Monday, March 31, 2008

Changeling - Into Great Peace (Not Not Fun CS)

I understand why most people don't still listen to cassettes. Hell, they're too fragile, the sound quality isn't exactly crisp, and skipping songs is hardly a convenience. Then again, all of those reasons could be completely legitimate ones to LIKE them too, which is why this strange cassette underworld is still around, and which is also the reason that I recently picked up a nice (and cheap) used cassette deck over at Rhino Records. Too many good labels were putting out too many nice items on cassette, and I certainly was not going to suffer because I didn't have the proper equipment. Of course it also provided the added bonus of flipping through all those old mixes I had made with my dad's LPs when I was eight. Some killer jams on those things... 4 Seasons, Ventures, Steely Dan, etc. Weird.

So when I put in this Not Not Fun order, I opted to buy my first tape in a while, taking a chance on this Changeling number. I hadn't heard too much about it, but knew it was a moniker for Roy Tatum who had played in Deep Jew and Quintana Roo, and the description on this sounded like it might be some explorative ambient stuff. Tough to pull off without sounding like new age schlock? Definitely. But come on, the guys in Deep Jew.

I'm not sure how long Into Great Peace is, but its a decently mighty slab of music compared to all those C15s and C20s making the rounds today. Two tracks, one side apiece, housed in aqua green plastic, and we're off.

Side one is entitled "Enter Tranquility," which, though perhaps a bit easy listening for my taste, does seem a perfect fit for the warm stretches of guitar ambience produced here. Layers of glittering drones are placed across each other, undulating and wavering back and forth. This is pleasantly aimless stuff, like what it must feel like to be stuck in a space shuttle, waiting to arrive on the moon for days and just floating.

Side two exhibits another entrance, this time in the form of "Enter Serenity" (there aren't any exits on this ride!). Lulling itself back and forth, it utilizes much the same technique as the previous track, sounding like the soundtrack to your enlightenment. Everything is clear as day, laid gently out in swaths of soft tones. Some of it reminds me of the most overtly beautiful moments on Brian Eno's Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks, though the length allowed for these tracks allows for complete submersion into the comforting bath.

So is it new age? I confess, listening to it at first, I did have my doubts. But whereas new age is designed to be background music, Tatum has requested your attention. Much like the furniture music of the aforementioned Eno, this is material which does feel like it could exist in the background, airy whisps of clouds over translucent oceans, unbeknownst to those in the room. Yet when you choose to partake, it is all there, a subtle construction of a tranquil journey. Just listen closely to that solo on track two. Slowly Tatum, slowly.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sun Araw - The Phynx (Not Not Fun CD-R)

Just got a few shipments in, one from Not Not Fun, another from American Tapes, and the last from killer distributor Tomentosa. Figured I'd start with my favorite of the bunch so far, Sun Araw's epic The Phynx.

Not Not Fun is known for some killer releases from the likes of Robedoor, Pocahaunted, and GHQ, none of which I'd heard of course (I always seem just a little behind on this stuff...) but I dig most of those band's catalogs and figured I'd go ahead and take a chance on some stuff I hadn't heard yet along with an album I'd been meaning to pick up for a while by Family Underground (more on that later... maybe tomorrow if I can get to it). After a little research and a nice interview with him courtesy of some site that I can't seem to find anymore comparing his work to Psych-masters Parson Sound, a favorite of mine, I opted to get hip on this Sun Araw character. Turns out he's a member of another group that I haven't heard but need to, Magic Lanterns. These guys are out of Long Beach, Florida, and apparently they lay on some heavy shit.

So anyway, Sun Araw is the moniker of guitarist Cameron Stallones, who I think I remember reading is big into Catholicism, though you wouldn't be surprised after hearing the record if you were told he was some medicine man in the jungles of Nepal. This is truly psyched out stuff, four tracks and forty minutes of expansive jamscapes. Of course, his being a guitarist, much of it revolves around that, but he pulls magic out of all sorts of noise-makers. I don't know whether he brought in other coherts for that or if it's just him, but either way this is a totally unified vision of grandiose space travel and karmic entropy (whatever that means!).

The album kicks off in grand fashion, with the fifteen minute "Fog Wheels." Chuttering along aimlessly in the beginning, clatters entering and exciting and guitar drones oozing in and out among the muck, it soon turns into a bedroom brawl of drug-induced euphoria. Seriously, the vocal line here is like something out of a well recorded (yeah, right) Les Rallizes Denudes build-up. Krautrock at its spaciest, psych-folk at its psychiest, Spacemen 3 at their most intricate. It's got all of the head-nodding mystery and zonked-out euphoria that Velvet Underground can culminate without any of the heroin. Acoustic guitar and drums ride under the waves and shrieks of guitar squawl and feedback, building into a mammoth beast that chugs along towards the rising sun, which sits at the edge of the desert panting, on its back. Really killer stuff. If this is just him overdubbing himself it's a real accomplishment. If this is him with his friends helping out, it's still a real accomplishment. Added bonus: tin whistle and organ work. Slaying.

"Harken Sawshine" opens with the sounds of night, frogs and crickets and the like, while a blues-drenched Delta line kicks off some kind of weirdo swamp blues thing. Harmonica, guitar, vocals, drums, the works, lurch along to serenade whatever nighttime excesses you desire. You know Junior Kimbrough? If you don't check him out. If you do, this is him playing in some reefer-filled opium nest in the Florida Wetlands. Is that an egret lying on the floor over there? Me thinks it is. "Hive Burner" goes for a noisier approach, much less mellow, all clattery driving rhythms and nutiness. This track might be the most zoned out of the bunch, really all hard driving psych stuff, megadrones, and mystic frenzy. This almost breaks down into the noise category but really its much more focused and rock-driven than that. Perhaps most note-worthy about this stuff is the clarity of its construction. While so often these psych-rock blubber build-ups leave you cold and stranded atop the highest peak, just out of reach of the heavens above, Sun Araw is in enough control to come down from his haven anytime, scoop you up in his feathered hand, and deliver you to the skies above.

The last song, "The Phynx" opens with a monolithic vocal part that somehow reminds me of that killer scene in the "Neverending Story" with those two massive sphinx sculptures whose laser eyes attack any who pass. Like some Gregorian monks descending into some cavernous dungen where spirits lurk around every bend. The vocals keep building for a bit on this bad boy, warming, cooling, warming again, slowly etching out of stone some strange concoction of spacey chant. Stallones adds all the right ingredients here, and then let's this one simmer just right. The guitar drones that emerge from the back, harsh and distorted, perfectly complement the strange vocal musings. Halfway through, the drone dies done, maracas chide in, and some of the heaviest guitar work on the album comes in with skull-crushing fervor. Did Fushitsusha just join in? Or Skullflower? All out psych rock freak out till the end on this one.

Definitely still available, and definitely worth snagging for the meager $6 price tag, this is a killer debut. Can't wait to hear more from this guy, but I guess first it's time for me to go seek out some Magic Lanterns and see if they can match this kind of organized mental destruction. More coming soon.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Binges - Flame of the Millenium (Night People CD-R)

Binges are the Chicago duo of Anthony Decanini and Chris Robert. I found out about this group from a friend of mine who had gotten the CD in search of more stuff along the same punctured vein as Graveyards. Well, Binges was way off the mark, but what a glorious miss this one was! Utilizing Robert's drums, and assorted percussive elements (I'm guessing tables, chairs, walls, tables and chairs against walls, etc.) along with Decanini's electronics, sax, gee-tar, and bass, Binges conjure up some of the tightest and most focused improv this side of Actuel. Flame of the Millenium is their second effort, and first on tour buddies Raccoo-oo-oon's label Night People.

Comprised of eight untitled tracks, the album hauls ass the whole way through. Kicking things off with a DNA-style melody, all harsh and assaultive like, the album never slows down, even when exploring more ambient territory. Drums clammer in, stuttering and plugging along, driving the looped and craggy mayhem of this sonic canyon. These lands is hot though, so bring sunscreen.

What's best about the album is the overt precision that these guys cull forth. While a lot of bands might pride themselves on loose and loping rhythms and aimless meanderings, Binges is of a more focused sort, and the amount of power that the duo is able to wield because of it pays off big time. The second track opts to display a completely different side to their focus, culling forth frothing loops and warm ambient electronics as they slide along towards an increasingly manic end. Never playing more than necessary, this is clearly a pair who shares some kind of twisted and volatile vision of post-Mars, post-Shepp, post-Stockhausen orgies.

Track three is all stuttering and bleeping, a workout session for the circuit board and hi-hat. Again, the depth and resilience these guys attain is really killer. Its out there, for sure, but it never loses its repetitive nature or its mobility. Same goes for the fourth track, which is all excess energy and movement. This Robert fellow may not be the next Sunny Murray, but he's certainly nodding his head in that particular direction. His swells and activity really keep the pieces grooving throughout, like Tom Bruno (of Test) jamming out with John Olson.

Track five is another patient builder of a piece, with the sounds of clay pipes and bowels huddling together in the cold. The whole thing is vaguely reminiscent of some complex wind harnessing mechanism that merges pipes, chimes, and electronic currents into one naturally ebbing, clattery piece of sonic debris. Tracks six and seven reharness their harsher leanings, and definitely morph their ways towards respective danger zones.

Oddly, track eight is the closest of the bunch to Graveyards, though much less minimal and lurching. Binges never fail to keep it swinging--it's all kinetic focus and maniacal maneuvers. The group's already released another album on Arbor, so hopefully they will continue to hone their quickly developing sound. Hell, they've already been hailed as future kings of the Chicago underground, so who am I to tout their excellence? Limited to 200 copies. Definitely one to watch.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Burnt Hills - Green Blare (The Lotus Sound CD-R)

When I first met Jack, guitar slinger and shelter-provider for Burnt Hills, he came into the record store I work at with his son. My boss introduced us, mentioned that he was in the group, and we shot the shit for a bit before his son picked out a Hilary Duff CD for purchase. He looked at me and said something along the lines of "you know what? I've always told him that he should never let anyone tell him what to like. Guess he really listened to me huh?" It's true in a way. If Jack's son is trying to rebel by listening to the music most unlike his dad's, he found it.

I had said I would get around to reviewing these guys in that Century Plants review below, and I sure hope I ain't no deceiver, so here goes. My sister came down to visit me at school midweek, starting the whole college search and whatnot, and I had to bring her back up so I decided I'd make a weekend of it. Well no weekend home is complete without a stop by my sometimes employer and always-times music buddy Hal March's Toonerville Trolley Records. As far as my high school years went, Hal's is the epicenter of musical happenings in my town, let alone the closest hour--he's got it all, knows it all, and sells it all. One of those real deal independent record stores that are disappearing so fast nowadays. So anyway, I swung through, chatted a while, and Hal laid the latest Burnt Hills on me. Jack, the man behind the madness, had sent two complimentary copies of it for me and Hal, so I was psyched. Free is good, but it wouldn't be quite as good had Burnt Hills not had that special something that always made my feet tingle and my head travel in just the right direction. So thanks ahead of time to Jack for hooking me up--and if you haven't already been clued in, Jack runs the killer label and distribution center Flipped Out Records. Check it out for all kinds of goodies.

So on to the soundz. The Lotus Sound has released killer works by the likes of Graveyards, Loren Mazzacane Connors, Arthur Doyle, Milo Fine and Suishou no Fune, so when I heard that our very own local titans of madness would be releasing with them I got all kinds of excited. Handed the package, it looked just the way I hoped it would, with simple paste-on art over a cardstock fold over case just like all those other little "Handmade Series" numbers. The CD, laser etched, was cautiously placed in my car player, and off I was to the sonic no-man's land.

Burnt Hills sounds like exactly what they say they sound like. This is the music of flames ripping down canyons, bears and rabbits booking it trying to escape. The music starts off quite differently than many of their efforts on this one actually, sounding like the septet is trying to cover some Replacements demo or something before they begin to get loose and head into darker, murkier, sludgier terrain. Comprised of, get this, four guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, and this time around a xylophonist (Llana, whose cover art is as compelling as her playing, when you can hear it at least), so you can assume that there's not much room to breath on this platter. Knowing that these sounds are consistently recorded in Jack's basement, where all those riffs are able to mesh and echo against each other like huge swelling waves clashing on some poor deserted island, makes it all the more compelling.

Saw these guys live once the same night that that new Peasant Magik Century Plants 3" and Dead Machines played and they all switched instruments all the time, just slaying the walls. Surprised they can still hear, though I guess the senses aren't exactly what this stuff is about. This is more in line with overcoming your body through sonic means, like driving towards the sun and forcing yourself to maintain visual contact with the sinking rays. You might go blind, but at least you'll be one step closer to enlightenment.

Another destructo blast from a killer Albany unit. Sure, it's composed of those cautious noise mongers Century Plants, but the approach really couldn't be more different. Opposite approach, same level of delicious. Eat it up. Yum.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sunburned Hand of the Man - Attica Rectangle (Manhand CD-R)

Well, here we go again. Another week has passed, and another Sunburned album hath descended upon us. Manhand #68, Attica Rectangle. And again, Sunburned have displayed yet another facet of their sound, this time in the form of amateur sounding, noodly industrial tunes. Field songs for uranium.

The album opens with "Inside/Outside," which might as well be a jam session between the Godz and No-Neck Blues Band. It lurks along in aimless fashion, grinding its way towards some uncertain end. By the time the second track hits, they've already got you right where they want you, halfway between your inner ear and outer space. "Shiv Giver" maintains the momentum with its dronescape, though the piece is far less meditative than what that term may bring to mind. This is all undulating displacement, mammoth conveyor belt noises driven by rust-laden cogs. Yet Sunburned never let it achieve the mayhem that it seems to point toward. Their restraint is more than decipherable.

Which leads me to something that would like to take a moment and discuss. Sunburned is great at doing what they do, yes, but what do they do exactly? How do they command such seemingly disparate musical ideas without ever losing touch of their inner Manhand? The trick, I think, is just that restraint mentioned above. Whether they be jamming on funky psychedelic groove sessions or tweaking out to some noise bliss mayhem, Sunburned rarely show all of their cards at any point in a piece. It is the fine art of listening displayed on a canvas as wide as the River Styx. As the fifth track, "Attitude: Wargang," rumbles in, with its space age guns and pulsing, fuzzed-to-hell bass jam moves in and out of your consciousness, you are never overwhelmed with all of the elements at once. They come, go, and come again, building into one amorphous mass lurching along the ground seeking its prey. But really I digress. You're here to read about Attica Rectangle, not to here my theories on why Sunburned might just be the greatest band of the last fifteen years. Arguments? Anyone?

The album rings in at a brief 28 minutes, with most of the second half of the album evolving from where "Attitude: Wargang" leads off. By the time you hit the last song, "Ape in the Hole Time," you've really just been witnessing one monstrous trick after another, all elements growing with steady precision, metamorphosizing into some bizarre hybrid of noise, drone, rock, and industrial. Another hit by the Sunburned crew, and theoretically the first in the "mental prison" series, whatever that may be. Here's looking forward to the rest, if it should ever rear its ugly head, but keep a keen eye out. This one was limited to 100 copies only. Which I guess is a whole hell of a lot better than two of their other releases from this year. Sugar Magnolia was limited to only 10, and believe it or not, Animal Andrew Crew was only given a pressing of ONE. Wonder who the lucky recipient of that was...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Century Plants - Sound System Sound (Tape Drift CD-R)

Century Plants are Eric Hardiman and Ray Hare, two axe-slinging skull soothers who you might know from Albany muckrackers Burnt Hills (a review of whom will shortly come). Whereas that group obliterates mental towers though, Century Plants sees the duo pairing down to guitar and effect methods, where they engage and converse in some of the most stunning nothingness I've heard in quite some time.

Of course, again, the album I'm reviewing is not their latest--they have a release out on the estimable Peasant Magik label which I hear is ridiculously great--but Sound System Sound is an album that has not received quite the attention that it deserved. Which may partly be due to its fifty copy release, but either way. Let's move on to the music.

The album is made of two membrane monster tracks, "Glue" and "Glass." Each make for approximately thirty minutes of mayhem, grinding, slurring, and grating their weapons of choice towards some sort of strange meeting point just over the border of insanity. "Glue" is the less noisy track, though upon throwing on the album you certainly would have to come to terms with what I'm saying, and may even question my reviewing capabilities, but yes. It is the less noisy of the two. It creeps slowly in at first, oozing and sputtering warm electric currents out of some Neptune volcano before it heads into the dark, eyes closed and arms out. Only problem is then you can't see what's lurking out there, and there are things out to get you on this alien planet, god damn it. So yeah, it basically twists and turns into some lurching metallic cockroach, and you're running, and all that green goo is getting on you and, oh shit! Why did you come to this planet anyway?! The soundtrack's killer, that's why.

"Glass," as previously stated, is much more heavy and dense, lurching as spikes and shards of, well, "glass" emerge from within. To me, the weaker track, but equally powerful and mind-bending. The interaction between these two really is spot on, weaving in and out of the deepest, darkest, and most beautiful caverns, not dissimilar from those grounds once tread upon by the likes of Fripp and Eno, though certainly with a bit more expansive of a sonic pallet.

One heavy package, and believe it or not I think this was only the second time these guys played together. Keep an eye out, even more stuff is on the way I hear. Who knows, Tape Drift might even have a few copies left kicking around...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Axolotl - Trade Ye No Mere Moneyed Art (Loci CD-R)

I'll never forget the first time I encountered Axolotl. I was shopping around during my first fated trip to Yod, noise mecca and digs of Ecstatic Peacers Thurston Moore and Byron Coley, as well as more recent helping (sunburned) hand John Moloney. Whilst perusing the vaults, getting all tingly and such, Moloney slapped on "Memory Theater," a compilation of Axolotl works put out on Important. Needless to say it blew me away from the get go, and both I and my cohort immediately expressed interest. Come to find out that, despite the seemingly endless piles of weirdness lying around the store, they didn't have it in stock, and no, Moloney wouldn't sell us his copy. It's wide availability did allow for my eventual acquisition of it though, and that disc was spun for many moons before I found a used copy of his self titled release on Psych-O-Path lying around the Other Music bins. Again, maximum spinnage was obtained, and my Axolotl craze was in full bloom.

Recently though, Karl Bauer, the main man behind the group, hit the world with a piece of news that could not have been more welcome. He was starting his own label, Loci, and was to initiate the label with three new releases, two Axolotl and one in tandem with Weyes Bluhd. Well I certainly wasn't gonna turn down this opportunity, but my being a starving college kid and all I had to make my decisions wisely, and decided that the obvious choice would have to be to go ahead and snag Loci numero uno. Housed in a plastic sleeve with a super cheapo xerox cover and an even more bootleg CDR (literally just one of those blank Memorex discs with the word Axolotl written on it) my hopes were slightly diminished. Momentarily. After all, this was the first release on the label, and according to descriptions of the "Live" album a mere taste of what is to come, so let's press onward into the sounds shall we?

Who was I kidding? Axolotl has released beautiful packages before, but what this release is missing in aesthetics it more than makes up for in sonic beauty. Bauer's unique blend of violin, electronics, and vocals, are masterfully blended to create drones far superior to your average over-hyped drone act. Where most contemporary drone acts opt for murkier waters, Axolotl is all bright sheen and layers. Rarely one to bother with a buildup, Bauer instead throws the listener right into the middle of it, an act that displays his confidence in not feeling the need to lead his audience through his fine craftsmanship. Nay, he'd much prefer to just throw you int here and let you meddle around the construction for a while like some gaping pantheon with a plethora of tunnels and hideaways to play hide and seek in.

The album consists of six untitled tracks amounting to nearly forty minutes of music which, to my ear, is never enough. The first track creeps in, sounding like a fan directed into a trumpet, creating strange overtones and building worlds of air. The trick is that, while other bands opt to either send you into the stratosphere or demolish you back into the bowels of the land, Axolotl keeps you hovering just over the salty brine, sprawled out and swaying. Halfway through, an encroaching train of bucket percussion and savory gliding tones emerge from the distance, providing the same feelings of uncertainty and seeking as Charles Ives' "The Unanswered Question." Of course Bauer too is smart enough to understand that the question CAN'T be answered, so the only solution is to continue moving forward as before.

Highlights include the fourth track, with its undulating waves of glowing breezes over the clicking and static murkiness of a darker place. Truly the sound of a lonely beach on a gorgeous, cool summer day. Yet Bauer is always wise enough to remind you of the microbes under your feet, tearing at your skin as you walk by. The vocals drift in and out before the song cuts short, interrupted by electronic humming and snapping and tribal yalping emerging from beyond the tree line. Again though, Bauer's patience in confidence in his constructions allows even these seemingly harsh noises to lull themselves into a gentle slumber. The last track, the longest by a stretch, is all blissed out electronics that lead from point Z right back to point A. Never one to give in to any need for proper conclusion is Axolotl's forte, and he does it better than anyone. One track ends, another begins, and before you know another Axolotl release has come and gone.

We should thank our lucky air waves that there's a label by this chap, because if #1 is any sign, great things will continue to emerge and evolve out of the Loci catalog. I only wish I could have grabbed all three of them.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Emeralds/Quintana Roo - Split (Arbor LP)

Ah, Arbor. That most unusual of labels that releases great experimental music in (sometimes) relatively large pressings and beautiful packaging. And to think it's run by a seventeen-year-old... what have I been doing all these years?! In a day where most of the bands on their roster either release the majority of their material themselves or through other like-minded, minuscule-proportioned pressing agents, Arbor puts out high quality vinyl that sounds great and really gives the bands present a chance to do what they do best in a swell environment. So when it was announced that they would be releasing a split LP featuring one of my favorite current bands, Emeralds, I snagged it up right quick. And, as an added bonus, Arbor had chosen to follow in the grand tradition of the split LP, tagging Emeralds up with similarly atmospheric group Quintana Roo, the split release kings (seriously, look into it. it's absurd how many splits these guys have been on...). Anyway, despite their prevalence, they remained a band I heard much of, but whose sonic pleasures had not attained contact with my ear drums. So yay for split releases.

The Emeralds side is titled "Bubble Quiet Complication," and boy do they have a knack for titles. To begin with, I couldn't think of a better band name to brand Emeralds' unique style of blissed-out, droning serenity. Shimmers all green like the stone. Get it? And "Bubble Quiet Complication" is merely a continuation of that apt description, flowing inward and outward, upward and downward, all undulatory-like. You know those phosphorescent algae that hang out in lagoons in Mexico? You wade on into this glowing sapphire ooze in the water, get covered in it, and you actually glow green. Secret of the Ooze anyone? That's about as close as I can get to the sound on this one. It doesn't really go anywhere, just shimmers and glides across the surface. Why would you want to move when your starting point is oh so well-suited to your mind state anyways? The only qualm is that it ends too soon. If I could have this soundtrack my excursion down the Amazon I would. And that's a long trip, I hear. Added bonus is that the label on this side, if held the right way, looks just like a big green jack-o-lantern. A Granny-Smith-o Lantern if you will... and I will!

The Quintana Roo side is another single-pieced side that attains much the same level of transcendental power as the Emeralds', but through vastly different means. Where Emeralds are all about shiny, stagnant poise, "Beheaded Dynasty" brings in a serious dose of tribal warfare. Sure, they move around the place slowly and deliberately, the percussion, trumpet, and synth lines building with great patience. But this is a fuckin onslaught. It is that particular breed of foreboding that can only be achieved by slow and steady repetition, like some far off Mongol army trumpeting their arrival. Thank god they never actually arrive. The trumpet (I think it's a trumpet line, though who knows... could be processed vocals, handmade weirdo electronics, who knows...) is a constant and steady presence, its ethereal quality nicely contrasted with the steady building of the drum line. Vocal lines pass in and out like the ghosts of soldiers past, all heeby jeeby like. When the guitar strums in, the face off begins, and boy does it seem like those Mongols are gonna slay us all with all their clattering wilderness driven intensity. This is heavy shit, and the intimidation lasts good and long, as any session of this sort should. By the end of it, your glad they've marched back into the wilderness, but the adrenaline's still pumping so you decide to shoot off an arrow anyway.

Basically, the album is great, and a must for any fans of the contemporary school of drone. Bonus points to Arbor for the weird portrait on the cover, which somehow encapsulates Quintana Roo's sound better than Emeralds'. But wait. Joy of joys. The vinyl itself is a rich Emerald green. Someone out there likes me, and I think it's Arbor. And Emeralds. And Quintana Roo. Limited to 450 copies, but definitely still snaggable. See, I finally got to one before discussion of it became obsolete! Huzzah!