Friday, August 29, 2008

Hell & Bunny w/ Greg Kelley - Burn It Down For The Nails (Brokenresearch CD-R)

As I sit here writing this, there is some heavy construction work going on outside, which got me thinking... if there's a more apt title for a Brokenresearch album then... well there isn't. Ben Hall's usual brand of abstract deconstruction is again at work on Burn It Down For The Nails, a trio album enlisting the help of frequent compatriot Hans (Bunny) Buetow and Nmperign trumpet extraordinaire Greg Kelley, who proves to be the perfect choice for this sparse environment.

Whereas Graveyards has the noise background of John Olson as a constant presence, this trio opts for a more traditionally jazz oriented sound, though calling this jazz is more than a stretch. Kelley's trumpet sounds so un-trumpet like for such large portions of this that it might as well be some weird glitched out electronic toy. Breathing huge breaths of sound through the trumpet reveals these odd high tones and strange, breathy environments to fill in the muttering cello statements of Buetow or the glistening, knife-sharpening sounds of Hall's cymbals.

Track one, about ten minutes in length, is largely a scraping affair, similarly entrenched in the Graveyards slow-as-the Arctic continental drift aesthetic. Track two is where the group dynamic is really on display though, cropping this particular unit off the Melee/Graveyards/Kill Devil Hills world with a dynamism and playful downtown vibe that speaks to a looser working model than those other groups. As Kelley's trumpet starts to smatter away, Hall meets him with a precise kineticism while Buetow strengthens his pace, coming in and out with lyricism and colorful beauty.

It's Kelley's trumpet that really seems to reshape this material however. Kelley manages to make the instrument sound like, well, air through metal, but he has the chops to maintain momentum and form over the long twenty-five minutes of the second track. The fact that Hall and Buetow can not only keep up but hold their own, making this a true three-way improvisation, only speaks to the depth of their abilities. Towards the end of the track, Kelley's trumpet starts to mutter phrases that sound like the King Oliver after three too many whiskey sours, all the while Buetow's cello matching wits in a far mre angular, loft jazz manner. Hall's choice not to play only further proves the professionalism and musical capacities of these guys to do exactly as they must for the sake of the music.

Track three may be the most lively one on the disc, continuing in the spirit of the end of the previous track. Kelley's trumpet sounds like Freddie Hubbard one minute and Bill Dixon the next, switching gears on a dime as Buetow's long cello strokes and Hall's mobility give it an in-the-moment reactivity that really should be heard by noise-heads and jazzers alike. Another winner from Brokenresearch, and of course, another beautiful package. Limited to 100.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Emeralds - Live (Gneiss Things CD-R)

Ever since that Quintana Roo split I reviewed a ways back, I had been jonesing for more of Emeralds' sound. Given that their whole approach is about a certain quantity of volume and the sheer mass of their sound, it didn't seem right to only have one side of an LP. So when I went to No Fun Fest back in May, I especially had my eye out for some longer material.

Now I know it's been a while, and this is all old news, but I haven't really mentioned No Fun Fest at all. See, my friend and I had this swell idea that we would see the Skaters on the main stage and then, just before Skaters ended, run downstairs to the bar stage to catch Emeralds up close and personal. Needless to say, everyone in the place had the exact same idea that we did, and as soon as Clark and Ferraro had finished up their peyote ritual the crowd basically turned and ran. We were lucky enough to be pretty far back so we could still get good and close, but it ended up not much mattering because Emeralds destroyed any possibility of missing them. What I hadn't realized, and what doesn't much come across in the recordings, is the intense volume that accompanies the group live. The room was literally shaking with their high-pitched cosmic excursions. It was so blissed and beautiful that it was practically scary. Sublime, if you want to get Wordsworth on it. And the whole time the one synth guy, Steve Hauschildt, looks gravely concerned, carefully extracting these ebullient sounds from his Moog while John Elliott stared the crowd down with a look less than pleased. Mark McGuire's guitar was just as serious, basically making it the highlight of the whole night. Crazy.

Anyway, I picked up this disc there, as it was just coming out on Steve's own Gneiss Things label, which is already shaping up to be a goody. And if quantity was what I was looking for, then this was indeed the disc to get. Containing five tracks clocking in at about eighty minutes, this is about as much Emeralds as I can take in one sitting before its grandiosity becomes too much.

The disc opens with a killer set from their hometown of Cleveland, which at twenty-two minutes is the longest and perhaps most realized of the disc. Emerging from a background clutter of warm fuzzed drones, the beast bobs and swells through various permutations of warm, soul crushing waves of sound. This is as tight as it comes really, and a whole different realm from so much of the world that they inhabit. Rather than intensify their music with the quality of the sounds they do so with the magnitude of it--huge sweeping swells of synth tone shape and reshape themselves before getting denser and darker. This then reshapes itself as well, drifting off into semi-ambient bleepings that don't sound unlike Eno's Apollo soundtrack at times, only even more minimal and elusive. McGuire's guitar, ever careful, highlights the more dramatic shapes provided by the synths. A real display of prowess.

Track two, recorded in New Haven, CT, is another slow burner which sounds even more like its 70s experimental brethren than the previous track. This could seriously be a Klaus Schulze number, if not Tangerine Dream jamming with the likes of Terry Riley. Another beautiful one before track three, recorded in Amherst at least seven months before anything else on here, emerges with the keyboard chorus and guitar workings of the group. A little darker and, paradoxically, smoother initially, it's a lilting number that, while a bit lower on the fidelity (some crowd chatter as well... bummer), still manages to maintain the well controlled pacing of a group in their element. The drone eventually melds into a cacophonous drone (no chatter anymore!) a la Robedoor, only still with the psychedelic underpinnings the group always exudes.

Track four is another personal favorite, with some truly epic guitar work that suggests the horizon-seeking Neu. There's this one moment actually, a bit over halfway through, where this dead-ass tone comes in, just creepy and analog as hell, and the guitar continues chugging along over it, showing that the group is more than a shtick act--this is a resilient improvisational group in their own right for sure. Track five is a killer closer, fully formed and epic as ever, another guitar display worthy of attention with all sorts of tingling bell like chimes and happy Christmas light sounds (whatever that means)... some parts are super Reichian, but don't get comfortable. The end slays so hard you won't believe it.

An awesome disc, limited to 200 copies. Don't know if it's still available or not (I know Volcanic Tongue has it) but well worth seeking out. The quality of the recording really highlights this group's strengths more than it might some of their contemporaries. Nice.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Slow Listener - Desolation Sound (Tape Drift CD-R)

UK-based Slow Listener is the one man drone project of Robin Dickinson, whose slowly churning and burning works are in great demand, having earned him releases on labels including Ruralfaune, Celebrate Psi Phenomenon and Students of Decay. Where so many drone artists today opt for a dense fog of sound through which they can shoot pieces of melody or texture though, Slow Listener opts for a far more demanding, and ultimately viscerally effective take on the medium.

Desolation Sound is made up of two tracks. The first, "Tempts Fate," is a near twenty-five minute epic. Opening with the sound of a bellowing fog horn, the piece moves on from that point as if it is breaking that sound into its smaller and simpler constituent parts, from which he further extracts sounds, layering one upon another until they become a thing of stark and lurching beauty. It's not happy music to be sure, but as the work moves through its various stages--which include densely cluttered miniature works all their own, harsher industrial landscapes or high frequency buzzing riding above mid-tone oscillations, to name a few--it develops a strange balance between meditative and massive. No one sound can not be derived from the last it seems, making for a contiguous heap requiring in its present all that has come before. By the end, it is nearly too much to keep track of.

The second track, "Lack Thereof," is a slightly more manageable sixteen minutes, although this too is heavy and slow, a black hole of a piece. Opening with high bird-like calls, the piece eventually adds what sounds like one of those electric hair razors trimming away at shreds of tiny follicles, as if trying to get to the real heart of the matter one piece at a time. These sounds further mutate, the birds eventually dissolving into the background before the guitar razor spends the next ten minutes or so just shaping and reshaping itself against faint high notes or distant echoing low-end bellows. It's beautifully intricate and paced masterfully so as to leave enough time to highlight each and every subtle difference.

Released on Eric Hardiman's (of Century Plants) own Tape Drift label a while back, but maybe still available. Beautiful little package with a big big sound.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Various Strangled Pairs Vol. 9: Outer Space (American Tapes CD-R)

If American Tapes is the cornerstone of contemporary noise, than John Olson is the concrete around it. The guy has his hand in so many projects of such variety that one can ardly argue there being any kind of schtick at all. Whether it's the celebrated noise trio Wolf Eyes, the free jazz/basement loner jamz of Graveyards, the high frequency mind fuckery of Waves, or the pseudo-ambient industrial scapes of Dead Comet Alive, it all represents a singular vision maintained by a vast series of guises. Well now Olson's done it again, releasing a work so far afield from his own aesthetic that one could hardly guess it to be an American Tapes item, let alone an Olson remix.

Of course Olson knows his source material well. Having been given a tape by Emeralds synth wizard John Elliott, Olson added to his "Various Strangled Pairs" series (all remixes by Olson of other people's material) with the most tripped out release I've heard from the label (which, to be fair, isn't all that many compared to the massive 800-plus output so far). Consisting of six tracks, the album represents a kind of perfect melding of the two Johns--this is no mash-it-to-hell free for all but rather a subtle opportunity for Big John to provide just a touch of grit and shape to Little John's already celestial creations.

The whole thing is replete with laser beams of sound shooting across, repeating, and stretching themselves before touching down, lights a flashing. At certain points Olson turns it up a notch or two (or is that Elliott...) with some hig frequency static or some low stuttering fuckery, but never so much as to block the passage of the cosmic sounds beneath. Like Emeralds' work, Elliott's stuff has a certain weight to it despite its beauty, a sort of fear-driven overload of spiritual proportions. Olson on the other hand is capable of the same sorts of constructive power, though his has always sounded more like it was either buried beneath the sea or captured in some glacier just north of the Arctic Circle. The two combined (see track three as evidence) seem to complete the picture entirely, making a complete sound world from heaven to hell. And it's just as scary as the real thing.

I could go into each individual track on this one, the radio samples over static murmurings on track five--the aliatoric slow motion lift-off of six, etc. etc.--but really that sort of defeats the purpose. Each sound on the disc is so full and so rich that it's a listen that requires the round trip. Psychedelically sick and still available from Weirdo, if not from Olson himself.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Twin Beds - The Airplane Shine Shit Head (Twin Beds CD-R)

Trying to keep the ball rolling today, so for the first time ever you get two reviews! Huzzah! This is another one that was given to me, this time from Nathaniel Brennan and his cohorts in Twin Beds. Nathaniel hails from (I'm pretty sure...) North Adams, a small town in western Massachusetts. His first cassette featured him on a whole plethora of instruments, from geetar to sampler, mic, anything. This one is a broadened line-up (apparently that used for live shows), and though I don't know the names of any of the other guys on this, they all seem to fit fairly seamlessly into Brennan's vision.

The first track, clocking in at nearly twenty minutes, is a brute of an excursion, a maddening meandering mind-fuck the likes of which only a Sunburned or similarly inclined big band is capable of. I can't really tell what's being played here except for the rock steady drumming. Other than that it's all just fuzzed out mayhem, a whole static mess of melodies emerging from what could be church organ, glockenspiel, and marimba or simply processed guitar, vocals and sampler. Who knows... either way, the whole thing is totally together and whacked to hell--true weirdness the likes of which only a singular jam such as this can produce. Especially notable is the incredible noise-scape going on just beneath the high interval melodic work. It's a pretty scuzzed workout, but the volume is just right to render only a wall on which to play atop. If Sun Ra had discovered Throbbing Gristle, this might've been their collaboration.

The second track is even more amorphous and meandering. This time the sounds are more distinct but the gap left by the wall of noise's absence makes it even harder to pin-down. It' like the sound of curdling milk or something, loose as shit and stoned to hell. Weird wah'd loops and sprawling guitar ass-kicking played so far away that you can hardly tell whether or not it's just carry over from the next apartment over. More No-Necky in flavor, if only due to the awesomely odd recording tactics.

The third and final track is thirteen minutes of what is apparently this group's signature sound--total free form madness with so much texture that it's touch not to get caught up in it all. Weird vocalizings, more guitar drenching from beyond, and the pitter patter of a drummer with ADD so bad he can't be bothered to keep a beat (just si tshould be, I say!) The vocals are a constant here, just mumbling onward about whatever with such poor annunciation that it becomes pure sonic happenstance. When a grating electronic tone makes its presence known, crackling with the sound of an amp on its last legs, the weirdness actually subsides, moving the work into a (relatively) more stripped down and barren realm of oh fuckery. Wildly wonderful, the album is like a map to that special place that only improvised (and drugged) music making can acquire. Contact Nathaniel at if you want one, or check out Tomentosa.

Century Plants - Inversions (Ikuisuus CD-R)

I've spoken much of Albany duet Century Plants on this here blog, how they're consistently one of the most exciting live acts in the area and they continue to evolve their sound to include an ever expanding array of sonic possibilities. It is the intimacy of only two people, in this case Eric Hardiman and Ray Hare, that allows for such growth and intricacy, making the format perhaps the defining one of this year so far. Whatever that means.

Anyway, I ran into Eric at the No More Bush Tour and he gifted me the latest on his own label, Tape Drift, as well as this, the Plants' latest on Finland's legendary Ikuisuus label. Having already released so many great artists--Ashtray Navigations, Family Underground, My Cat is an Alien, Uton, Ben Reynolds, Quetzolcoatl, etc.--the label is killer, and of course they did a great job with this material as well.

The album consists of four tracks varying from about five to over fifteen minutes. "Heavy Water" opens the set in brooding fashion, wading in with a patience and fuzzed out delicacy not easily attained. The whole thing churns along, proving the title to be an apt one as guitar lines are added and subtracted and added again. It all sounds more or less like the soundtrack to some avant-garde flick, say Bruce Conner or something. Very vast and organic, with no clear direction at all, opting to just be rather than grow.

The title track which follows is similarly spacious and mellow, much more so than the majority of the Plants' work that I've heard. In fact, the whole album is the most accessible from them since Fingers. "Inversions" opens with the reverberating strums of guitar as walls of light dabble in the background, likely Ray Hare's vocal or guitar process work I'd guess. Extremely cautiously the pairing turns in a celestial creeper, soft and lulling like some shapeshifter luring you towards its jaws. You know how beautiful all of those glowing deep sea creatures are, sputtering about? Well sometimes those neon lights reveal their location and they get eaten.

"Frozen Generation" is the longest and most brutalizing track on the album, though even it is hardly as crushing as I've heard them. It's simply a bit more industrial and mechanic sounding as heavy guitar wails are repositioned via machine-like grinds and churning tracts leading towards the great white emptiness. The vocal moans of Hare only add to the despairing atmosphere as the thing continues to build into a mini orchestration all its own, funneling you downward with hopeless ease.

The last track, "Shift," is unlike anything I've heard from the duo yet. After the soul-destruction absorbed on "Frozen Generation," "Shift" sounds like a folk-diddy just this side of Doc Watson. Ok, not really. But it is quite catchy and relaxing in its own way, the front guitar playing the melodic motif over and over as the lower guitar behind adds a dark textural element. It's a smaller scope than the others, a real jam session in a way, but a more than fitting end to the album as it too, through its repetition and the persistence of its performers, suggests a quality of endlessness before the silence encroaches. It's a killer album, definitely one of the best (and mellowest) I've heard from the duo, and likely still available from both the label and Flipped Out. Seeketh of it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Zaika - Live at the Church of the Friendly Ghost (Yodtapes CD-R)

Made it over to Albany last Sunday for another show at the Albany Sonic Arts Collective. The No More Bush Tour was rolling through town, and with a line-up as good as this there was no chance I was missing it. A bunch of spoken word stuff, most of it anti-bush (duh), featuring the likes of Byron Coley, John Morton of the Electric Eels (he took his pants off only to reveal his overcrowded animal print underwear before reciting a "fuck bush" haiku, the only words of which were "fuck bush"), and a guy I'd never heard of who blew me away named Charles Plymell (find it if you can...). Along with that, Ziamaluch, the moniker of Jack from Burnt Hills, accompanied Coley on cello (missed that one unfortunately), Axolotl accompanied 50 Foot Women, Morton and Bill Nace had it out with a duel-guitar/theremin/radio classics bonanza of insanity, Jack Rose did his Fahey guitar stylings and, to top it all off, Zaika performed. And that's not even the whole lot of it. It's damn near a miracle this thing didn't go all night but we were out by 10:30! Clearly the way a tour should be operated, no?

Anyway, Zaika blew me away so I of course ran over and picked up some of their offerings at the sizable merch table manned by John Moloney and Sarah O'Shea. Zaika is the guitar duo (in music and life) of Marcia Bassett (of Double Leopards, Hototogisu, GHQ, Zaimph, etc.) and Tom Carter whose performed with damn near everyone but whose group, Charalambides, is legendary. Anyway, these guys have been playing their psyched out blasts together since 2003, and it really shows. One gets the feeling that they could just keep going forever, never hitting the same pocket twice as they crescendo and decrescendo ad infinitum. Wild stuff.

Live at the Church of the Friendly Ghost was recorded on July 1st of this year down in Austin Texas. I was surprised to find out that the Church of the Friendly Ghost is a real place and not just some Casper joke but this event really happened and, luckily, was really documented in the form of one nearly half-hour jam. The whole thing starts off with a single buzz before warm strumming comes in, settling down into some pool of psychedelic folk faster than you can say "cosmic!" While one lays on the increasingly heavy chords, the other sends long shards of tone through a myriad of pedals. The whole thing builds nice and slowly, patiently stretching itself across some desert plane. No wankery, just focused growth before the chord structure is demolished in favor of more pointillist, Emeralds style leanings. It's actually much the same feel as that group, although Zaika is far grittier at most points. Still, there is that sublime feeling of total beauty, too big to grapple with in any way other than simply experiencing it. Sometimes the group moves away from the folkier chords in favor of straight drone monoliths, the twin guitars writhing around each other in epic abandon, or harsher and more disjointed torrents of angular power. It's epic without being cheesy and guitary without being sleazy, no small accomplishment.

About two-thirds through the whole thing it all crumbles into some weird, spacious nether-world, wailing in conversation over the deafening space between them. The whole thing just rides on these thick tones for a while like a whale and calf calling to each other before one guitar subsides, leaving only the echoing tone of the other to ride into emptiness, at which point the whole thing just STOPS for about ten seconds before reentering as gently as it left. The other guitar joins in and you can practically picture the way the strings are vibrating and the physical actions being done to wring such noises out of the guitar bodies. The next ten minutes are spent lurching along--it's after the end of the world I guess... and then it ends a second time just as it did the first. Awesome, in the classic sense.