among forest birds; the result is one of the most cohesive, poppy pieces here, as Ueno's guitar provides a near soundtrack to the picturesque setting it implies, pushing it to the background before English once more fades it in to let the work slip back towards the wood.

"Hajimari / Owari - Dream Is Refreshing" closes the disc with what is likely the least environmental work here. Rather, the duo's full sound drifts outward as small organ lines, guitar tappings and Saya's lilting vocals draw themselves along with unending beauty. When the organ goes dark and Saya recites spoken words, her voice, like the bird calls around her, speak volumes whether translatable or not.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Blood Money - Blood Brotherhood (Killer Pimp CD)

Here's another one courtesy of the new batch on Brainwashed captain Jon Whitney's Killer Pimp label. This time around it's Jon's own band, Blood Money, whose first release and subsequent live footage slayed. This time around the trio (it also includes Ken Ueno and Tom Worster) enter the studio with their Nord Micro Modular, Roland 808, vocals and, on one track, good ol' fashion geetar in hand. The result is pretty zonked out discourse between noise, metal, industrial and drone that hits the mark right where it needs to. And dig this: produced by Oktopus, who does Dalek's stuff too... wild.

The whole disc starts out with a head-nodding, brain-kneading synth line as the trio ease their way into "Bloodlust," a pretty hearty crevice of dirt infused electronics. Odd vocal babble comes in as the machines continue having their say, grinding and crunching their way into some pretty industrial sinisterizing. The unit has no problem with taking their time here, using the seven minutes beautifully as they grind themselves deeper and deeper into the pavement itself--if they haven't won you over at this point, trust me, it just isn't gonna happen for you. If they have then lucky you, there's over forty more minutes of it! Lucky me.

"Peri" opens with a soft tapping and gentle drone that eases some of the weight of the last one, winding and bending high analog bat cries around Ueno's gutteral vocalizings. A lot of the time these sorts of vocals don't quite pull it off for me in this environment, sounding way too much like some dude trying to sing along to some basement style lurch... I just don't buy it. But Ueno's really something special, displaying a knack for sounds that fall just outside of human tonality. The result is a legitimate blend with the electronics, which means that the interaction is all the more supple and deep for it. Beautiful. And if you needed more Ueno (which you did), you can get it on "Voice Untouched By Conversation," a solo workout that really displays the depth of his instrument.

Elsewhere, Blood Money display their continued wealth of sounds. Whitney's 808 rhythms on "Secret Rapture" drive a cacophonous frenzy of industrial scrape and feedback that bounces along without getting too high off the ground as it always manages to let you know gravity's got its hold pretty well when it slams you back down. "Damascus" might be the gentlest thing presented, with light tinkling and airy, bell-like drones that hover sparsely and gently without ever losing the edge that keeps it afloat in the first place. The following "Showa" continues the drone while managing to present some mid-song warbles that keep it nice and creepy.

As "Black Nature" infers, it is a dark and static grind into the heart of the beast, thick as mud. The closing "Horizon" meanwhile, takes its time as the longest track here as it manages to culminate all of the angles explored thus far into a slow and steady buildup of dense electronic wash and vocal chant. By the end, it moves into an almost psychedelic realm of intersecting lines and harmonious interplay that works wonders. Blood Money's working one of the most original sounds I've heard in a long time, and is something truly experimental in an age when a lot of shit claims that. Truly their own thing, this album sees Blood Money deepening its roots as it moves further down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland. Out March 31st, a good day just made better.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Flower-Corsano Duo - The Four Aims (VHF Records CD)

And another Brainwashed one:

Mick Flower and Chris Corsano are no newcomers to the world of freely improvised music, and their numerous accolades more than summarize their collective achievements. Yet the two musicians play in such a broad spectrum of situations that sometimes it is difficult to tell just what the core of their sound is. On their second full length as a duo however, they are stripped of any external distractions in favor of head-to-head improvisational conversations, a setting that both thrive in.

The album opens with a bang as Corsano's drums and Flower's virtuosic Japan Banjo (or Shaahi Baaja) explode forth for "I, Brute Force?," a propulsive shredding session that finds fertile exploratory ground in the brief gaps allotted by Lightning Bolt levels of energy. Corsano's drumming can rival anyone's, and his playing here is absolutely frenetic, bounding across, over and through Flower's arbeggiated shards with reckless confidence. There are few sounds so unique in improvised music today, and the duo's perfection of this kind of head-on freedom is rarely matched in any circle. Beneath all of the notes—and there are plenty—is an overall shape the form of which unravels with patience and (relative) clarity, but whose moment to moment discourse of ideas is that of a structure far briefer in length.

If the first track represents the duo's forte, the rest of the album displays its depth. Both members' instrumentation extends beyond their usual associations, as Corsano variously picks up a melodica and cello while Flower also plays tanpura and organ. This provides some necessary pockets for the two to extend into and they take full advantage of it. On "The Three Degrees of Temptation," Corsano's pot and pan drum kit rattles, shakes and chimes beneath Flower's nimble string manipulations, creating an eerie and amorphous spatial realm.

This sparse sound is counteracted by the thick duel-string drones on the following track, "The Drifter's Miracles." True to Flower's Vibracathedral Orchestra roots, the number finds the ample dialogue to be had between La Monte Young's drone experiments, contemporary free drone music and Japanese shamisen. Corsano's cello undulates underneath while Flower ornaments his moves with layer after layer of shapes that change effortlessly despite the consistent density of sound.

The duo return to what appears to be their signature sound on "The Beginning of the End," although this time the proceedings maintain a distinctly Skaters-like feel as Corsano's drums patter about beneath Flower's riffage. While the approach may be the same, it's encouraging—though not surprising—that the unit can extend it into different modes through what they're playing rather than how loud or fast they are.

The closing track, "The Main Ingredient," is the longest here, and the duo takes advantage of the length to explore depths previously only hinted at. Building into a frenetic and undulating weight, the unit moves with a singular vision all too rare. Instant response is one thing, but Flower and Corsano can shift mood along with tempo, atmosphere with melody and approach with feel. This sort of elasticity and balance results in some of the most distinctly surprising and exciting sounds happening today. And the long raga-like fade out at the end? It only encourages another go.

Muslimgauze - Sulaymaniyah (Staalplaat CD)

Just in from Brainwashed:

In the seemingly endless discography of Muslimgauze, sometimes it's tough to know where to start or, even worse, where to end. Bryn Jones produced so much music during his sadly shortened life that sifting through it all can feel more like an archival endeavor than a journey into the mind of one of the most impressive and singular electronic musicians of his time. This disc, part of an archive series collecting various shelved projects from Jones, demonstrates simultaneously the depth and the prolific compulsions of the electro-genius.

Actually this disc, in a matter of speaking, has already been released before. Drawn from masters that were later retracted in favor of those that would become 1998's Vampire Of Tehran, this collection is essentially that album with two tracks missing and nine more added. While this may sound like a lot of bonus material—and it is—the album hardly reads like an attempt to squish as much in to one disc as possible even though they're nearing it with almost 70 minutes of music here. Still, Jones' precise concoctions are so stylistically singular that the whole of the disc reads like an album, not a compilation.

Stylistically speaking, Jones sticks with his usual ammo on this release, mixing an ample amount of Arabic source material with breakbeat, electro and dub tactics. The result is a relatively mobile and downright dancey release. Which is not to say that this is poppy in the slightest. If anything, the constraints placed on the music by the clear and propulsive rhythms serve as markers that Jones variously avoids, dabbles over and treads across with samples galore.

Take "Satsuma Tablet" for example. This looping rhythm features no lyrics at all, instead riding along the rhythm with blips and blurts as an Arabesque melodic fragment is repeated into oblivion. On the other hand, the following "Arabs Improved Zpain" features a four-four beat straight out of an NWA track. Underneath, reversed strings and a female vocal dance amongst each other, diverging, interlocking and generally keeping things interesting despite the miniscule amount of material being utilized.

If anything, that may have been Jones' greatest strength. Each track here makes the most out of only a few spare parts—it is the way they are combined, recombined, sampled and treated that shapes the movement. The result is a nearly vertical sonic consideration unheard of in this sort of rhythmic setting. Tracks like "North Africa is Not So Far Away" don't proceed so much as they morph, bending a fragment guitar line, a steady bass groove, a rhythm track and a vocal sample into a dub groove that could last long enough to accompany a Saharan trek.

Other displays of his depth can be seen on tracks like "Straps Sticks of Dynamite Around Her Body," a gentle and moody piece whose intimate Arabic string gestures and spare beat exude just the kind of grim scene that the title suggests without providing answers to its questions. It is this attention to detail and, above all else, the works themselves and what they say that keep nearly all of Muslimgauze's works interesting. This one is no different which is great on the one hand. On the other, it's no different, and could just as easily be lost in the shuffle of the 50 other Muslimgauze albums you've already managed to get your hands on.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Envenomist - The Helix (Killer Pimp CD)

Here's a disc that hasn't actually come out yet, but is well on its way and slated for a March 31st release. Usually I don't review stuff that isn't out yet, but I figured I'd go nuts on this batch of Killer Pimp discs as they're all so swell. Jon heads Brainwashed, so I'm not sure where he finds the time to do such a great job with these releases but they're beautiful and, more importantly, wonderful listens.

David Reed is the dark and mangled mind behind Envenomist, and his distinct breed of dark ambient, drone works are absolutely cavernous. This disc is, of course, no different, and the quality of production only deepens the effect.

Opening with "The 11th Hour," The Helix starts down and never gets up. Thick and immense swells of tone rise and fall, dispersing into each other deep into the invisible tunnels they inhabit. With a special ear for a certain level of monolithic, prehistoric mammoth soundtracking, Reed draws a cautious line between craftsmanship and noise, always opting to air on the side of mood over movement. These are carefully wrought crevices that are each distinct in their own right. "Heptadecagon" creeps outward on its fingers as it finds ears, the quickest route to the brains it feasts on. Overboard animalization? Perhaps, but the feel is there.

Elsewhere, as on "Final Frontier" and "Bestowal," Reed takes analmost sci-fi approach, which rich swirls of synth comingling in a hum of static. Never one to clutter, Reed's works always pervade a certain spatial conception, but whether its as open a space as explored on "Bestowal" or as closed a one as on "Gyres," it is never a welcoming locale. Luckily there are enough creepy and undiscovered insects to keep you occupied until the wolves come. It's a real burner for sure, static in all the right ways and, more than anything, quite simple in its blatant exploration of tonal landscapes. A real winner. More reviews from Killer Pimp on the way for sure.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Super Minerals - Clusters (Stunned Records CS)

Well, they've arrived. After a few years knee deep in the murky murk, Super Minerals return to Stunned headquarters for a new look and damn new attitude. Doning minimalist accoutrement all over, the Phil French/William Giacchi duo reconvene with bells in hand and piano underfoot for a total trip into the mouth of Terry Riley. Just think... if Terry Riley unlearned half of what he "technically" knew, this could come out. What a world...

The whole tape consists of two side long pieces. The first,"Oxygen Bombs," is as near as I can tell all piano arpeggiation for the first 20 or so minutes. The whole thing lilts beautifully in a yellow haze of sun-drenched clairvoyance. I'm not sure who's playing here but it's wonderful. Fragments of minute and lush melodies present themselves before dissolving once more into the overtone swell of the work. You know that point in La Monte Young's "Well-Tuned Piano" (say, I don't know, 15 minutes into the six hour show...) where he's playing the "cloud" parts and all of his piano tunings are meshing into thick swabs of hum that he controls by moving faster and faster? Well that's about right, just spacious, arms wide tonal bliss. Soon enough though, the whole thing fades out and is replaced by tape loops that seep across some skeleton gamelan moves. Total bleak situation in some Cambodian forest, Skaters-style even but with way less momentum. Just sit back and sip the spiked cocoa water. Beautiful, and it gives an unnerving and curious quality to the tape flip which the other piece alone might have obstructed had it been so vast and unending.

"Clusters" makes up side two and is as filled out and spacious as the first side. Piano trickles out of some small forest spring while tape loops and bells tingle outward, careening in and around each falling note. The duo's really on point with this one, and builds up to hold it, restful, exactly where it's gotta be... upwards but not all there. The tension is ridiculous before it slips away into another haze of piano drift. Absolutely gorgeous, they really took it up and out on this one. Absurd that this is the same group that put out The Piss, but their ability to do each with such confident poise blows me away. One of the best of the year so far for sure and still available from Phil, though who knows for how long.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Locrian - Drenched Lands (At War with False Noise / Small Doses CD)

Sorry to be a bit behind on the blog posts lately... I'm knee deep in the dregs of senior project, so it's been tough finding a minute to get around to the piles of goodies taking over my desktop. Killer show last night didn't help either, as the Burnt Hills and Century Plants guys laid a bunch of stuff on me as well as Sam Goldberg, whose Winter Hallucinations will for sure get some coverage over as well. Figured I'd start off with this little morsel though, as it's served ample time in waiting for review.

Locrian is Chicago's Terence Hannum and Andre Foisy, a duo that has spent considerable time (3-4 years or so) honing its dimly lit and brooding atmospheres. Walking about a million lines between bleak genre types--doom metal, dark ambient, drone, prog, etc...--the duo have crafted a work of real worth here. This is their first studio recording, and they use it to their advantage, building a minor suite of sorts that spends its hour refining and redefining what the band is capable of.

The opening "Obsolete Elegy in Effluvia and Dross" is a guitar strummer that evokes some pretty prog-y zones, real moody and song driven. But it's two minutes are merely a palette cleanser, as the following ten-minute monster "Ghost Repeater" lays down enough throbbing bass and elongated guitar cries to fill your skull caverns for days. It's all bleak, but also beautifully recorded and plentifully detailed, avoiding the opposing pitfalls of over-ambitious riffage or uninteresting mono-syllabic ideas.

"Barren Temple Obscured By Contaminated Fogs" continues the voyage, this time sinking the casket lower with washed out Sunn O))) style death cries and gutteral grossnesses. Yet Locrian exude none of the academic slant that Sunn do, going with their gut and letting the works proceed as they will: synth arpeggios and, eventually, guitar accompaniment build into a work that is intricate enough to carve out their own corner of the doom drone niche. Wild.

Following up the previous track with "Epicedium" is a good call. Panning synth washes gently lull the track in building it steadily toward an almost Emeralds-like zone of simmer and shimmer that trickles away any of the bad vibes activated thus far. When a thick wall of guitar comes in overhead it takes it off into even deeper pockets of psychedelic gloom that just slay.

"Obsolete Elegy in Cast Concrete," the second elegy so deemed, brings the thick crud back in with near grind rhythms and momentum. Total barn-burner, but it doesn't hold a candle to the closing "Greyfield Shrines." This 30-minute leviathan is so densely packed with ideas it's tough to get it all in. Starts off nice and mellow but by minute thirteen it's all there and it never leaves. The buildup is slow enough that when it erupts it actually throws you off guard too, a rare trait in these days of maximum overload all the time. Just a fuckin reckless monster, super textural and super dense. To think you could've spent that time watching Rock of Love or something... damn shame. On the other hand, it might make killer accompaniment. Total slayer of an album and, for once, printed in a relatively large edition of 1000 from two killer labels. Crazy heavy, crazy great.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Slasher Risk - Shoe Mania (Abandon Ship Records CS)

Just in from Foxy Digitalis:

Culled from a forty-five minute show at the first Eye and Ear Festival, this release was recorded on day one and released on day two, though you wouldn’t know it by the fifties housewife cover art or the recording quality herein. One night turn around times have ended far worse.

In the true spirit of the festival, which seems to have taken its name from the free jazz Michael Snow soundtrack “New York Eye and Ear Control,” Slasher Risk lay out some pretty heavy guitar squall here. Opening with a steady beat and some tape of a woman rambling, the beat soon cuts out in favor of raw, ripe riffage. I’m not sure just how many people make up the unit, but it’s evident from the get-go that they require no more—this is an onslaught of psych mania the likes of which is rarely achieved; picture Zac Davis jamming it out with Derek Bailey and Fushitsusha. Or Burnt Hills plus vocals.

When the vocals do seep in, they do so screaming out chants and declarations the content of which is obscured by the thick destruction atop. That the unit manages to carve out any shape at all from this wall of crunch hardly means respite for the unsuspecting, as drums break forth to summon the true pummel potential of the unit. Not many groups can pull of this sort of psych rock monster without losing their way, but Slasher Risk do it with aplomb, slipping in and out of modes whose differences are rendered indecipherable seconds after transition. Yet the changes are there, and eventually they widen into pretty grooving spaces, though these too disintegrate under their own weight.

It’s a ripper of a jam whose effectiveness is best evidenced by the slowly deafened cries of the crowd. And surely they were witness to a pretty swell show, though in this case the distance afforded by recorded media feels much safer, thank you.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Animal Hospital - Memory (Barge Recordings CD)

Also from Brainwashed:

Working at the crossroads between a variety of contradictory approaches—electronic and acoustic, improvisation and composition, producer and performer—Kevin Micka continues to hone his Animal Hospital project's refined explorations on this disc, compounding his broad and considerable talents into a majestic grit that shimmers with supple detail.

With a slew of instruments at his disposal, Micka has the means to create haunting and unusual sonic combinations throughout the album, a trait that sets him apart from so many of the do-it-yourself electronic explorers out there. Chimes, oscillators, guitars, toy pianos and Jonah Sacks' cello are among the plethora of noise makers fed and looped through large dosages of reverb and delay. Never one to let the effects speak for themselves though, Micka proves himself an able craftsmen, and any effect here is used as an endorsement of and contributor to the greater structure of the work.

The lengthy "His Belly Burst" is a fitting example. Sacks' nimble cello line opens with a line evocative of a Japanese folk melody. Building off of that mood, the piece is crafted upward as lines overlap and loop into an electronic wash of blissful tonalities. Soon interspersed with glitching electronics and, eventually, thudding, militaristic power chords and careening drum lines, the work grows into a textural bath of tone and sharp, staccato punctuation before settling back into its beginnings. That the piece manages to incorporate so many elements in its 17 minutes without ever feeling superfluous is impressive enough, but Micka manages to guide the work into something far greater than the sum of its parts.

Each work here presents itself with a similar ear for dramatic lines and structural buildup. On "...and ever," a Neu!-like drum pulse leads to slinking guitar lines, thudding bass and, ultimately, a propulsive brand of head-bangable psychedelic riffage. While Micka's ability to extrapolate on these tiny musical cells and turn them into full scale works is no small accomplishment, and he does it with aplomb every time, the result does dabble toward slightly sterile terrain due mostly in part to its consistance. Even when lyrics slip in to the album for the first time halfway through "...and ever," it fits in so neatly among the other gadgety rhythms around it that the resultant feel is perhaps less surprising than intended.

This is by no means a deterrent against his approaches however. Some of these tracks reach truly unexpected heights while never straying too far from a certain breed of electronic-rock loop craftsmanship. Think Caribou but with a more proggy and less literal psychedelic sound. Micka also has the smarts to follow up his epic works with paired-down ones, and these provide smooth and necessary transitions between the three lengthy centerpieces of the album. The gently lilting guitar and wordless vocal melodies of "A Safe Place" rest atop an odd synthesized beat that manages to succeed in effect without shoving it down your throat.

The closing title track fittingly displays Micka's talents at their height, as low-end cello rumble, fragile guitar lines and panning clicks grow into a synthesized soup of gooey loop manipulations and Eno-esque ambiance. It all works beautifully, if it seems as though Micka could do this in his sleep. Sterilizing though that may be, the sincerity, skill and vision on display is exciting in a day when few manage to walk the line between experimental attitudes and near pop approachability with so finely attuned a vision.

Enfer Boreal - The Birth of Venus (Stunned Records CD-R)

Just published at Brainwashed:

With a slew of recent releases on homespun label luminaries such as Housecraft, Tape Drift, Peasant Magik and now Stunned, France's Enfer Boreal (aka Maxime Primault) has been hard to ignore of late. That he is partaking in Stunned's glorious first anniversary run is testament to the successes of both parties this past year and to honor it he releases one his best yet, a moist and brittle set of drones which far outshine the too often pallid results achieved by less finely attuned tacklers of texture.

On this unfortunately limited morsel, Primault takes the warm and gushy drone approach often squandered by lesser tacklers of texture and infuses it with his own distinct organicism. Where many opt for clear and rich synthesizer squelching, his is a mellow and moist drone that slips inside the earlobes with ease despite the work's deeply detailed nature. Never one to forsake the work in the name of scale, the album opens with the restrained beauty of the first untitled track. Hovering gently, the piece would serve all too well as the soundtrack to some cave-dwelling crystal palace. With warm and longing loops ebbing and receding against a thick mat of static downpour and whispered wind sweeps, the work is given enough space to unfold once the materials are present, letting it meander long enough to coax out some pretty placid lucid dreams.

To be fair though, that's hardly the case on only the first tune. All five of the untitled tracks here are steeped in an airy loneliness that focuses far more on mood than effect. Guitar plucks drip across endless hums on the second track while the fourth track fades in to a mat of phasing loops that suggests the cosmic without losing sight of humanity. It is this capability that pushes the material beyond most basement dwellers' explorative potential, as Primault exhibits again and again his mastery of craft and attuned sense of loops that change meaning when left to interact.

The lone odd man out here is certainly the third track, which presents a decidedly grimmer take on Primault's sound. Snugged neatly in the middle of the album however, its industrious backing and glitchy smatterings segue neatly between the album's two halves. It is perhaps a necessary and smart change of pace to an album that, at its worst, comes dangerously close to losing its listeners in its drapings.

Yet that is hardly cause for distress; the veils of sound explored on here are rife with change. It just takes patience to uncover its layers. When the closing track enters with a thick knot of gravel, it is offset by steelpan-sounding melodies that softly meld on to the rough background and drag it into another space entirely. Closing things on this note is suiting; half way between thick and thin, full and empty, awake and asleep, it perfectly ties together all of the contradictions that are woven so well here. It is releases like this that display the true potential of the homegrown labels, and it is a shame that only 100 people will be able to here this warmly created package.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jalan Jalan: Traditional Music Recordings by Jerry Lloyd (URCK Records CD)

Received a few releases from Carl Off at URCK, whose world music slant I hadn't been aware of though it makes sense that this is the kind of stuff the Hop-Frog Collectiv folks are jamming. This disc is especially intriguing, as it compiles 35 tracks from a bunch of countries traveled by Jerry Llyod over the span of 10 years. I'm a sucker for this stuff too, and the field recording quality only adds to it all, but the real treat here is the great sounds and extensive liner notes cataloguing how, why and where each one went down.

Each number here is great, and with 35 of them it's pretty tough to cover the breadth of this collection. Runs the gamut from chanting Vietnamese monks with thudding percussion (track 1) to Balinese pigeons with bamboo whistles attached (track 31) to the dude's sink in a Laos hotel (track 6) which sounds more like a mix between an airplane fly over and a huffing geezer. Some of it is downright majestic, with those beautiful Asiatic strings that sway about in tunings far more effective to my ear than the twelve notes those Westerners came up with... maybe it's just lack of exposure though, who knows... still, there's an energy and rawness to so much of this stuff that's hard to deny. The Indian street performer doing a one man band thing sounds like an Indian dude jamming with Spencer Clark, though I guess it's safe to say Clark sounds more like he's jamming with this guy.

This kind of sonic tourism can get dangerous in the wrong hands, slipping into a tendency to exoticize this material to the point of dilution, but Llyod doesn't come close to this. Like Dilloway before him, this is pure musical appreciation and a way to spread sounds that otherwise would never make it over here. Some of these pieces are simply 30 second snippets that he must have captured in the street, and his continued pursuit of these sounds and the choices made in terms of what to keep or scrap are less concerned with culture gaps and more with similarities. Good music is good music, and some of the folk tunes here contain sentiments as recognizable to anyone as Lightnin Hopkins' are. Track 14's traditional Indian chant contains a delicate and eerie beauty while the soundtrack to track 26's Indonesian stick fighting is a gamelan rhythm that would just as easily have someone believing it was an Angus Maclise or Henry Cowell work. Though I guess that's more testament to those artists' mimicry than it is to these tunes, but the idea is there. It's the global communication era baby, and it's all starting to touch on everything else. Let's just hope that this sort of music doesn't get lost in the shuffle.

It's a beautiful little collection, with a great mixture of short windows into the country and longer and larger scale pieces often played at culture shows. Enough interesting sounds here to spin its 80 minutes many times over, and the liner notes make it all the better. Well played for sure.

John Hughes / Alberto Braida - Mobile (Brokenresearch CD)

Published yesterday at All About Jazz:

Taking the standard piano trio lineup and stripping it of its drums is a potentially devastating move. Without an overt rhythmic presence, the pianist and bassist are both put on double duty, having to simultaneously retain both rhythmic and melodic interest throughout. Too often the resultant music does neither. Yet Hamburg-based bassist John Hughes and Italian pianist Alberto Braida avoid these pitfalls with ease, making Mobile an encouraging display of the potential to be found in such an instrumental pairing.

Yet this is hardly a typical piano and bass pairing; rather, Hughes and Braida display a startling level of compatibility in both approach and influence as they explore the boundaries lying between avant-garde classicism, free jazz and ragtime. Always in fluid discourse, the two musicians bound around one another with organic delight; one moment Hughes arpeggiates around Braida's angular ragtime deconstructions, the next the duo explore their instruments' innards in near silence. "Chime In" sees a gentle Braida melody quickly disheveled in favor of erratic and emotive runs, one moment channeling Cecil Taylor and the next the player piano mechanism of Conlon Nancarrow. Hughes' bass is nimble and never relegated to a support role as it leaps in and around Braida's runs with textural and motivic passion.

"Spindle" sees the two again playing against each other with a loose freedom that breaks from the academicism often associated with this sort of play. Thickly bowed harmonics writhe above disjointed beauty as the two explore each pocket of their musical communion. On "Dendroid," treated piano reverberates whispers while bass screeches scrape their way across its hollow punctuations. When this tension builds, it is unleashed not in a torrent but in a steadily building fusion of the two instruments. Only when they at last are in perfect unison do they end it.

Hughes and Braida display a relationship that manages to cross musical boundaries. That they do so with such mastery is an affirmation as to the potential that this sort of improvisational meshing can achieve.

Antique Brothers - Hot Shit (Really Coastal CS)

Figured I'd keep right on cruising here with a reviewed representative each from a number of packages I've gotten in the last few days. Obviously more to come from all camps, but I figured I'd cover the grounds more broadly in this first batch.

Here's the second release from Really Coastal, which was actually sent to me months ago but the tape was ripped so I had to wait for this second copy to get around to it. Opting for a bigger serving than the first Lateral Hyetography cassingle this time, the label pro-dubs this c44 by folky duo and real life siblings Antique Brothers, which consists of Cyrus and Ged Gengras alongside guest appearances by my fellow Hudson Valley resident and Night Goat head Jeremy Kelly, Seth Kasselman, Caitlyn C. Mitchell and, on the flip side, Kyle Clements and Kelly again. Both "hot" and "shit" sides exhibit some nicely psychedelicized folk ramblings that focuses on sinking deeper into a cosmic stew than maintaining harmonic continuity, a nice and organic change of pace from a lot of those folks doing a similar thing.

The first side opens with a loping little number, banjo and guitar intermingling above an increasingly mobile and distorted back-beat featuring some feedback moves and thudding, drum circle and tambourine rhythms. It's a nice hazy vibe that doesn't lean too heavily on a fireside aesthetic. Instead it sinks into odd rhythmic scrambles and a less than quaint sonic palette. Slips right alongside some of that brothers of the Occult Sisterhood stuff as it builds and dismisses its grooves. Nice little journey that's not afraid to let itself get lost and found over and over.

Second side, or "shit" side in this case, is not quite as shitesque as I had thought considering the title. If the first side was "hot" in its grooviness though, I guess the second is "shit" in its relatively colder atmospheres. This is less shitty than it is downright chilly though, with thick organ chords backed by guitar picking and an overall brittle weight that builds into a nice and gloomy slide down sad mountain. Lots of space here, and everything is infused with a more electric and constrained attitude. Less a jam than an atmospheric exploration really, and quite nice. Seems these bros are everywhere right now--just released something on Not Not Fun if I recall...--and it's easy to see why people are so enamored. Really interesting and well conceived stuff. More on the way from Really Coastal soon!

Chris Riggs - Dead in Michigan (Pizza Night CS)

Just got another batch in from Chris Riggs, half of Trauma and all of Holy Cheever Church--this time Chris is getting some attention via super good dude Sam Goldberg's Pizza Night label, which has been cranking out some beasts lately. This number sees Chris cutting down on the angles for a more oblique run through some desolated string landscapes and fried overtone zones.

The tape opens with what sounds like some bowed geetar, which hums and splays apart in a warm machination that more closely resembles some Alvin Lucier experiment than any typical guitar destruction. With the sproings of heating coils on top, the result is borderline avant-garde classicist--think LaMonte, Stockhausen, Cardew, or any of those fools--but it lacks the mass and overt sense of self-importance that those guys eminated. Keeping things this personal is to Chris' advantage, which isn't to say that the guy's not capable of producing an orchestra's worth of sound anyway. Whole scraping washes shift atop on another in a closely monitored but totally free atmosphere. Willing to stick with his approaches allows for Riggs to really explore each facet of his axe, and the textures he gets are like few guitarists I know. Sounds more like he's dragging a metal comb across the inside of an exhaust pipe with lysergic acid to aid the ride. Eventually it all disintegrates into idling motorcycle

The second side keeps the motorcycle effect but hastens it a bit, like the engine's about to turn over but can't. Almost sounds like some slowed down Motorhead bass line without anything else. Just the scratching of the pick and the rumble of the string. This sort of dissection is, again, where Riggs is served best by his patience. Allowing these snippets to unfold into their own sound worlds creates a feel like few others, and when the twangs of rubber band bounces enter, there is a momentum and energy present that's pretty tough to decipher but damn well undeniable. Like some computer synth just joined the mix, only it's clearly all done with physical strings bending and splaying against who knows what effects. Riggs demonstrates some real control without letting the work become controlled. Just wily stuff that is wholly singular and totally transfixing. Props to Sam too on the fold out cover art. The dead bird and inside set of black and white children's pictures sums up perfectly the numb play exhibited here. Awesome as usual from both parties.

Xiphiidae - Transresonance Formation (Stunned Records CD-R)

Oh man, Stunned is back with another crazy run. This time around it's 8 release--4 CD-Rs and 4 CS--all handsomely packaged in celebration of their first anniversary. Can't believe the damage Phil and his operation have already done in only a year of work... 30 or so releases and nary a stinker in the bunch...

Figured this one was as good a place to start as any, as Housecraft's Jeffry Astin and his Xiphiidae project are a personal favorite... already been reviewed a bunch here, I know, but nothing the guy puts out diminishes in quality, so as long as he keeps pumping them I'll keep covering them. And any meet up between Astin and Stunned demands attention... anyway, let's proceed shall we?

On this outing, Xiphiidae lays down duel 12 minute tracks that explore his distinct brand of scrape drone to marvelous effect. This time out, things are a bit hairier than usual though. The first track starts out with a denser conglomeration of sound than nearly anything I've heard from Astin yet, with thick drenches of static and construction yard rumble opening the first track. Echoing through quarry sized acoustic spaces, the network soon makes its way into a more focused and breathy space that maintains the insular, almost claustrophobic quality to Astin's work. There seems something inherently womb like about his sound, a kind of trapped warmth that is so fluid and alien, but which maintains familiarity through the physicality of the sounds produced even if you can't tell what the hell any of the specific sources are. As the piece tousles about it morphs quite readily, but with such a logical flow of information that it's tough to tell where one area begins and another ends. Just seamless, endless flow. A real evolutionary approach, survival of the fittest sounds style. The end, with horse hooves, wind chimes and held Gregorian utterances, suggests the fittest might not be anything we humans want to have to compete with. Let's hope it has a soft side...

The second track's sonar feedback and pittering raindrops in buckets percussion contributes to what becomes a lush land of fuzzed drone that's as thick and gooey as one would hope. Astin manages to pull this off without the usual squishing synth approach though, instead layering bassy tones under walls of hiss that somehow manage to meld into a wholly welcoming bath of foamy cacophony. When the drone fades out, it's back to the forest for a contact mic accompanied trek through Himalayan ice melts. Spring's a-springin' on this one, but you still need your sweaters. For every vista of lush greenery, there's some white crevice of snow and ice as yet untouched by the imminent sun. It's a beautiful way to end, totally well conceived, well paced, and endlessly fascinating to listen to. Xiphiidae's sound is never one that pushes itself on you at all. Astin just presents the world, and after that it's yours to explore.

The result is a far more interesting and exciting approach than so many of these units can manage, and is some of the truly original work happening right now. Fits in beautifully with this first year set aesthetic too--each CD is packaged in a different colored insert with transparent anatomical images that are stunning. The CDs are minimally adorned and color coded as well, making this a set worth snagging as a whole... the effect of one hardly does justice to the quartet as a whole and the sounds are, of course, the best...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Second Family Band - The Eternal Lag (Earjerk CS)

Hot off the presses at Foxy Digitalis:

Spawned from the same night of recordings as Housecraft’s recent “Our Way is the Right Way” cassette, this tape sees Wisconsin’s most zonked out inhabitants at it again, incorporating hand drums, synth meanderings and tape hiss galore into their own unique concoction of fritzed prog.

Consisting of whoever shows up, Second Family Band rallied the efforts of Iam Lee Ian, Clay Ruby, T. Endless, Dan Woodman, Nico Kain and perhaps more in this particular sonic digression, slowing down to a near catatonic crunch that elucidates all that is mysterious about the unit without revealing a damn thing. Provided within is a slow burner of a jam whose epic synth and odd shimmering pursuits are so steeped in lo-fi crud that it all comes out more like some mashed electronic glitch whose progression is decided less by who’s playing then by what internal wirings are working at any given moment.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a marvel to be found here. When the hand drums come in, the effect is so deliberate and sluggish that it pushes the entire work straight into the sort of psychedelic goop that few are willing to tread through without their wellies. The Family Band’s willingness to get in there sans shoes--even wriggling their toes a bit for good measure--is impressive enough, but their fastidious adherence to the sound is what ultimately makes it so effective. As damaged as these two sides are, there is a certain flow to it all, even if that flow is pushed through three-foot walls of sawdust before reaching the recorder.

Yet it is also these qualities that give the group its unique sound, which at any given moment walks the fine lines between total desolation and krautrock heaven. That these lines didn’t seem to exist before this band only speaks to the originality and, dare I say, chemical consumption of the unit.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Vakhchav - Hunting Horns (Abandon Ship Records CD-R)

Vakhchav is one Nickolas Mohanna, who previously was completely unknown to me, and now that I do know who it is it doesn't serve much purpose beyond deepening the mystery herein so tough noogies to anyone looking for answers. I got none. For some reason I initially thought this was by a band called Hunting Horns that I believed I'd remembered hearing about, but that was wrong too so hey. Anyway, this is really all beside the point, as the whole deal here is the sounds. Right then, moving on...

Whoever he is, this Mohanna fellow lays down some pretty heavy duty material on this release. Six tracks all and all, each combining moist, synth stretches that shimmer real nice like. "Chaste Poiiison Throne" opens with a lengthy (15 minutes) foray into receding drone line after receding drone line before--I think it is anyway...--an accordion enters to push some airy chords around the bath. Or maybe it's a harmonica. Or both. Either way, it's excellently paced and the piece allows for itself to unfold, never feeling like a forced effort at a certain sound. Apparently this was all envisioned in accordance with some dreams of "running into a crystalline water mass" which is about right, although this sounds more like sleeping in them then than going head-on in.

The second track, "Glow," does move more into that realm though, as a thick guitar chord loops over and over with certain crashing effect. Still maintains its fragility though, very translucent. "We Should Share a % of Our Feelings" goes back to delay and shimmer land, with bubbling synths leading to nowhere at all for a good five minutes, a nice foray into the far heavier "A Modern Transport." Here planes cross overhead and lights go fluorescent as Mohanna tries to break the speed barrier in Tokyo. Sweet sequencer stuff that has enough lack of direction to steer it clear of any techno trappings these sounds might connote.

The last two tracks, "Petrus Desbois" and the fittingly epic "Epoch" both fit snugly right in with the sounds throughout. "Petrus Desbois" essentially sees a loop starting out with full on hostility before disintegrating over its length into the simmering pool of "Epoch." It's a suitably monolithic and metallic shine that closes the album with the same richness of texture that it started on. Quite nice, and on the always interesting Abandon Ship.

Anemone Lodge - S/T (Bezoar Formations CD-R)

Billed as a co-effort by the mugs behind Number None, The Opera Glove Sinks in the Sea and the previously reviewed Radiant Husk, this quartet effort is comprised of Jeremy Bushnell, Matthew Erickson, Gwyneth Merner and Chris Miller. Barely sounds like four people though, as it slips right into some pretty soupy textural trappings from the get go. Loving this Bezoar Formations approach lately, nice and airy but with some real weight to it, this one sounds like some fuller Super Minerals effort or something.

First track is called "Aunt Beast" and it conjures up some pretty heavy duty humpback whale, ocean territory. Nice bathings in fuzz and odd, acousmatic textures that glide along deep between the drowned pirate ship and the anemone forest. Even sounds like a cello joins the mix, which gives it all a pretty palpable feel without becoming any less gooey. Same goes for "Now It Still Murmurs Ripples," whose odd delayed string tweaks and low end murmur manage to cover all the timbral ranges without overloading it with sound. Everything being as well placed and carefully considered as it is gives the murk a sheen that's often lacking in this kind of thing. This is no doom drone, nor is it the earthy Housecraft style approach... really some kind of conglomeration of the two that moves like a leviathan on its way to the breeding pond.

Seems the group's on to the water metaphors too, as the third track is called "I Often Dream I am Drowning." Yet this is exactly the right feel actually--there's nothing overtly hostile or terrifying about any of this, but it's definitely some submerged, last minutes of consciousness stuff. Just never thought it would be so peaceful. Here, there're these broad sweeps of high tone that nestle into the upper vertebrae and really manage to fuck mental operations up. It's the kind of slow, creeping psychedelia that's always been way more personally effective than your standard onslaught of "trippy" sounds and psych-rock heaviness. Really gets in the brain and freezes it up for bit.

The disc closes with "Nerve Sparks in his Glass Feet," a 7-minute jaunt that closes the too-short 24 minutes of the work with a real slow and soft, airy horn thing. Kind of like Greg Kelley jamming it out with some synth tone, only Kelley's mic is turned way down. Real beauty though, slips right along and lets the album close right into the ether from whence it came. Another Bezoar winner for sure, and again, a beautiful package to boot.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Swamp Horse - Melted Gem (905 Tapes CS)

Also just published at Foxy Digitalis:

These days it seems like everywhere you look there’s some new doom and gloom drone unit harkening the darker forces of the universe. While much of this material takes a similar stance however, Swamp Horse manages to carve out its own niche in the approach. On “Melted Gem” the Kentucky duo of Josh Lay and Morgan Rankin continue to hone their warm and insular musical spaces. Presenting a tapered down version of the epically-inclined proportions of so many working in this vein, they are able to pursue a sound that meets somewhere between the basement murk of Sick Llama and the static immobility of Evenings as infused by bellows of burning air.

Despite the tape being only 20 minutes in length, the proceedings are so dense and so monolithically slow that there is plenty of time for total immersion here. Thick vaults of dark lava creep along in swampy catacombs that lead straight to the heart of Nowheresville. Whereas so many exporters of this brand seem to approach the sound from a gloom metal standpoint, whose goal is ultimately either riffage or at least deliverance unto some demonic catharsis, Swamp Horse come at the sound from the opposite end. Nary a hint of relief can be found in the thickly painted bass drones, guitar crevices and synth textures that inhabit this psychedelic sinkhole as every sound is spread so far out that the sound waves themselves become apparent, if not all-consuming.

If anything taints the proceedings here, it is simply that there is not enough. Sure, the album’s brevity makes for a taut and effective release, but one can’t help but wish for a longer swim in these waters. The deep beckons, but at this pace it’ll take a while to get there. Hey, I’m willing to make the trip if Swamp Horse is. An encouraging morsel from a unit that definitely has its act together, and on the always killer 905 Tapes, to boot. Quite the combination indeed.

Russian Tsarlag - Community Death Tube (Night People LP)

Just published over at Foxy Digitalis:

Sometimes there’s just no room for the sun. The debut full length LP from Providence-based Carlos Gonzalez’s Russian Tsarlag project, here issued by the much-lauded Night People label, is a sink hole of stark strip mall-hewn loner punk that leaves little untarnished in its wake. Yet this is no mere complaining—there is a snarky depth here that pushes it away from mere junkie poetics toward a distinct take on industrial bedroom pop. Think two parts John Bender, and one part each of Black Randy and Alan Vega, with special guest appearances by the slowest gamelan unit yet assembled.

Steeped in bleak concrete echo, Gonzalez’s vocals are the main act here; he has, through clenched teeth and slackened jowls, a unique and compelling delivery on lyrics that run the topical gamut from indecipherable to inconceivable. Drawn out over what are typically hyper slow drum machine tempos, the words take on new levels of desolation, even when they previously had no connotations whatsoever. The near perverse repetition of the one word title on “Roungina,” as one example. Or the declaration that “I Know David” as another… though I suppose we all do know one, don’t we?

Which isn’t to say that this is all mindless muttering—buried beneath the silt is, well, more silt, but it’s pretty compelling silt. Gonzalez’s minimal tin can aesthetic is humorous enough to give his oppressed statements credibility strengthened by odd intervallic skits where Gonzalez further hones the grime bathed in throughout. Through these become visible a distinctly paranoid, urban apocalypticism: ““We’ve gotta find a way to expel these feelings, or at least come to terms with them. Perhaps the ancient bleach party dog calendar can give us some advice to come to terms with this strange unknown energy.” I’m gonna have to go with him on this one.

Other points feature dirt-infused movie snippets or horror aesthetics, but the whole effect goes far beyond mere stylistic recycling. Moments here are quite beautiful, as on the closing “I’ll Walk Through It,” where synth keyboards and gentle, bruised vocals croon for the end of time. It is these sparse moments of tender fragility that lend the album emotive resonance, making it a lasting document from a most effecting sage of Wasteland, America. “I’ve got problems,” he states dryly. Suffice it to say that most can relate to that.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Loren Connors - The Curse of Midnight Mary (Family Vineyard CD)

As published at Brainwashed:

The already mysterious musical world of Loren Connors is made even more so by these recordings, finally unearthed after being lost for nearly 30 years. Of course the loss would not be nearly so poignant if it weren't for the fact that the recording shows Connors serenading the grave of Midnight Mary, the ghost of whom will apparently kill anyone who remains in the graveyard after midnight. While Connors clearly came out the other side alive, it does give these delta-drenched chants a certain weight as once more a bluesman—albeit a fairly loose interpretation of one—once more play games with the devil in search of musical ends. Keeping consistent with the folklore, it works yet again.

More importantly though, the album provides an early glimpse into the formative years of this modern guitar hero. Presented are nine tracks, all recorded to cassette on the same day in 1981, that see Connors mixing acoustic, delta-inspired guitar abstractions in duet with moaning vocal accompaniment. With only these two sound sources to work with, this is an intimate and haunting display of Connors' creativity within the blues medium, stretching Charley Patton's gospel vocals and Skip James' country blues style into his own collagist breakdown of the form.

As strange as his version of the blues may be though, Connors' play is steeped in tradition, as can be seen by numerous blues covers and allusions throughout. Twice, on "Chant 3" and "Chant 6," he stretches out on the themes of "Amazing Grace," infusing it with the deep gospel soul of its past while giving it an angular, exploratory quality too often lacking in covers of such well-known material. Rarely does the avant-garde so neatly coalesce with tradition without losing any of its soul.

Elsewhere on the disc, Connors calls upon any variety of influences, always handling them with aplomb and imbuing them with his own highly developed improvisational signature. Though often associated with a more folk-based (and seemingly classicist) tradition, Connors is an improviser at heart; barely able to read music, he has to be. With the same vigor that he would later bring to duo recordings with Jandek then, he croons and moans his way around these dark tunes with a loose and dissonant grace. The notes are important, sure, but what is ultimately more interesting is the proximity that Connors has to the guitar as an object; the sliding of his fingers, the banging of the wood, all add to the richness of these pieces.

Vocally too, Connors presents a highly elastic and deeply felt style that, while wordless, is never secondary to the guitar work here. Instead it moves around the thick chords and twanging runs, humming and vibrating in conjunction before breaking off to present some variant on the melody beneath the guitar's own distractions. While it may not be the kind of singing most often associated with the blues, there is a cathartic and spiritual quality here that is wholly Connors'. And ultimately, isn't that what good blues is all about anyway?

Special note too should be made that Connors presents a cryptic message on the back of the album, suggesting that no one listen to it due to the circumstances surrounding its recording and subsequent loss. Well I'm still here, and having survived the night, can safely say that music with this much life should never be missed for fear of some mysterious undoing.

Hope that doesn't jinx it for me...

C. Spencer Yeh and Paul Flaherty (w/ Greg Kelley) - New York Nuts & Boston Beans (Important Records CD)

As published at Brainwashed:

Splitting off briefly from usual drummer Chris Corsano, Burning Star Core's C. Spencer Yeh and experimental jazz elder statesman Paul Flaherty embarked on a brief Northeast jaunt in the closing months of summer, 2007. Taking full advantage of the abandoned rhythm section, the violin and saxophone duo lose none of their power or chaotic potential while skillfully wielding the precise interactions allowed for in such an intimate musical setting. A logical addition is found in trumpeter Greg Kelley's inclusion on two of the pieces, as his breathy playing fits neatly in with the obtuse sonics explored throughout.

Given that these pieces are primarily violin and saxophone duets, and that both members have a penchant for jazz inspired work—Yeh in groups such as the New Monuments, a trio featuring percussionist Ben Hall and Borbetomagus sax demolitionist Don Dietrich; Flaherty in groups including Orange and Cold Bleak Heat—it may be a surprise to find that, while these improvisations surely call upon the free jazz tradition, they are not overtly such.

Both Yeh and Flaherty are among a burgeoning few who traverse the grounds between free jazz and the underground experimental and noise camps, and it is this diversity which allows for such fertile material to be chiseled throughout the proceedings. Yeh's violin is nimble, but rarely does a clean tone or traditional bowing tactic reveal itself. Rather, his instrument is sonically ground down to its very elements, just wood and string, from which he creates any number of scrapes, whispers and shrieks. Flaherty too is well versed in a "sound as sound" approach, having played with members of No-Neck Blues Band and Sunburned Hand of the Man among many, and his saxophone dives from Ornette Coleman-like runs to deep crevices of saxophone bellow and airy fluttering.

Yeh also displays a penchant for vocals, as on the second track from a show at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. With elastic verbalizings, Yeh belches and guffaws sounds that fit right into his violin approach, even mixing in harmonica at one point. This experimental versatility is impressive, but more impressive is the fact that he gets away with it. Flaherty's lack of playing allows Yeh enough space to turn his voice into its own odd sonic landscape, a necessity in its avoidance of seeming mere self-indulgence, and in lesser hands it might. But Yeh's control and energy mean that it is as effective as any other instrument on display. That Flaherty joins in to end the piece in a torrential duet only makes the approach all the more effective.

When Kelley steps in on the fourth and fifth tracks, both recorded at the Nom D'Artiste in Boston, his breathy play weaves effortlessly into the duo's folds. With plenty of experience playing with both representatives here, Kelley is more than comfortable in this environment. Like Bill Dixon filtered down to mere wind and brass, his broad trumpet tones stretch across the tumultuous landscape above, providing a subtle touch without being rendered useless or lost in the anarchic mix.

That these duets are so successful is testament not only to the abilities of those performing, but also to the health of experimental music in general. Yeh and Flaherty are astute improvisers whose interest in music spans gaps that, in this climate of interconnectivity and availability, need to at last be spanned, i.e. noise and free jazz, lower case improv and drone, and a whole slew of other subforms whose similarities number far greater than their differences. These recordings are a display of three key representatives in a burgeoning subculture that is quietly doing just that, albeit through some pretty noisy means.

Traum - Tanto Impresos Como Sistemas (Bug Incision Records CD-R)

Alright, I also write for All About Jazz and while those reviews rarely apply here, this one definitely does. So here's one from there... not to be stacking the blog, but it's all my writing and I figured people who are into this kind of thing are probably reading here. Right. So here it is:

Drummer Ben Hall and cellist Hans Buetow have been frequent musical collaborators since their time at Bennington College in Vermont, USA, participating in various group settings that tread the boundaries between basement noise, free jazz and modern composition. Employing Oberlin graduate Chris Riggs' guitar work, the tandem has resuscitated Traum, a unit whose work sways from lower case experimental spaces to hyper explosions of free punk attitudes.

On Tanto Impresos Como Sistemas, a document of the trio's first performance together, it already exhibits an affinity for the kinds of active exploratory environments traversed by groups like AMM and Air. Hall's percussion rattles about in miniature pockets of textural pace setting, Buetow's cello hums and sputters reverberative gusts and Riggs' guitar shoots outward toward some strange space between the utter still of Loren Connors and the destructive power of Alan Licht. That it stays together as well as it does is testament to the near telepathic musical language that the group displays.

The first of three untitled tracks moves between dense fits of movement and punctuated silence as it grows from Buetow's impressively bravado entrance. Hall enters to deepen the gray scale range being worked in, reacting beautifully as the two find a perfect symbiosis. Riggs' elastic lines snake around Buetow's as the trio quickly find its footing, only too willing to loosen it before grabbing another motivic fragment around which to regroup.

The second track explores an even sparser layout as various bellows and thrusts emerge from the air before settling back down. Hall's kit maintains a material physicality as Buetow and Riggs trade off between coaxing sliding swathes of breath and scraping metallic noise from their instruments, eventually brewing the work into a brief but strange sort of expanding African jazz work before moving back toward quieter realms.

In a group such as this, whose sonic palette and open forms leave the possibilities so vast as to make each moment exciting, a tangible proximity evolves that is truly about the sounds and their interaction. This sensuality is once again displayed on the closing track as plucks, bows and cymbal crashes are turned into droplets, motors and waves. It is the empathetic performances by all members that weave the album into a work that is impressive far beyond merely being a document of the trio's first sessions together. Rather, it is the astounding initiation of a group that is sure to continue expanding its already simpatico musical relationship.

Travellers - The Sound of Travellers (Plustapes CS)

So now that I'm writing for Foxy Digitalis as well, I'll post some of the reviews I do for them over here too... this and the one below are both from this week's run over at that fine establishment:

Last year saw Chicago’s Plustapes emerge as a major dispenser of obscure world music via the equally obscure cassette medium. That this combination managed to catapult the label to the fore of all the right circles is testament to both the strength of their material and their careful habitation of a distinct niche. This trend continues with their release of this tape by Singapore’s Travellers, whose soundtrack worthy grooves nestle themselves right in between that comfy oceanic getaway between Los Angeles and Bangkok.

The whole vibe is fairly ascertainable from the cover alone. Just six guys in tuxedos who are so beautifully removed from the western tunes that they’ve been spinning that they can’t draw a line between Ennio Morricone, Junior Walker and the Ventures. The recipe combines a healthy dose of Duane Eddy guitar twang, frolicking drum lines, Meters-style bass work, watered down synth runs and just about every number that’s ever had you discreetly tapping your foot in the local sushi joint, and the result is Travellers leaving you gladly abandoned on the Isla of your choice, complete with margaritas in constant, toxic flow.

Some of these numbers are so colorful and cartoonish that they read more like the soundtrack to some ultra crude video game than a mammoth convergence of popular forms from every corner of the globe. But Travellers actually represent, in their own way, all of the most fascinating aspects of culture clashes. Their influences are so apparent, and to some degree so shoddily misinterpreted, that the product is a completely new sound that simultaneously signals the birth of some alternate universe musical phenomenon and the death of everything that Travellers have ever heard. Travellers are destroyers, but they only destroy in order to create.

The consequence of all this destruction is, ironically, a music suitable for practically any occasion, so far as it’s a good one. The small budget, big sound approach of the production would fit in as nicely at your favorite local restaurant as it would at your next birthday party. Whatever you may ask of them, Travellers are surely ready with one hand on their pistol and the other on their surfboard. I can’t tell whether this tape is so bad it’s good or just so good it’s good, but either way the outcome is clear. Travellers are a world all their own.

Drunjus / Xiphiidae - Split (Housecraft CS)

As published over at Foxy Digitalis:

Jeffry Astin’s Housecraft label had a spectacular 2008, planting its roots and earning a bevy of die-hard fans faster than Michael Phelps did with the Marijuana Reform Party. That Astin has managed to maintain momentum into the new year is an encouraging sign that 2009 will be just as sterling. This release, a split between Astin’s own Xiphiidae project and Madison improvisers Drunjus, is rife with fragile and airy drones that move with delicate tenacity over the entire course of the tape’s near hour-long journey.

The first side belongs to Drunjus, a duo comprised of Tony Endless and Dan Woodman that also had a bustling 2008 release schedule. Here they continue their exploration of tree-lined drone structures with two lengthy pieces, “Chicomoztoc” and “Memogovissioois,” bound by a similarly stagnant sense of organic warmth. Vats of moss and dirt encrust everything here, caking each sound in a haze of static whose age might as well be determined by rings rather than minutes. This lack of horizontal movement and subsequent textural focus—sounds shifting softly beneath the fuzz of the cassette tape—displays a daring and patient collaborative effort whose careful concoctions are fragile without being the least bit dainty.

The flip side is Xiphiidae’s, whose similarly minded drone works had me thoroughly blown throughout last year. And this side, consisting of one untitled track, is no disappointment. Utilizing field recordings, vocals, tapes, and who knows what else, Astin again creates a unique and spacious sound that taps right into those hollow areas in your skull, filling them with gooey ectoplasm. Moving through static minefields and quivering tumbleweeds, the side displays the same tactile use of the medium as the Drunjus side, allowing the tape itself to do much of the work atop mini muffled melodies buried in the floor of some colossal grey forest just north of the inner eye.

Both sides slip right into one another, making this one to be flipped long into the night. There is a tactile, sensory quality to both of these artists that allows for them to explore sonic spaces whose views may be vast, but whose weight lies in the earth directly beneath their feet. This is music that implies the infinite as well as any drone can, but Drunjus and Xiphiidae don’t leave their backyard to find it.

Radiant Husk - Several Potem (Bezoar Formations CD-R)

Just got a swell batch of items in from San Francisco based label Bezoar Formations. Beautiful little packages all. Figured I'd start the review damage off with this one from Matthew Erickson, aka Radiant Husk, who's put together a fine little sub-half hour meditation work with Several Potem's four tracks.

Using reeds, tapes, keyboard and "etc." (which seems to most notably include vocals), Erickson opens with "Bell Peel." Layers of keyboard drone emit outwards from some center a la Terry Riley while saxophone squeals and voice gel together into a nice and fluid four minutes, opening on a note that finds some pretty active material between stagnant drone and anarchic sax work. While sax seems to be making a comeback in the world of experimental tape release, usually you get the grimy, Olson via Doyle sound but Erickson goes a little lighter and airier on it. Sort of a Lee Konitz meets Bill Dixon thing if both were stripped of any jazz associations whatsoever, and limited to slow high end snake charm styles.

The next track, "Kalpa Night," steps back from the near Gregorian clarity of the first one to get its hands a bit dirtier in some vacuum loop material. Nice and slow, everything here just sort of bubbles along, with odd little punctuations and breathes of tone repeating over one another to create an internal momentum like some caterpillar snaking about "find that milkweed" style. Erickson's got a knack too for filling these compositions with enough rich warmth without ever stepping over into cosmic territory. Everything is nice and grounded and subtle, each move important and distinct. As it all disintegrates towards the end, it does so more by washing itself out than cacophonizing it, slinking back into a pool of algae.

"Leaning Strata" continues with some nice keyboard excursions, kind of Ducktails tropical style only with more of a goth lo-fi overtone going on. Sort of reminds me of those old John Bender discs almost. Odd warbles and nauseating motions that keep everything nice and off balance as they build toward silence, only to be overtaken by the sonar squeals of a zillion hungry bats. Everything stays nice and unsettled though, with the melody still hovering gently in the thick air. There's an indecisiveness here that keeps it interesting and quite beautiful in its fragility.

The closing "Water Margins," the longest number here at over a third the length of the disc, explore some sparsely laid electronic drones that hum and stammer their way about beneath sax bid calls. Very subtle and not too distant from some of that Housecraft material in its intense and insular grace. Moves pop up, retract, overtake, in a constant epochal race to the top of the food chain. A nice end to an understated and super effective disc... more to come from this killer label for sure (oh and the two cover art pictures are the inside and outside in case that needs clarifying...).