Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ashtray Navigations / Cold Solemn Rites in the Sun / Heavy Winged - Split (Ruralfaune CD-R)

Just pulled in for spring break and glad to be able to relax but realized that this meant a bit of time without my trusty turntable, so these next few reviews might be a mining the vaults a bit more than I've been able to avoid lately. Here's one I got for X-mas, so I suppose it's probably not that old, and if it has already fallen by the wayside, well, you know what they say about oldies.

Ruralefaune is one of those small labels that pops up fully formed, ready to unload heavy tunage on the masses. I believe it's a French label, though that's only because their e-mail address has ".fr" at the end. Really tough to find out anything about these guys, but according to their site, they've released some serious outings: Robedoor, Uton, 6Magik9, Taiga Remains, Quetzolcoatl, etc. The list goes on. Of course every release of theirs seems to be in an edition of 100, so fat chance of scoring any from the back catalog I suppose...

Anyway, like I said, this was given to me for X-mas, and at the time I had only heard one of the bands on it. Heavy Winged had wheeled into Bard for a show the previous Fall, and I had swung by, young and naive, and left. Thought it was too wanky or something. Whoops. Ashtray Navigations was a project I'd heard a TON about, but of course had never been able to secure anything by, so this disc was really all about that for me until I threw it on.

Ashtray Navigations is the moniker of Phil Todd, though he sometimes rallies others along for the ride too. He's the only one with more than one song on here--three, in fact--though all of his tracks take up less time than each of the other units' mammoth jams. Still, this was immediately recognizable as something I dug. Convoluted, dense backgrounds, strange guitar or mandolin, middle-eastern tinged vibes, and clackety percussion abound on the first track, which, due to the font, might be called either "Wind Trophy" or "Mind Trophy." I can't tell, but personally, my vote's for "Mind Trophy." Like a psyched-out, noised-out Muslimgauze without all the samples. Ok, so that's a stretch, but they are both into repetitive lines in enclosed spaces, not that Todd's construction is suggestive of anything but expansion. And there is that middle-eastern thing, too. Just none of the DJ nonsense that can get a bit tiresome.

Todd's next track has a smoking title, and it actually fits the sounds in a weird way too. "Beechwood Piss Crescendo" opens around a campfire, crickets, circular loops, and soft guitar layers. A nice relaxed vibe that once again seems to use those middle-eastern melodies he loves. This is a bit more folky, than the last track I suppose, but still all mangled melody and spacious connotation. But this is earthly stuff too, firmly grounded at campfire directly under the axis of the heavens, wavering back and forth between dissonance and complete sonority.

Alright, Todd's final track is really where the Muslimgauze comparison that I spent so long struggling to defend before comes from. "Inside Your Mouth the Elephant's Trunk" (another wonderful title) starts off with a sitar like drone over wooden percussion wavering about like water droplets into a big iron bowl somewhere in Southern India. Building slowly, the piece never loses its focus, as undulating background noises emerge quietly before slinking back to where they came from. When the strings enter, they emit a slow crescendo that ends at its climax, two and a half minutes in, stuck deep in the forests of Nepal.

Cold Solemn Rites in the Sun is a group I have heard little about. Comprised of Wilson Lee, an avant-garde guitarist who runs Fathmount out of Hong Kong,and horn-blower Valerio Cosi of Italy, their track on this one, "Cold Rites in the Sludge," has guest artist Marco Clivati on drums, an addition which must drastically change this outing form most of the duo's numbers. Starting the fifteen minute epic out with a bang, all jerking and halting guitar and free form blow out via Cosi, the piece eventually finds its rhythm, at times going all out a la Brotzmann and Sonny Sharrock in Last Exit, and at times exploring more sonorous territory not dissimilar from an Archie Shepp or Sabir Mateen. The group really holds its own though. Lee has the potential to go into some real far out, fuzz-grating madness, and Cosi is no slouch at all--the guy isn't your average noise-horn-blower, he really seems to know what he's doing. Clivati seems to manage to focus the group more than I imagine much of their stuff is; his driving rhythms and in the pocket breaks are nicely effective in holding the whole thing together. Slows down toward the end, with Clivati's percussion even getting bit tribal, before the guitar drifts the piece off into the hot air currents left in their wake. Worth finding more form these guys for sure.

And now, to Heavy Winged. A trio of Jed Bindeman on skins, Ryan Hebert on guitar, and Brady Sansone navigating on bass, the group theoretically isn't actually a working unit anymore, Stretched across the country, one in Vermont, one in Oregon, and one in Brooklyn, it can't be easy to stay active. I heard one of them opted to become some sort of organic farmer or something. Either way, they recently got hyped up after a slew of releases on various labels, none of which I was smarter to pick up at that show. Luckily I have this. "Under a Reddening Sky" is complete mayhem. All out, stoned and droned sludge. This stuff is far too dense and aimless to be considered rock, but far too riffy and noodling to be noise. The closest comparison I can give is to Burnt Hills, but whereas Burnt Hills wields their power in numbers, crawling along as one giant microcosm, Heavy Winged opts for a tighter, more focused spectacle. This is destruction, but not apocalyptic at all. Hell, this is probably what that kid Sid from Toy Story listened to after he got sick of tearing dolls apart and opted wielding a bong and soldering iron, circuit bending those toys into whacked-out noise-makers instead. This is eighteen minutes of crazed awesomeness. Aimless vocalizings, aimless noodlings, aimless aimlessness. Just shrieking glory. Heavy Winged surely brandishes the hammer of the gods.

Not sure if this bad boy is available, but really after getting this one, I started making a solid effort to pick up more from all of the bands on it (not that I've done good on that effort yet...). The music works well together on this, and it doesn't feel like some cheapo compilation at all. Instead, the groups all seem to be pointing towards the same celestial vision from different angles.

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