Friday, May 22, 2009

Solar Fire Trio - Hand to Mouth (Sky-Fi Industries CS)

Hey all. Graduating tomorrow so things are a bit frantic on this end, but I figured I'd throw up the reviews that were published over at Foxy Digitalis this week before things settle back down. The following five are all from there.

Formed in 2005, the Solar Fire Trio—consisting of tenor saxophonist Ray Dickaty, altoist Dave Jackson and drummer Steve Belger—have a modus operandi based on meshing free jazz with the “rebellious spirit of rock music.” What results really seems more in line with the “rebellious spirit” inherent in free jazz alone. Which isn’t to say that this tape doesn’t rock or roll; on the contrary, it does both exceptionally.

Opening with the Aylerian call to arms of “Babble,” the trio immediately proves themselves nimble and coherent improvisers. Dickaty’s tenor growls and honks forward while Jackson’s alto punctuates a driving counterpoint. Yet the key here is in the lone man out, Belger, and his immensely creative drum work. Never one to merely accompany, the percussionist is always at the head of the piece, helping to forge it from the ground up with energetic form. The title track’s opening, a solo by Berger, is patient and spatial before Jackson’s alto steps in with a snake charming melody, his airy tone floating about in wavering breathiness.

Yet the point here is not in the strength of their melodic work, which is perfectly capable and quite beautiful in parts, but in their abilities as a collective. There’s a continuous undercurrent of groove that keeps all members meshed toward a common end. With so few players present and only two types of instruments the sound is inevitably a spacious one, but the zephyr-like mobility on display is just as easily corralled into fits of tone, as on “Stony Ground.” With each line so apparent at all times though, it is just as easy to follow along with interest as it is to get caught in the maelstrom. And that is an achievement in its own right. If anything, the closing track title, “Savage Grace,” is a perfect descriptor.

Dylan Ettinger - Bread of the Dead (El Tule CS)

From Foxy Digitalis:

Released on Ettinger’s own El Tule label, this release showcases six tracks that trek the boundaries between pop, drone, and overt experimentalism in much the same manner as contemporaries such as Ducktails, albeit with a unique sound all his own.

Ettinger’s sound, consistently manifested through a whimsical and ultra lo-fi production value, is thick and full however, making for a very strange pop sensibility that manages to nestle itself in the noggin as it performs its rituals. The loping organ line of the opening “Pan de Muertro” has an almost R. Crumb “keep on truckin” sensibility to it that is accompanied by muddied vocals and kazoo for a strange tropical beer-on-the-beach party vibe—Corona only, please. The following “Rosa Parks” slips into less shallow waters in a stark drone piece whose crude sound leaves everything shimmering wonderfully. In fact, the rest of the first side is drenched in a reverb wash that leaves it crystallized straight through “Cross My Eyes.”

The second side’s “Fat Babies” presents yet another take on Ettinger’s sound, this time focusing on guitar trawl lines and moody, almost Rambutan-style drift. Moaning vocals keep the whole at a steady simmer that continues the heavily baked feel of the tape. Same goes for “Pushin’,” whose gamelan, Skaters-style animal calls and finger piano clatter point one giant finger further down the road to oblivion. The closing “Rainfall” is cloudy enough for its bass-heavy beat to take on a jungle feel that seems to be the trademark here. A really nice one for fans of that special breed of gone, dubbed to doob murk.

Black Guys - Black History (Sicksicksick / Hype Machine CD)

In from Foxy Digitalis:

A collection of New Mexican noise duo Black Guys’ 3” and cassette output thus far, this pro-pressed anthology is as swell a place to start as any in acquiring these guys’ tough to track down output.

Beginning with their 2006 release “Outkast Blakface,” the disc is chock full of the duo’s clattering and grinding take on noise. Much of the first release’s sound is actually quite stark and just downright weird, with odd samples and contact mic whirls meshing into a weird for weird’s sake kinetic babble. “The Reparations Will Not be Televised” garbles along with a descending high note that seeps up from beneath the carriage wheels to wreak havoc on your mental state while “Black by Popular Demand” presents two tracks—“You Mean the World to Me” and “White Chicks are Free”—that really seek out the outer reaches of inner discourse. Very insular stuff, but warm in its own way. Like putting a frog in water and letting it simmer. Same goes for the humorously titled “Fear of a Black President,” whose mushy rumble blows steam wherever it goes.

The closing “(Interracial) Noise Conspiracy” is a bonus track only found here, and its deranged rhythms and female grunts are a real chilly end to this comp. It’s a hell of a sound and these guys clearly have a serious grasp on their approach. Fried, fried, fried.

Aidan Baker & Thisquietarmy - A Picture of a Picture (Killer Pimp CD)

From Foxy Digitalis:

Aiden Baker and Thisquietarmy’s Eric Quach reconvene on this follow up to their first EP together, “Orange.” Rather than relay tracks back and forth through the mail however, this time the duo made a point of working the material out live, with little to no overdubbing involved. What results is a symbiotic approach to drone that is concerned as much with forward momentum as it is with textural elements.

Lasting an hour, the disc’s four tracks each represent a logical exploration of one element of the unit’s sound. The opening “Imagistic Continuity” glistens as the duo’s guitars intersect in slow motion iridescence. Combining equal parts Fripp & Eno with an undercurrent of noisier influence, the piece transforms itself continuously as it radiates outward from its opening. The following “Loss of Perspective” immediately inverts itself however, slipping inward as it delves deep into some cavernous patterns of thick, folk strums and cresting tonal waves. There is a proggy, constructive element here that separates the material from your usual drone act, as it manifests itself more closely to a live composition than an overtly drone-oriented work. The result is some of the moodiest drone one is likely to come across, as harmonic progressions drive a dirge-like theme above the crystalline shards intermingling below. The work even begins to take on an almost club-like vibe, with a certain brooding trance feel not so far off from the same forest-of-the-mind traversed by Gas.

“Negative Space” once more looks outward, as trickling notes delay and decay around one another, building into a tall cloud of sound whose intricacies are endless and immersive. Each movement, no matter how decisive, is swept into the cyclical center, only to be seen again when another revolution has completed itself. The addition of an amorphous bass line adds to the club feel, pulsing and bobbing in the light of night. Not that this is dance music whatsoever, though maybe the emerald green world of more mysterious creatures believe otherwise. The closing “Horizon Line,” the longest work here at 20-minutes, only deepens the nighttime atmospherics of the rest of the disc, albeit in a far more haunting, even sinister, vein. Deepening the blackness, the piece moves through vast swarms of sinuous mental lines whose construction treads on the right side of a fine line between ambient/drone atmospherics and clichéd movie mood setting. Yet the duo exudes such clarity of vision that it is hard to not be swept up in the grandiose nature of the pieces. One for summer nights and firefly fights.

Seaworthy - 1897 (12k CD)

From Foxy Digitalis:

Cameron Webb’s Seaworthy project returns with a set whose spatial setting greatly impacts the sonic output presented here. Given the chance to record an album in an abandoned Australian ammunitions bunker, Webb took full advantage of the empty spaces afforded to him, combining the natural reverb of the space with found sounds from the neighboring wetlands to create a stark and physically grounded aural experience.

Trotting the line between ambient organizer and field recorder, Webb presents twelve tracks, each numbered and labeled as either “Inside,” “Ammunition,” “Installation” or, on the closing track alone, “Outside.” This poetic move from inside to outside is hardly noticeable however, so encapsulating are the sounds themselves. Gentle guitar is woven on “Ammunition 2” and “3,” taking full advantage of the space and surrounding sounds in creating a lulling meditation on the area.

The “Installations,” especially the still glistening of “1” and the flustered electro-acoustics of “2” present another angle, sometimes mixing guitar in but mostly sticking to the scrapes and hums within the space. For my money though, some of the strongest material here is found in the brief and eerie recordings made within the building with little to know instrumentation. Vast caverns of air move about as footsteps and small trickles emanate through the space, making for a highly tangible listening experience. For my money, there actually could have been more of this, and often it seems the ideas here are more divided and contrasting than perhaps was intended—nestling guitar tracks next to still static hum is a tough thing to pull off without making the guitar initially read as slightly trite. Still, this is a well-conceived and thoughtful direction, and one clearly engaged here by a highly capable practitioner of the form. Very interesting.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Christopher Riggs - I Feel So Strong. I Feel I Could Punch a Hole in a Fucking Wall. (Bug Incision Records CD-R)

Just in from Brainwashed:

Considering the title, it appears guitarist Christopher Riggs has created a pretty big hole. Among a slew of young experimental musicians whose output often sees highly limited pressings, Riggs, an Oberlin Conservatory graduate, has been making his mark in groups such as Trauma (with Ben Hall and Hans Buetow) and a trio with Hall and Joe Morris. His solo output on numerous labels, including his own Holy Cheever Church Records, has been outstanding as well however, often pushing the brink of his instrument's assumed capacity beyond recognition.

Likely at once Riggs' sparest and most difficult outing, this disc presents five untitled tracks of solo electric guitar improvisations marked by spacious, often nearly imperceptible treatments of the guitar through techniques far beyond usual strum and pick tactics. The opening, for example, is a seven-plus minute piece whose entire sonic output is stretched out among the time period with distinct and sudden blurts of scrape and grate that dissipate back into the white silence as quickly as they appear. Think John Cage meets Derek Bailey, or Alan Licht covering Morton Feldman.

From the beginning then, there is an emphasis on the spaces between the sounds as much as the sounds themselves, or, perhaps better put in this context, the holes are as numerous as the punches making them. Comparatively the second track, opening with a chalk on metal screeching, is downright loud, flitting about between what sounds like tinkling glasses and straws sucking caramel. Nary a recognizable guitar tone rears its head.

The same can be said throughout. The buzzing sound of a bug imitating a dentist drill lurches throughout the third track, as a grating tone pitch shifts back and forth beneath, eventually making its way to the head and lodging itself there, left to brew menacingly before breathy bowed drones wind and crack themselves into a heaping alien landscape. This is some extremely advanced and entirely organic improvisation that truly manages to carve out new approaches to sound-as-sound.

Perhaps most harrowing is the fourth track which, following the previous two, consists of 15 minutes of muffled stutters buried beneath vast crevices of emptiness. Christopher is willing to go as long as he needs to in order to make every sound count, and the result is as spare as they come. Sounds come and go throughout, but they are far from the norm. The closing fifth track sounds like a tea kettle whistle in a cavern, with static white noise writhing below the chirping bowed high end before bending like a rubber band into a frenetic release of tension whose quick cut-off leaves the album's end as mysterious as its beginning.

Christopher Riggs is a guy who deserves some attention. Anyone who has heard his playing with Hall and Morris knows that the guy has chops, but it is this stuff that really pushes the boundaries. Seemingly coming from a stance aligned more with the classically-based sound experimentalists of the twentieth century than the noise practitioners he often plays with, Riggs nevertheless walks the borders with aplomb, at once translating both sides into one another until any cultural delineation disappears and the sounds are left to do as they will. Beautiful, original and fully realized, this is work well worth grabbing before its 50 copies are gone forever.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Schnüffler - Buero Bereich (Holy Cheever Church Records CS)

Another new one from Holy Cheever, this time from the duo of trumpeter Liz Allbee and percussionist Gino Robair. Comparably tame? Of course not. Riggs seems to always find the people who are really pushing their instruments' capacities, and that certainly continues to be the case here.

In fact, there's a nary a snare hit or clean trumpet tone to be found in the bunch. Instead, the two engage in some slow-mo noise drudge as combs are scraped over metal and electronic oscillations pitch shift above steaming tea kettles. Almost industrial in its approach, this could almost be some way airy Heath Moreland release, with clacking chord rattles and amp glitches galore. Yet there's a stoned kind of momentum here, a sort of churning and burning psychedelicism derived from the complete human mental takeover by machines.

Steeped in hiss and fuzz, it's a spacey one to be sure, but there is an overt sense of interaction here, despite the mechanized takeover. Everything is very controlled here, and things never get too unwieldy or out of hand. Each sound source is clear, the trumpet echoing statically above the rumbling shaking of the percussion in a sort of alien transmission free jazz tune whose waves were meshed with some high energy radiation en route to the ol' ear lobes. Super together, and off in all the right ways.

Chris' releases of late have been blowing my mind. Next in the batch is Riggs' own work on both Holy Cheever and on an as-yet unreviewed label (at least in these vaults), Unverified Records. So psyched on both of these and the future of the world Chris seems to be in close contact with. It's some heavy duty stuff, and all super limited too, so head over there and get them before everyone catches on and they're gone forever, the lost early work of the new free masters. Russolo, Varese, Feldman, Riggs? If only.

Bird Names - Sings the Browns (Really Coastal CS)

Here's one I've been trying to get to for a while put out by Really Coastal, a label whose four releases so far are all super swell. I don't know much about this group, but they put out a nice collection of tunes here, that run the gamut from weird post-ESP folky weirdness to near ethno-derangement, all fed through a band setting and fairly strict song structure. These are some wild tunes however...

The first side opens with "Nature's Over," whose playful, naive Fugs style is a fine initiation into the super distinct sound of this unit. The following "Living Longer" moves through weird pitter-patter rhythms, funky bass and vocal melody lines that are at once frenzied and lazy. There's really a strange and distinct amalgamation of styles going on here, really clattery but still strangely tight. Almost sounds like some long lost weirdo European psych private press or something, only if those dudes had headed out West and pitched camp in some cabin out in Humboldt County. "Defined Stijls" is an oddly Os Mutantes-y lurch, but not driving enough for Brazil's rhythmic tendencies, instead replacing any party sense with slanted country slidings. "Scandanavia" is a little more hurried, almost like a playful and less punked out Butthole Surfers, though still raw. Just lighter.

Really one of the toughest sounds I think I've had to get through, especially since it seems to have arrived fully formed with this tape, though apparently the unit is seasoned and already has four previous albums under its belt. Go figure. Also of interest is that the group apparently more or less holed themselves up in Chicago to do this tape, which means that this was a pretty insular and, likely, mentally effecting go at a studio session. Certainly sounds it. Some of it is Shaggs-like, but it's all quite constructed, jumping from style with no warning whatsoever. A really interesting tape, and a sound that's got to be heard. Doesn't sound "freak-folky" so much as it sounds like some freaks making folk. And they're doing it extremely well. Maybe this review came too late, but find this one if you can. And if you can't, it's getting the vinyl reissue treatment, so be sure to catch the next wave. The best chamber kitchen-folk psychedelic unit I've heard in some time, to say the least. Instant weirdo classic, every song's a winner.

Various Artists - Psyched Punch (DNT Records 2XCS)

Here's a double cassette offering I've been trying to wrap my mind around in the last couple weeks. In celebration of DNT's 3 year anniversary and the 50th release on the label, Tynan put together this double cassette compilation featuring past favorites from the label alongside one final side of new material from four DNT-style projects. Four sides and about 15 projects is a lotto ingest at once, but the compilation does a fine job of reminding us what a strong aesthetic stamp DNT has, making for a pretty nicely flowing offering here.

With something like this it seems impossible to cover it all, but highlights come from the opening track, an early Robedoor track called "Tribe Rites" off, I believe, the first DNT compilation. Real plodding and much buzzier and weirder than their more doom oriented stuff of late. Forbici's manic electronic psychosis on "Remote Concentrator" is out of control while Yellow Swans' "Untitled" crackles and leaks static all over the surge lines. Jazzfinger and Plankton Wat make swell appearances, as does Mudboy's "Untitled" and Super Minerals classic "The Piss." The gentle and extended "Pink Hotel" by Quilts is also a real highlight, spreading out for 15 long minutes of organ drone and simmer that lasts long enough to clear the pallet for the incoming new material on the fourth side.

As for the new material, time is given to Blank Realm, Plankton Wat, Super Minerals and Birdcatcher. It's a nice way to present the material, looking back on the label's past without feeling like a straight retrospective. Pointing firmly toward the future, these four bands all present some swell material, with Blank Realm's "Cat's on the Edge" grooving like the Doors on floors in a kind of lazy goth psych groove. Nice stuff that reaches a nice rolling boil of numb nod and trod. Think a lyrically spare, post-Can take on Question Mark & the Mysterions. Plankton Wats' "Ghosts" is a spare guitar and voice drifter whose open incantations present a kind of ritualized summer haze, tinkling bells and all. Super Minerals "Purple Gravity Spindles" finds the unit meshing their minimalist Clusters sound with the dirty and hollow groove of earlier releases, though the sound here treads slightly heavier on the side of The Piss, only with a warmth and cavernous glow to it. Like some slowly deteriorating jungle cave, humid and sticky. Quite a beautiful one here, a real full and defined sound. The closing "Dusk" by Birdcatcher is a fine end to the excursion, not only closing out the tape as a milestone of arrival, but also pointing its deranged finger forward toward a future of more psychosis-stemmed sounds from this consistently killer label. Really nice package that got snagged up pretty quick from the label, but poke around. Well worth finding, and a great way to hear some stuff you probably won't get to hear again.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Kill and Eat - Green Bushes (Alright Now CD)

Here's a disc I got a ways back from Caleb Vogel, whose Kill and Eat project has released this stunning little disc on Alright Now Records, a label that doesn't believe in cover art as a means of music discourse, which I suppose is supposed to point towards it being all about the music and not the marketing tactics behind it.

Possible discussion of that aside, the disc is beautiful, opening with the title track, which features a rolling piano line and a softly sung line gently repeated until the piano dissipates into air, brought back again with a jazzy, ethereal quality which nevertheless is highly informed and downright classicist in sound. An accompanying drum line enters as the piece sways between bluesy, Mal Waldron style piano before an airy, breath through metal Nate Wooley style trumpet sound comes in. It's highly expressionist, and the whole thing moves with a casual and lilting groove spurred mostly by the piano backdrop. The end of the 18-plus minute romp finds a crescendo building softly toward an eventual diminishing plane of tones mingling and reshaping against the drum backdrop.

The following "Green Bushes (sketch)" is far more upbeat, and even poppy, moving with a momentum that Vince Guaraldi would approve of while the singer repeats a rhythmic and sincere wordless vocal. Really wonderful piano playing here that glides nimbly beneath the drummer's carefully placed beat work. The closing "Ellipsis (sketch)" is a more billowing affair, with the whole trio cutting out parcels of space for themselves as they glide towards a resolution of casual bluesy smiles, complete with a drum solo that grooves on into the end. Nice little disc, and well worth checking out. We can definitely hope for more from a unit so talented yet genuine in their pursuits.

Bent Spoon Duo - Fossils of Summer (Holy Cheever Church Records CS)

Bug Incision label head Chris Dadge and fellow improv pursuant Scott Munro have a go on Holy Cheever with this tape,which the Calgary duo recorded in Toronto. Combining percussion and strings, the two approach improvisation from an anti-classicist stance, instead opting for a scrape and drape sound that finds the two moving between instruments and mood in rapid fire succession.

The tape opens with a steady percussive thump and a lot of string snaps and cracks before some electronic glitches make their presence known, joining in on the addled conversation. There's a real earthy feel present here, with almost a kitchen band vibe (I suppose that's the Bent Spoon way...), though the two are clearly engaging in some real interaction here. Odd blurts and taps writhe about somewhere between order and chaos, with a highly emotive and visceral feel. Very much a duo in terms of taut, in-the-moment reaction, the rattles sometimes diminish to little more than whispered chimes and untethered reverberative appreciations. Really physical stuff.

Actually, got an e-mail from Dadge a few minutes ago saying that he really didn't remember the set sounding this way, which makes the tape feel even more difficult to grasp... a lot of the stuff here seems to be someone trying to escape from a body-sized closet (coffin?) packed with wolves, chairs, and small hanging knives clattering against one another as you frenetically try to escape. Only really, the sound is not all that violent and much more angled towards some odd free jazz weirdness. Small horns and mouth flutes drift around, at times culminating in what sounds like a less psychedelic and far more deranged Drumdance to the Motherland, that crazy Khan Jamal album. Like if Roscoe Mitchell's Sound were stripped of all melodic content and replaced by the sounds of contact mics documenting the dudes behind the mixing board rolling up their spliffs. Another rad one from Holy Cheever and a fine sign of what's to come with the incoming batch of Bug Incision releases.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sean McCann - Haven (Holy Cheever Church Records CS)

So I know Sean McCann has been getting a lot of press around these parts of late (the guy has been extremely busy it seems), but when I got this number in the mail today from Chris Riggs and his Holy Cheever operation, I threw it on right quick and, about 50 minutes into its 70-plus minute length I couldn't help but write about it. To be honest, I was a little surprised when I saw Riggs was putting out a McCann tape, as Riggs tends to go toward the lower case improv/noise stuff way more than the squishy synth work that McCann's been releasing of late. But of course though, had I forgotten so soon? McCann is equally adept at long form post-classical, post-rock, post-composition string movements a la Midnight Orchard, and this is just such the case. Which makes perfect sense in my book.

Talking about this thing with any detail is nearly impossible of course, as the two 35-minute sides each exhibit much the same feel and approach, with richly layered string work ebbing back and forth as naturally as blood in veins--two steps forward, one step back, one step forward, two steps back. The first side belongs to "Haven" parts one through three, and each movement is as still and gracious as the last. Great to hear someone going for it here and really extending his stuff into the endless, drifting along with no preferred arrival point, no egotistic gestures of self congratulation, no righteous nods to anything other than the music, at this time, in this place. It's as washed out and wonderful as music can be.

The B side is another single work, "Dreaming for Years," whose tectonically patient string loops go on and on, building mountains and eroding them again. There's a maturity here in McCann's allowance of the sound to just be as it will be and do as it will do, and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell if you are simply hearing the same loop over and over or if this is live and ever changing, no matter how minutely. Seems likely that McCann's ust letting your mind change while the music remains constant, but who knows. No matter. This stuff is stiller than Arvo Part, more minimal than La Monte Young, and more beautiful than Messiaen. Astounding, and perfectly suited to the Holy Cheever way. Which is a way highly deserving of some serious attention. Hopefully this tape will open up some ears to the rest of the catalog, because there are few other places where experimental music is being practiced to such a high degree so consistently. More on the way form the new batch of Holy Cheever shortly for sure. Oh, and the tape is limited to 70, which for McCann is fairly small, so head over to Holy Cheever HQ if you want one. They're still available, but I doubt for long.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Foot Village - Fuck the Future 2 (Gilgongo Records CD)

When last we checked in on the Foot Village crowd in these quarters, it was with their Friendship Nation LP, a real stormer of drum and vocal mayhem. Now, in anticipation of their upcoming Anti Magic full length (which, might I add, features a collection of remixes of their "Chicken and Cheese" track including one by yours truly) they've returned with a collection that culls a bunch of vinyl only samplings of their work and throws them together in CD format. Considering that some of their best sides have been one-offs or part of compilations, this is a wise move, and one that makes this disc feel far more complete than most collections can.

Of course if you expected anything new with their sound, you'd be sadly mistaken. Foot Village more or less always sticks with their approach, keeping the reins tight and trying to be as creative as possible within it, which makes for some super swell results. Take the wonderfully titled "Comparable Love in the Time of Development," pulled from a triple LP they were featured on with five other groups. One member recites naive poetry that's as humorous and mocking as it is sincere. All the while, pittering cymbals suggest an incoming barrage. When it comes, it somehow finds the space between No Wave, hardcore and house band all in one. "Iceland," from a 7" on Rock is Hell, is a drifting vocal with echoing drums that does get chillier than most of their work manages. Very eerie until the avalanche descends and its all cavernous resounding of pulses. Very strange and quite beautiful.

Other highlights include "Race Till the End of Food," which is off of the DNT split with Black Pus that I reviewed a ways back, as well as "Crow Call," off a 7" on Too Pure, which actually presents some electro-dance stuff below the chiming of the phrase "I am number three, what number are you?" Super dancey and fun as hell, just great party music. Also in the dance realm is the closing "The Power of HEALTH," a remix by Captain Ahab that's basically full on techno style with weird drifting vocals and a distinctly Foot Village focus on simple, head-bangable beats. Great stuff, and super tough to track it all down other than here. Really great way to catch up on the very busy unit, and another fine release from James Fella's Gilgongo. Love his label, more to come from him shortly.

The Doglands - EP (Stunned Records CD-R)

Last up in the latest batch of Stunned releases is actually not an official release at all, but rather a bonus disc that Phil sends out when you order a batch. Of course that means that this is even more limited than everything else he puts out (only 40 copies) so it's sold out already, but I'm sure there are a few floating around if you so desire.

I'm not sure who the lone representative that is Doglands might be, but whoever it is, they have a knack for a certain sun-dappled junk improv that immediately nestled right in my noggin's summer cortex. Presenting nine tracks in its brief 26-minutes, this reads more as a series of takes than individual constructions, as it opens with a jangling acoustic guitar ramble that somehow manages to capture a distinctly Californian sentiment (though apparently he's from Oregon, so there goes that...). Still, there's something super warm and inviting about the deconstructed folk here, even on the third untitled track where he goes electric and runs a series of super loose lines through some heavy wah. Very light and fun, but also interesting play going on here, very floppy and pretty stoned out.

Elsewhere he puts down the guitar in favor of synthesizer moves, for which Doglands has a real knack. These nicely textured and detailed improvisations never lay it on too heavy, instead representing a dronier side to the guitar aesthetic presented earlier in the disc. The fourth track's brief pan pipe echo and fuzz nestles itself perfectly between the electric wah track and a small acoustic guitar and flute number that is intimate in scope but quite expressive and delicate in effect. The sixth track is another drone number that, at 6-minutes, represents the longest number here. A slow, almost ballet-inflected pulse hovers in on a one-two count while shadowy tones glide across, echoing into the hollows before flying toward the sun. The seventh track is even lighter, taking the same idea and infusing it with gentle keys that meld lovingly with the general feel here before the flutes reenter on track eight. The last brief work pulls from everything already presented for a jingling guitar and flute vista. Utterly beautiful, and expertly packaged in Tibetan rice paper that is as deep a blue and pleasant to the hand as the Doglands is to the ear. Special little disc, well worth hunting down.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

throuRoof - Throught the Book of Lambspring (Stunned Records 3")

A ways back (in October I believe) I review a thruRoof on Sentient Recognition Archive that really surprised me. Well who woulda thunk it but here they are again, this time in 3" format on Stunned. Loved that first throuRoof I heard, love Stunned, and love the 3" format, so this is a sure bet. Plus the weird as hell title is too enticing, especially placed among those containers on the cover.

Whereas Whale Bones was a real concept work however, this one is far purer in its musical conception. Opening with a billowing moan and a bassy drone, the piece takes off from the get-go, which is ideal considering the short format the unit is working in. Really dense barrage of blown out drone here, ultra ceremonial in nature and totally captivating. There's a certain clarity of vision here that is tough to deny, as well as a palpable sense of the endless that this unit really has a knack for. Their willingness to present an idea and stick with it, banking on the monolith of sound itself rather than the "psychedelic" aspects really strengthens their stuff and ultimately makes it far more zoned out than most people dabbling in locales this crispy.

Which isn't to say that it's totally fried. The opening section is actually quite lush and rich, exhibiting a beautiful and lovingly cared for quality that really deserves some attention. Every tone that enters is kept close track of and treated as a part of the whole, making sure that it all culminates in something far greater than the number of sounds present might entail. Working with such seemingly limited material and getting such a powerful sound from it is an exciting prospect in itself, and these guys handle it without getting heavy handed in the least. Just beautiful power before slinking back into gentler, more cavernous realms. And man, when the guitar comes in... whoa... Really takes it to the next level, simmering it in a long and steamy cauldron that burns softly against the blackness of night. The drum accompaniment that soon joins readjusts the work toward a green landscape rather than a dark navy one, as wheat grass and birds are seen as distant memories of a forgotten warmth. It's gorgeous, and really moves to so many wonderful zones it's tough to sum up. Another one that's sadly gone from the label (limited to only 80) but still out there somewhere. Wonderful and emotive little piece.

Burnt Hills - Over the Rainbow (Noiseville LP)

And the cruise controls into the early evening with the one and only Burnt Hills, who I hear are putting out their killer Microburst disc on vinyl shortly, if they haven't already. This one here came out a couple months back though, and is indeed the group's introductory vinyl excursion via the Noiseville label and their Outer Bounds of Sound series. I like the aesthetic with these, each one set up like one of those hi-fidelity releases from back in the day. You know, AND NOW IN QUADROPHONIC SOUND style. Cool look and a nice little cover.

As for the jams, they're quintessential Burnt Hills. Which of course means that they rule. Actually, it sounds like a smaller unit this time out, meaning that the beginning is super tight and almost songy, with the usual riffage riding above rock solid bass and drums. Even some synth weirdness going on beneath that is played wonderfully in the context of everything else going on. The Hills dudes man, they always do it right. That signature maniacal guitar shredding that guides the entire unit back and forth as one gigantic steaming pile driver. Totally slayer.

The group actually seems to be getting a bit tighter lately, really getting a grasp on their sound and pulling off some more subtle improvisations as a result. Not that Burnt Hills has ever been about subtlety, and surely the group never lets go of their cajones during the proceedings, but there is a swing to the beast in recent releases that was often obscured by pure fuzz mania earlier on. It's almost like the group, in making their wall and allowing the cracks in it to widen, has arrived at something both transparent and thick. Each line is clear, each move noticeable, yet if you take in the whole thing at once it's a total barrage of basement wall bouncing groove. Killer one, totally together and a beautiful package. Limited to 300, so check Jack's Flipped Out website for copies, he's sure to have a few. Awesome always. Long live Burnt Hills.

Time Life - Open to Both Sides (Abandon Ship Records CS)

Cruising right ahead here with another tape that's long overdue, this time out from Time Life on the always interesting Abandon Ship label. Time Life is a unit who I'm actually surprised hasn't gotten any press from here yet, as they've been doing some pretty interesting stuff for a while... though I suppose there's a zillion units doing interesting stuff now who haven't gotten covered here yet so hey, scratch this one of the list. The duo of Heidi Diehl (of Vanishing Voice and Nautilus, who I hear just dropped a killer one on Night People) and G. Lucas Crane of personal favorite Nonhorse (who, oddly enough, also hasn't received coverage here...), Time Life has always fostered an odd and ulra-compelling sound.

This tape, recorded live in Amsterdam of all places (making for especially murky proceedings, no doubt), opens with a strange driftwood drone and odd garbling synth moves that are hauntingly brittle. Hardly sounds like a duo at all, as these two are so closely in tune with one another that they can move with spacious care, dabbling about each other as they slosh in and out of sonic events, one moment clinging to a decaying texture, the next grabbing hold of a high sparkle and riding it into the sun. Quite beautiful and the sound is great, so you really get all of the details and intricacies of the interaction.

Yet still, no matter how many details present, the name of the game with these guys is space and time, and both are perfectly comfortable setting up some loop and letting the other wade about in it. Tape moves enter and dissolve while whale calls carry outward, always easy, always listened to, and always mobile. Small moans and little keyboard organ lines, clicks and clacks, its all a very strange little realm far afield from tangible occurrences. Yet its all quite pretty in its obscurity. Like an ultra-slowed down and beatless Skaters almost, only they never trek toward Mayan ruins. More like traversing the Mayan calendar I'd say. Beautiful, and limited to 150 which means still likely quite available.

Blood on Tape - S/T (Softland City CS)

The inaugural release for both the band and the label, this tape was sent to me by Kevin and has been eagerly awaiting review treatment since. Nice minimal package here, especially considering the obvious potential that a name like Blood on Tape calls to mind. Didn't go the obvious route though, and stuck with an ultra stark little package which better suits the music within.

The first side consists of only one piece, "In Sea," whose lilting drones drift beautifully about while the occasional guitar strum enters and dissolves. Very blue atmosphere here, nice and shimmering and patient. Starts to take on an almost songy feel even as it lulls out, cymbals splashing against sheets of tone. A heavy reverberant quality pervades all of this, even as percussion enters and exits, grounding the floating drones momentarily with a steady and ritualized pulse. Really nice and spare, without ever tapping into the cliches that such raga-inflected approaches often dip into.

The flip side immediately lifts off from the placid waters of the first side with "Feelin' Fine." A pulsing tone is soon accompanied by harmonica drones (me thinks) that slip a minor chordal pattern into the mix, driving the work forward without ever decreasing the fluidity that the tape contains. "By Design" follows with am ore ambient offering that again incorporates the harmonica moves and spacious visual sense into an eagle-soaring mountain treat that keeps growing toward the clouded airways. Beautiful stuff, and met wonderfully by the closer, "The Land is Great," whose title, in contrast with the first side's, encapsulates all that the more cacophonous track suggests, with woodland critters and thick muddied drones waving about. It's an eerie close to a beautiful tape; really a wonderful surprise here. Limited to 50 and likely still available, so grab one and keep your eyes out for more over at Softland City headquarters. They seem to have the right idea.

The Brown Book - Thirty-Nothing (The Brown Book CD-R)

Here's a little disc I got sent a while back from Ryan Lavery. Hailing from the Boston area, this quartet of fellow Massachusettsers mix equal parts mathy metal with more experimental and drone sensibilities for a highly together and realized sound that avoids a lot of the pitfalls of groups like Battles, etc., who I really could not care much less about. Instead, the musicianship here is impressive, but balanced by a genuinely experimental side that nevertheless is sculpted into song formats.

The opening "Deer Heads" is a case-in-point. Starting with an aimless drifting drone line, the sharp thud of drums and bass soon present themselves, driving it forward with exacting momentum. The dudes really can play too, and though the riffs may initially appear pretty progged-out, they work and rework them, staying close enough to mobilize them into a real frenzy. All instrumental too, which is nice for a unit of this precision. "Fat Birds" has a similarly explosive rhetoric that grooves mightily in the wake of the pounding drum line. A real barn burner that seems to have its sights set on the horizon, but that is too deeply ensconced in the riffage to bother looking toward the foothills. This spot works too.

Other highlights include "Snuff King," with its brittle guitar looping buildup, and "Half Bald," probably the most ruthless and hardcore-based track here, which I'm a total sucker for. The disc really slays, and if you're into slayage with an experimental slant and openness toward unabashed riffery this is right there. One to watch for sure, keep your eyes peeled. Or just scope their site and grab yourself a copy.

Sudden Oak - S/T (Bezoar Formations CS)

Sitting in the library today so I'm really cranking out some reviews. Psyched to finally be able to get around to this one, which has been sitting on the back burner for way too long. Remember those Bezoar discs I reviewed way back? Yeah, well this is from that batch, and it surely didn't get thrown aside due to any musical dislike on my part. This one's a killer.

Featuring Matt and John (whoever they may be) on saxophone and guitar respectively, this release has a uniquely tangible quality that likely stems from the lack of electronics. Which isn't to say that this doesn't sound electronic. John's guitar work is drenched in psychedelic psychosis, all over the map, and Matt's sax blowing is washed out and glistening. Pretty amazing, and the two can clearly really play together, intermeshing lines in a frenzy at one time, and taking it into some weird subaquatic territory the next, as acidic guitar lines are met with repeating sax gestures. Short though the tape may be (it's only a C-21), the duo squeeze in a lot, pulling from all sorts of angles in their aesthetic without sounding like any of them. The guitar destruction is especially brutalizing, and sometimes the two will meet on this odd off note that nauseating and thrilling in the same breath. Highly zonked and totally beautiful, as seems to be consistently the case with these lads. They haven't put out anything in a bit if there website is any indication, but it would be great to here more from these guys, as they clearly have a unique sound. Love that they went for the tape on this one too, the fidelity washes it all together and makes it that much more psychotic. Nice.

Rambutan / Chapels - Split (House of Alchemy CS)

Here's a tape that Eric Hardiman gave me a ways back from House of Alchemy. The release is a split between his solo project, Rambutan, and label head Adam Richards solo work as Chapels. Two solo sides indeed, but the singular aesthetic of both of these guys means that the tape is far more effective as a whole than the usual side project split might be. Though neither of these are your average side project whatsoever.

The first side is Rambutan's, and Eric presents a side-long track called "City of Immortals." Using mainly guitar, Eric has a knack for weaving a special blend of creepy with enough textural dexterity for something truly impressive to be made. Here it starts off from one little cell of humming before turning into a subdued screech with a babbling underbelly. When his guitar enters however, distant at first and increasingly close, it gives a hint of softness to the blizzard occurring in the foreground. A very beautiful din indeed, and one whose contrasting parts are adeptly managed in the name of the music rather than the ego. While the guitar maneuvers in the back are quite lovely and surely enjoyable for Hardiman to play, the harsh foreground is always kept up so as to maintain a dialogue rather than hold a lecture. Quite lovely, and one of the more singular statements I've heard from Rambutan of late. Which is saying something for sure.

The flip side presents Chapels' "It May Have Been August," whose initial loop of bird cacophony is met with a clicking rhythm and gentle lilting synth tone. Chapels has been a real revelation for me lately, and every time out it's a joy to hear what Richards comes up with. This round is actually a bit more subdued than is usually the case, as a soft underside washes delicately beneath the constant blown-out top side. It's a wonderful partner to Hardiman's side, as both do a fine job of balancing the delicate with the dangerous, the dainty with the damned. Pretty fried stuff here, that clatters about in some very strange atmospheres that nevertheless hold their own as an entirety, moving logically about as it wades toward increasingly frigid waters. Lovely.

This time out, the tape is out of print and not available from the label, but I'm sure people have it out there somewhere. Limited to 44 so it may be tough to track down, but it's well worth the old college try, especially if you've never heard either of these acts. Really great introduction to both but, more than that, a fine example of the potential that split releases have, especially when the material is as strong as it is here. Both pieces reveal something about the other, and really you can't ask for much more than that with a split. Killer.

Nodolby - S/T (Stunned Records CS)

Blowing through these Stunned releases all over again, seeing if I can champion some of this stuff before it's long gone. Cause you know the deal with this label by now if you've taken even a cursory glance at ye old Ear-Conditioned Nightmare. This one is part of Phil's new batch, which presented a couple noisier sides this time around from acts like M. Geddes Gengras (see below) as well as this one, from Dokuro Records head Mic Scariot. I don't know from the label nor the man, but apparently he serves time in another group called Ent which, if this release is any indicator, certainly deserves some attention from this camp. Also, special mention of the artwork on these Stunned releases... this one may look like the Sean McCann tape from this same batch, and it's definitely in the same title, but click on the images if you're inclined. They get huge and you can really soak them in in all their glory.

Anyway, the two sides here are each split into two tracks, with the first one on side A presenting "Voice Over the Zone, When Light Devouring Me." Grammatically incorrect? Sure, but also entirely apt considering the incorrect occurrences presenting themselves throughout. Starts out with a screech and a buzz, and from there its all static hazy days noise with delaying drone fits and starts hovering above. Some especially fucked high end here that really keeps your ears on its toes (lobes?) as fumbling percussion scatters about aimlessly. Yet there's a lighter side too, as playful guitar strums and distant muttering bass build the thing toward some strange kind of misshapen Krautrock groove. Very mobile, with all sounds battering about and against each other while the steady pulse grows and looms in the background. Soon James Earl Jones-style vocals pop up care of Demis da Rold, a strangely soothing God-like voice that utters undecipherables in the midst of the chaos. Like the burning bush, only more fun to hang out with. The second track, "Response: Superfeedback Convoy," is everything its name suggests despite exhibiting little feedback. Instead there's a clicking and crunching hum that builds endlessly into some truly psychedelic bubbling skips and jumps, like Mario on ketamine or something. Truly blasted and fried, but again, not without a sense of play.

The second side opens with "Automatic Mydriasis. Dream Weapon's Pivotal Guidance." What a name. And what a tune as well, as yellow sun drones drench the listener in all of their heat and radiation. It might hurt a little, but it's utterly womb-like as well. Drifting vocals and washed out murk intersect toward some stuttering, club-like feel. Almost dance-worthy, but this sure as shit is no Daft Punk. Instead there's an almost British early rave vibe here, but not nearly as overt, instead just bobbing along on some green highway just northwest of Vegas. Gorgeous, and utterly cruise worthy, the track is almost the opposite of the first side, cleansing the grime and getting out onto some open terrain. Which feels damn good I should add. The following track, "Summer Stasis Bucolic Transient Onomatopoeia," begins a bit more clickety and off-putting than the opener, going for a much more clackety glitch aesthetic. Backing chimes almost sound like some Cage piece (oh man, wish I could get Cage off my mind post project!...) but this is way zonked out with odd feedback jumps and shining drones underneath, almost church bell in nature. Really interesting track that somehow merges the approach on the first side with the first track on the B side, especially when vibraphones (or some such instrument) come in off the Out to Lunch ship. Strangely soft and gentle considering the nutso feedback on top. And dig the delta slide guitar work toward the track's end. Wonderful stuff.

Another great tape. Phil's been doing a killer job of meshing the rock stuff with the noise stuff while still maintaining a clear label identity, sound, and level of output. It's been a pleasant surprise for some of the more interesting noise stuff I've heard in a bit to come out from the label, though I suppose it shouldn't be. Also, gotta mention that the A.M. Shiner from the last batch (Good Cop it's called) deserves review treatment here along with the Yuko Chino, but unfortunately both got left at home so they'll have to wait till June. Killer stuff in the same vein though. But yeah, good tape here. Still available from Phil too, so get on it.

M. Geddes Gengras - Smoke Blower (Stunned Records CS)

Another Stunned one, this time from muckraker M. Geddes Gengras, who doubles as a member of Antique Brothers, founder of Green Machines studios and drummer for Robedoor. Not that any of those memberships could really prepare you for this, as here Gengras presents two sides of totally zonked instrumental lurch. I mean, it's called Smoke Blower... what did you expect?

Whatever smoke is being blown here though, it's far more potent than your average bong rip. This stuff is so gone it's tough to return back once you've gone through it. Each side presents one long track, the first being the title number, and if there were ever a more apt name than it would be tough to come by. Everything here is slow as can be, drifting about and lurching with thick rounded drones waving about above the city sounds of airplane flybys and metal on concrete. Totally weird and pretty singular in the mix of your expected L.A. squishiness with some totally borderline industrial screech and leech. Seriously, this stuff is off on some beach far in the recesses of your skull, total go nowhere drift. Only it does go somewhere, so that's not really fair, though the places it goes are hardly tangible enough to feel like "somewhere." There's a warmth here that's really special, hovering barely between noise techniques and something else, something new and strange and, dare I say, fun to partake in. Pretty clear there are fairly few tools at work here too, which lends it a spaciousness that allows you to fully sink your teeth in and have a gnaw at the root itself. Or the glitched out voltage of some spliced chord. Eventually the whole thing fritzes out and its a frenzy of guitar shards and drone that fall far afield of either doom moves or standard drone procedure. Really interesting space engaged here.

Of course the following side/track has a lot to live up to here, and Gengras manages to maintain the same fascinating realms without rehashing the ideas presented on the first side. This time around the track is called "Tree Trimmer," though this ain't no Yule time festivity for sure. Or maybe it is, but not in the family friendly oeuvre that one might initially suppose. Gengras opens with some clattering percussion and a thick and blown out bass rhythm that just kinda hangs out, wreaking havoc on your inner ear and your cerebral cortex while those little pitter patters dance about light as air. Weird and heady vibes for sure, continuously threatening to expand but never got getting there. Sheets of desert high end begin shooting out every now and then as the whole thing takes on this nearly dubby vibe, albeit a dub played in the middle of Death Valley, noon, June, with no H2O and plenty of 'dro. Really a mind splicer and a new aesthetic feel in its own way. Really lo-fi but also sun-bleached white. Another winner from Stunned, and it seems people have already caught on cause the label's out. Sure you can find it at the usual distro spots though, Tomentosa, etc. A big release and one that might even sneak its way on to some year-end lists should the right ears find it. Hell, if I did a year-end list, my ears might well be the right ears.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sean McCann - Phylum Sigh (DNT Records CS)

As I mentioned below, double duty on the McCann factor today, which is totally fine by me any day, but these two were such pleasure to go through I figured I'd do them back to back with no regrets whatsoever. This time around it's McCann on DNT, with a cute little doggy on a couch on the cover. While that might not connote anything too outrageous, the tape may even be trippier than the Stunned, with a greater emphasis on electronic blips and pseudo techno effects fiddling.

This can be seen from the outset on the first track, "Betazoid," which careens back and forth in electronic bliss, waters a bubblin'. Totally weird stuff here, endlessly aimless and drifting, but beneath all the murk you can here the soft tingling of banjo strings or the bass bellow of some distant organ line. Endlessly complex and really tough to get a handle on, this is stuff that avoids any overt genre and is just plain exciting. More than that though, it's also highly emotive. "Sunk Eyes" has drowning string gestures and laser tones flitting about in a surprisingly tough tugger of the heart strings. Beautiful. Or dig "Ice Age Tea," which takes the longing sounds of the previous track and opts to send them into some mental sink hole of bright colors and summer thunders.

The second side has five tracks, and with that many angles squished into so little a space you'd think that not much would be possible, but McCann says so much from the outset that he really doesn't have to get that far to make his presence known. The opener, "Mango Christmas," lets loose from the outset with haunting vocal moves and decaying chatter above a highly rich and amorphous bubbling synth. "Meaningless Desire" gets a bit more deranged as Dolphins into the Future sounds bounce around above some saw blade string bows and warbling atmospheres. I could go on and on, especially seeing how this tape is VAST. Super long and totally fulfilling. You know the deal, every release this guy does is better than the last and these two are no exception, presenting some of the best work I've heard from him yet. Also, keep your eyes peeled for Sean's own label, Roll Over Rover, and their new batch of stuff coming up. It looks like it should be another killer one for sure.

Sean McCann - Frame of Mind (Stunned Records CS)

A couple Sean McCann tapes up today that I've been waiting to cover for a bit, as each one is represented by two of my favorite labels, Stunned and DNT. Figured I'd start out with the Stunned as there's a bunch of Stunned to get through and I'd love to try and hit them all before they're all sold out from source, though that's been happening faster and faster these days. Nice to know that people are finally catching on to the action over there, and especially that a lot of people seem to just be getting it all (judging by the out of stock bonus by The Doglands, also soon to be reviewed here), which is the right move every time over there.

Anyway, when I heard Stunned was putting out another Sean McCann release. The first on Stunned, Sway, seems to have been a catalyst somewhat in McCann's well-deserved cred, but this follow up may be even better. If McCann has proven anything of late, it's that he can blow minds in all modes, and this tape is no exception. Opening with the title track, a blend of bowed strings and drone that soon dissolves into battered rhythms and odd spaces, McCann sets out running here, and the results are as carefully constructed and gorgeous as one could hope. Really some next level stuff. While a lot of people seem to be getting into the new age drone vibe these days, McCann keeps it interesting through his distinctive voice and instrumentation, as his bowed banjo emits snippets of Oriental waterlily ballads while the thudding string tugging and skittering electronic sequencing entrap the center and allow it to breathe easy.

Another aspect of McCann's expertise lies int he quality of the recordings themselves, which are treated as carefully as the music insinuates. So many people working in this world have a major jones for lo-fi murky drone, and really it's tough to not love it, but while a project like Skaters benefits from that aesthetic, allowing each sound to blend into the other in a propelling momentum, McCann's calls for a clearer production that allows every detail of his sound to come through. The following "Slight Manner," also with drifting strings and drone, is as crisp and illuminated as the sounds within. With each instrument as audible as it is, the different pockets of detail found over the course of a number of listens is exponentially increased. The feel is as vibrant and gentle as the sounds themselves.

The second side divides itself between three tunes that further explore the depths McCann creates. The first, "Bending Through," opens with a glistening electronic line that phases in and out above thick, aired out bass. It is absolutely immense and beautiful, soon slipping into an odd song of sorts, with drums and clatter carrying the piece forward. Not so much cosmic as its sounds might entail, the piece always sounds grounded in some sense, remaining that much more captivating for it. There's almost an Animal Collective / Black Dice vibe to this, only without any of the self-consciousness. "Colors" follows with another mini tune that eventually winds up leading (or should I say swaying) into the closing "Homeroom," whose vocal croons and lazy percussion evoke the tropical vibe everyone seems to be seeking these days, only in a far more dense and nostalgic way than most pull off. It's a beautiful tape, and of course beautifully packaged and (yeah!) still available from Stunned, so go grab two!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Magnetic North Duo - Static Fields Forever (Tape Drift CD-R)

Alright, on a role here. This one's another one from the last batch of Tape Drift releases and, brief though it may be, its a real burner. Made up of Nils Rostad on guitar and Sindre Bjerga on bass, electronics and tape, the duo weaves a carefully crafted drone sound that moves beyond a mere flushing out of textures and toward a kind of active improvisation, albeit one marked by pointed moves over extended pools of sound.

The disc opens with a murky vocal sounding drone, but soon Rostad's guitar enters, contributing a highly interactive and rich feel. Long tones are quick motives are stretched across the space in a Loren Connors-esque reinterpretation of the blues, albeit even more abstracted and spare. There is a folk-infused feel here that contributes to a real earthiness in the drones and odd spaces unearthed by Bjerga, whose cautious presence is appreciated; it would be far too easy for the droning to exist as continuous backdrop to Rostad's playing, which could be detrimental to the feel of the work as a whole. Instead, Bjerga's entrances are notable and integral to the dialogue itself, adding punctuation and atmosphere that both engage with and serve as opposition to the consistent tonal warmth of Rostad.

By the end, the piece has moved little in the way of general shape, but there is certainly a journey intrinsic to the disc. Moving away from the spare interplay, Rostad's guitar does in fact get tougher and there is an aggression exuded that feels logical after the brooding opening. At only 25-minutes in length the piece, a debut for the duo, serves as a fine appetizer, ending up in a fragile jangling end that answers no questions. Of course this means that there must be more to come, and that can't be anything but a good thing. A group to keep an eye on, I only wish there were more.

Ashtray Navigations - Sugar Head Record (Deep Water 2XCD-R)

Here's another twofer from Deep Water Acres, this time courtesy of Phil Todd's endlessly productive Ashtray Navigations project. Seriously, this dude releases so music its unheard of, and the consistency of his output is ridiculous. This one presents only three tracks over its two discs, meaning that the name of the game is, as per usual with this scenario, extended psychedelic improv. Yet Todd always seems to fill every crevice that that term can suggest every time out, and he moves just as unerringly here.

The first disc presents only one track, an hour long soup called "Sugar Head Music with Sines." Starting off nice and slowly, the piece gradually builds, mixing droning raga-style moves with delaying percussion and guitar lines. Todd always takes his time with his creations, making sure to keep things moving by hitting a variety of zones on his way to mental mud. As shuddering pulses undulate beneath, his guitar continues its frayed momentum, catalyzing itself toward some unknown end. There's actually a remarkable consistency presented here, as the undercurrent never seems to waver no matter what is being soloed on atop. Not that not wavering requires not changing of course; the drones are constantly shifting and creating new gaps for Todd to fill, making the general form of the piece much more about a vertical textural change than any goal-oriented journey. Odd dripping vocals, pittering electronic squishes, everything here is designed for maximum submersion into the mind and murk of Phil Todd's mind.

The following disc splits the bill between "Orange Matter Custard" and "Toilet Training," though "Orange Matter Custard" clocks in at only 8 minutes compared to the near 45-minute barrage of "Toilet Training." Still, it makes its presence known in its comparatively short discourse as washes of static tone are meshed into guitar squall that is so heavily enshrouded by white noise that its tough to pick anything apart. Only about halfway through does the beast reveal its head, and the result is a psychedelic mash of guitar and noise in a sound unlike anyone beside Todd. With such a big noise coming from one person, you wouldn't think he'd feel the need to enlist the help of Crowley and Legard on "Toilet Training," but their presence hardly confuses the proceedings. Rather they sit squarely on the same page as Todd, each member resting comfortably on one sound or instrument for some time. Beginning with a high-end drone and a harp-like string fluttering, the piece slowly glides forward into the mist before descending entirely into a wash of tonal echoes. Really impossible to cover it all here, though the name of the game on this track seems to be a general move from creepy pseudo-haunted drone and less frightening raga psychedelia. Another impressive one from Todd and co. and a nice little package courtesy of Deep Water. Though Ashtray Navigations looks good in pretty much anything, wouldn't you say?

Ghost Moth - Sealand Fortress (House of Alchemy CD-R)

Here's another one from House of Alchemy's Adam Richards, whose Chapels project has been getting much attention from this here camp lately. Adam sent me this a bit ago and I've been meaning to get around to it so, of course, now's the time. Actually though, my interest in this project goes back way further when i first got into Graveyards and the prospect of any unit with sax and electronics was suddenly mind-blowingly exciting. While Ghost Moth is no Graveyards, they do have their own sound as well as the added benefit of amply talented saxophonist Daniel Carter on their side.

Other than Carter, whose a real free jazz force in groups like Test (killer unit if you don't know it... seek out their Live recording on Eremite--not to be missed), the trio also features the prepared guitar and synth of Todd Brooks and the synth and tape work of Robbie McDonald. With this kind of backing, Carter's not so much working against accompaniment so much as throwing himself into a maelstrom of tattered industrial wreckage, only to see what comes out the other side.

The album consists of only one twenty-five minuteish track documenting one show that seems to be a benefit of sorts for the aptly named Sealand, a sovereign nation off the coast of Great Britain. Remarkably the recording doesn't sound half bad considering it was recorded to a cell phone. Somehow though, Carter's sax sounds rich and clear in the mix of muddied blurts and blasts which careen along through most of the piece. About halfway through, things take a turn towards the slow side, but never get close to being as airy and empty as a unit like Graveyards, if only because Carter's playing is so nimble and, not surprisingly, energetic. This gives the event a real momentum, driving the sound forward with the vibe of a free blowing session. It's a swell sound, and one fairly far removed from a lot of material that approaches this style without the aid of a true jazz pro. Carter's sax bellows and squeals throughout, which fits quite snugly next to the glitching electronic clatter. A nice one, and a beautiful package to boot. Still available from H.O.A. HQ as well.

Enfer Boreal - The Way of the Masks (Tape Drift CD-R)

Alright, I've been waiting to get around to these for too long now but I finally have a minute (nay, a summer!) to cover all the stuff I've been unable to because of this senior project. Well, it's done, meaning that I'm officially done with school (at last...) and can focus on little more than tunage until the start of next year, when the tables are turned and the student becomes the teacher. Weird...

Figured I'd start the Tape Drift batch with this one from Enfer Boreal, whose stuff I suddenly received a ton of in a super short period of time. Not that I'm complaining. Primault's stuff is totally great and each time out he seems to make a point of not rehashing the same tricks. Perfect example can be found here, as the last review I did of his work was the ultra stark 3" on Centre of Wood. This time out though, Primault gets way fuller and more zoned in no time, as "Le Tomebeau Hindou" starts things out with a quick jaunt through guitar delay drone before slipping into a realm of fritzing electronic harshities and head-knodding undulations. Far more overtly zonked than most of his material, with little of the dreamy vibe I usually associate with his output. Instead this is just 20-minutes of fried and dried fever sleep, albeit with a distinct sense of pace and construction. No matter the sounds used, the approach remains constant, and Boreal's works always have a logical progression throughout, no matter how hellish the vibes may be. Still though, this a pretty thick bath of static wash that serves to cleanse the palette for the white, electrical line hum that catalyzes some expansive excursions later in the track before it once more evaporates into vapor toward the end.

Combined, the other four tracks barely eclipse the length of the first one, which is fine considering the vast reach of the initial blast. "Les Morts Dansaient Avec Nous," the shortest one, is a deep sink hole of goner zones, with bomb threat sirens riding overhead beneath apocalyptic synth moves beneath. Not exactly the pat on the back you expected after the first track, but then again neither is "Le Dixieme Ciel," whose submerged guitar wrangling and vocal barbarism mix with some rusty swingsets to create an eerie vibe made more so by the presence of a fragile beauty just underneath the torment. The closing "Zero Infini" only serves to seal the deal, exploring more of the same bleak streaks of odd metallic grind above tinkling, barely-there high end. The cave dripping circuitry of its mid-section gently moves it toward the delayed guitar work that closes the album, thankfully, on a sunnier side of sorrow. Unexpectedly dark form for this project, and thus further proof that Primault's the real deal. This kind of range means that Primault's always one to watch. Another winner as always from Eric's Tape Drift!

Monday, May 4, 2009

ÆRA - To the Last Man / Index of Dreaming (Faith Strange 2XCD)

And also in from Brainwashed:

A new approach (or at least moniker) for orchestramaxfieldparrish's Mike Fazio, this album presents two separate discs, each individually named, for a double dose of dark and moody ambience as rendered by Fazio's nearly neo-classical approach. Long though it may be, there is enough depth to the material here that suggests numerous listens, yet it is also bare enough that it is just as suitable as background accompaniment, albeit to a consistently grim undertaking.

The first disc, To the Last Man, features a lengthy presentation of seven pieces each exploring a similarly shaded demeanor materializing and decomposing tonal matter. The shimmering bell-like resonances of "To Touch the Sky" writhe uncomfortably above the dark underpinnings of drone that situate themselves amongst an almost Gothic sonic backdrop infested by gargoyles and ghosts alike. It is a strange, unnerving approach that manages to paint new material with old techniques.

The filmic quality of much of this material is undeniable considering the strength of its spare and evocative mood setting. With delicate placement, each piece here finds new corners and awkward, creeping modes of the same general tone. As the previously mentioned track slips into "Ennoæ," a distant hand drum rhythm brings new color to the bleakness, adding an echoing force behind the thick swabs of blackness being worked with. When a series of pipes come in, the work begins to resemble a mini percussion orchestra, riding atop some steady drone that bobs up and down in untended black waters.

Fazio's greatest abilities lie in his decisions, as each work displays many that point toward a general caution executed in the creation of his pieces. Never one to overindulge himself, Fazio's textures and patterns service the tune far more than any egotistical self-journey. There is a meditative, almost minimalist effect to many of these, as the carefully produced sounds bounce in and out of the mix with trance-inducing effect.

Yet Fazio's signature sound seems to stem far more from Arvo Part than Reich or Glass, while also interweaving an almost proggy sense of the dramatic. "Ecquænam" may be short, but it has enough dramatic flourishes to make it an ample close to the first disc. "1/1" opens the next disc in a seeming homage to Eno's Music for Airports, a connection made stronger by the title of the disc and its close approximation to Eno's collaborative effort with Robert Fripp on "An Index of Metals." If greater convincing is required, then it can be found in the ambient structures constructed throughout, as the aforementioned proggy elements are brought to the fore and coaxed into writhing electronic sculptures that bend and sway against the skies.

The two discs represent a fine and strongly crafted construction that, though quite a lot for one listen, serves its listener well over the course of numerous re-dippings into the cold waters. That these are as beautiful as they are only makes the darkness more alluring, as the closing "1/3" certainly displays. Almost a half-hour long, the piece builds slowly through static mine fields and church bells. It may be intimidating, and it may long, but the allure of such a mystique can't be denied.

Kabyzdoh Obtruhamchi - Estcho (Stunned Records 2XCD-R)

Just in from Brainwashed:

Sometimes one disc isn't enough. Following up his stunning cassette debut last year, Russian cosmo-wizard Sergey Kozlov returns with a double disc's worth of rock demolition. Whereas the cassette fidelity of the first kept things murky and mysterious though, the two CDs here find Kozlov presenting a far clearer and more expansive concoction that unfurls the vision of a new and potent psychedelic voice.

Of course Kozlov isn't without his influences, and much of his strength lies in his willingness to incorporate the techniques of past exploratory rockers such as Parson Sound and Hawkwind, as well as '70s modal folk material, through his own lens. That Kozlov does it all alone with overdubs and loops is all the more impressive, as what results has none of the repetitive tendencies of most one man bands, instead sounding far closer to a taut and unified rock band than a one man unit likely enacting its prowess in said musician's basement.

Both discs presented are three tracks in length, each beginning with its shortest and ending with its longest piece. And I don't use piece lightly here; these are too vast to be considered songs, yet far too together and constructed to be considered jams. Call them suites if you will, but each number here is infused with pockets and pockets of ideas held together through the sheer momentum and energy of their construction.

Take the opening "Jahendra Shitzaga," for example. Beginning with an encroaching two-note bass line and drifting vocals, guitars sprawl out above before Kozlov's drums come pummeling forward. While much of this could more or less been assembled strictly through loops however, it is clear from the bass alone that Kozlov really played each part through, making it nearly impossible to decipher the kernel from which he started the track but infusing it with a live and elastic in-the-moment quality that too often is lacking when there are only two hands at work.

Those two hands sure do work however, and both Kozlov's drumming and guitar work are magnificent. Everything here seems driven primarily by rhythm, which serves Koslov well as he has a knack for a hard hitting, in-the-pocket approach that drives the work far beyond mere pummel and into the depths of a more lively experimentalism whose sights are set on the outer reaches rather than the inner head-banger. It is, it seems, this rhythmic component which is always at work. On "Kilobelnaya," the 20-plus minute closer to disc one, a modal folk grows and grows, heading toward a pulse and, once finding it, riding along it with enthusiastic delight. Some of the production here even comes across as a bit dubby, everything drifting off and into itself as each element is treated with spatial regard to everything else.

Closing disc two, "Emptuhi Campusabba" is a broad and far-reaching piece that perfectly encapsulates all that Kozlov achieves here. With odd vocal utterances that might well be Pandit Pran Nath had he endulged in a bit too much cough syrup, the work's flutes, guitar and rambling spaciness pulls from so many sources that it treads a fine line between sounding at once familiar and entirely distinctive. This is, perhaps better than anything else, as fine an indicator as there could be of Kozlov's talents. Never the imitator, Kozlov is absolutely aware of his predecessors, and using that knowledge with skill and honesty is too rare a thing.

Also of note here: the album, released by Stunned, is highly limited, as only 100 copies were made. Too often this is seen as an indicator not of limited budgets and homegrown operations, but of sub-par quality releases undeserving of greater distribution. As Stunned and Kozlov have proven repeatedly however, some of the most viable and exciting music coming out is done so on these labels, whose lack of overhead cost allows for an experimentalism that commercial requirements too often quell. Truly a find, and one which will someday surely be regarded with great reverence, so long as people are given the opportunity to hear it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Steve Gunn / Shawn McMillen - End of the City (DNT Records / Abandon Ship Records / Abaddon LP)

Hello world. It's Friday, and that means that, officially, senior project is handed in and my life no longer needs to be engulfed in John Cage. Though as far as engulfing goes that's not half bad, but having to write and hand in the 85 pages was, well, taxing, and I'm damn glad it's over... The major plus of course is that I can get back to some semblance of consistence with regard to reviewing, which is exactly what I'm going to start doing right now, as there's a shit load of stuff waiting around for the review treatment. So much actually... I'm gonna have to get to plowing through here, but I can say that soon there'll be some more Stunned reviews up for the new batch, which is, of course, just as amazing as they always are. Plus a bunch of other stuff from an endless list of amazing labels.

Figured I'd start out with this one though, as it's been sitting on the back burners for a while despite its serving much accompaniment through the dark times that were these last few months. Sent to me by Tynan over at DNT (Sean McCann and Psyched Punch reviews on the way shortly as well), the record was co-released with Abandon Ship (Time Life plus more reviews from them on the way too!) and a new label out of California called Abaddon. Anyway, the three way action is well served by these two, as each presents one side and one piece of expansive excursions.

The first side belongs to Gunn, whose done some great solo work as well as stuff with GHQ and Zac Davis along the way. This is easily the best and most complete example of his vision yet though, subtly mixing folk guitar ramblings with drone, percussion, and an almost jammy bluegrass vibe that isn't so much about drifting through space and reaching towards the cosmos as it is about slowing the pace and reaching for the cosmos (the beverage that is...). Actually naw, that's not true, this is way more lie back in the field with scotch in hand material. The whole work takes its time too, building toward a gentle intersection of lines looped over and through one another with ad eft compositional touch. Almost a Moby Grape vibe here with the guitar angles, but far less song-based and more patient. A relaxing and rambling summer hummer that'll have you reaching for the wheat grass and the weed grass all at once. Gunn definitely has a knack for sounding like no one else, and he never subscribes to standard modes of "experimental" guitar, instead appearing for more focused on perfecting his distinct sound, and it's refreshing to here an artist with such a voice further pursuing his vision.

If Gunn's side was a slow-mo stomper for the coming months, McMillen's is the incoming Winter air which, when meshed with the warmth, is sure to cause some odd weather patterns. Not strictly using guitar, McMillen (who's played with Warmer Milks) also pulls from piano, tapes, synth, and from the sounds of it some small percussion tactics to create a weird and disparate little composition that goes through a ton of zones. One moment there's a strange synth garble below some almost Chopin-style piano flourishes (though far more aimless of course...) before getting increasingly distorted with an incoming choir of both people and bird chirps. A lot of weird spaces here, none of it is too claustrophobic which keeps it eerie without slipping into cliched modes. Some of this stuff even gets a bit dream-like, as shimmering sounds and voices meld together in building toward some distant and odd realm. Really effective stuff, and a great opposition to the single-minded side of Gunn. Despite its differences though, it feels just as carefully constructed and cared for, ultimately displaying just as effective and complete a voice as the counterpart on side one.

Nice LP, two great pieces from two dudes worth keeping an eye on. If this is any indicator, Abaddon's off to a great start and DNT and Abandon Ship are already well versed in this kind of production quality. Nice work from all parties here.