Friday, January 30, 2009

Emeralds - What Happened (No Fun Productions CD)

So now that the Brainwashed reviews are starting to get posted up, I'm going to repost some of them over here when they apply. Basically if the review reads smoothly and is a little more rigid in form than usual it's probably from there... soon I'm going to be posting over at Foxy Digitalis too, so those will probably get thrown up here as well. The six reviews below are all from there. And no, the blog isn't just going to become a vehicle for those things. More blog style writings on the way soon, sans shirt and tie... anyway, right ho, on with the show.

2008 was a big year for Emeralds. Solar Bridge (released on Hanson) garnered the most widespread acclaim for the trio yet and all three members—guitarist Mark McGuire and synth players John Elliott and Steve Hauschildt—continued their solo explorations with numerous releases that garnered further praise. What Happened sees Emeralds further honing their sound as they hearken in what is sure to be another fruitful year for the unit.

The album opens with "Alive in the Sea of Information," an eight minute excursion which fits snuggly into Emeralds’ previous oeuvre. The trio is unflinching in their alliance with the forms of '70s synth explorers like Cluster and Klaus Schulze, and they display their fine capabilities in that realm here as the soft ringing of Hauschildt's Moog gradually thickens with Elliott's Korg MS-10 bass tones. The liner notes state that "this recording is a collection of improvised songs recorded live to tape 2007-2008," an important indicator as to the group's process and one which is on fine display here. Each line undulates along in a soupy mix of analog psychedelia that captures perfectly the group's capability for spontaneous improvisational composition. As long vocal drones are spread across the weighty synth backdrop it does become a song of sorts, exploring its parts with a careful and confident hand

One of the paradoxes surrounding Emeralds is their close-knit affiliation with the underground noise scene. Despite the high-fidelity and overt beauty often explored on their works, the unit has continued to sharpen their abilities in the tape, vinyl and CD-R culture of labels such as Fag Tapes, Ecstatic Peace and their own Wagon and Gneiss Things imprints. This influence is readily apparent on "Damaged Kids," which starts off with synthesizer gestures that bubble about among thick and mossy tones, sounding more like John Olson's remixes of Elliott's solo work than the traditionally vibrant Emeralds sound. As it builds however, it meshes into a series of mobile synth gestures that are carried along by McGuire's guitar pulse before lightening its load in favor of crystalline drops of guitar tone and synthesized garble that drift off into a quickly pulsing end. Given that the group takes 15 minutes for the piece, it is still surprising how frequently they are able to smoothly transition from one mode to another.

"Up in the Air" is, as its title suggests, a lofty affair that serves as a brief intermission in the album. It is the most overtly gentle work on the disc, providing a respite before the next two tracks make up the last half of the album. "Living Room," the longest piece here, begins with an organ-like line that recalls Terry Riley or La Monte Young's "The Well-Tuned Piano" more than Neu! or Tangerine Dream. McGuire's guitar lends a church bell quality to the work as it drifts toward a starker, more static area. The trio's abilities as a whole are on display, with each member circumventing the whole with well placed and unselfish playing far beyond the maturity of most musicians in their early-twenties. Which isn't to quantify Emeralds' talents in terms of their age; these improvisations would be impressive for anyone. The proximity of their work to synthesizer legends of the past serves as testament to this. Never mere impersonators, the group manages to find its own worlds of sound through the means of decades past, but with the ears of today.

The closing "Disappearing Ink" slides across the speakers with monolithic grace as it unwraps its own sonic world. McGuire's guitar tones stand out in their lulling rhythms, staying warm without ever slipping into post-rock wankery. As the piece evolves, it emerges as a wall of vaporous, spectral beauty, as rich as an Eno instrumental with the weight of Popul Vuh or Ash Ra Tempel's best work.

In interviews, Emeralds often speak of the importance of volume in their music. To see the group live is to understand the true capacity of their music to physically manifest itself. Too often their albums are heard with this crucial factor lacking. For the complete experience, What Happened is a fine example. Each song materializes as it is meant to while Elliott, Hauschildt and McGuire, chisels in hand, continue in shaping the walls of sound before them.

Slomo - The Bog (Important Records CD)

The duo of Howard Marsden and Holy McGrail is a unit whose long excursions explore the more ominous realms of synthesizer slush. This, their second album following 2005's The Creep eschews the dark fragility of their previous effort in favor of 65 minutes of near unmoving gloom whose finale, a poem written and recited by Julian Cope, merely serves to seal the casket.

The disc opens with low synth murmurs and cavernous swathes of airy atmosphere. It is a dingy environment to be sure, but one which does a fantastic job of setting the mineshaft mode of the rest of the work as it transports itself downward. McGrail's guitar rings slowly emerge, spreading outward to further widen the vast spaces that Marsden's repeated bass tones continue to conjure.

The work's greatest strength lies in both the sheer quantity of its length and in the unit's monolithic pacing. Momentary rises in density give some indication as to the duo's potential for claustrophobic sludge, but Slomo clearly prefer a slower and more spatial atmospheric exploration. Everything here has a certain tangibility to it, a physical weight.

Despite its apparent stillness, the piece does grow though. Slowly sprawling across its length are motives of movement that recur and reshape, whether they are as slight and momentary as the twanging of a guitar or as continuously subtle as the crackling backdrop. Its changes are then based more on its vertical qualities—the various tonal configurations of whatever sounds are present at that time—than its horizontal progression. Even as momentum builds with an extended guitar note and the increasing rapidity of a bubbling synthesizer, the duo never allows for any sense of emotive release or cathartic climax. Rather these moments arrive, build, and then settle back into the whole. It seems "the bog" will let nothing escape its grasp.

After the work finishes, having surveyed all corners of its static world before slinking back to a wall of hiss, Cope enters to recite his poem, "Land." Like a reading out of Beowulf, Cope exclaims with apocalyptic sorrow: "Cast down to the bogart, thou. / The highest to the highest of the low, / Cast into the bog art though, / Distinct, most noble, sad necessity." It's hardly a happy ending, but after the last 65 minutes it's good to hear another person's voice. Which isn't to say that this isn't a beautifully constructed and detailed achievement; it absolutely is. Just don't expect a parade.

Skeletons Out - In Remembrance of Me (Students of Decay CD-R)

While nearly all musicians use technology in their craft, few do it so literally as Skeletons Out members Howard Stelzer and Jay Sullivan; Stelzer plays tapes while Sullivan opts for vinyl. Despite a means of production that would appear to require a reconfiguring of previously recorded material though, Skeletons Out instead concoct a barren piece of industrial architecture from the sounds of the tools themselves.

Consisting of one long piece, In Remembrance of Me is a study in the sounds of playback. Stelzer's tape heads roll over dirty cassettes, Sullivan's vinyl scratches grind the needle to dust, and faint radio playback hums beneath intimate mechanical manipulations. The result is a dark and static sound world that more closely resembles the sound of cars in a tunnel or the inside of a vacuum cleaner than overt destruction. It is a grim and demolished listen but also a rich one, full of detail and warm physicality.

Opening with the familiar crackle of cassette hiss, the piece unveils its elements patiently. Distant taps and sliding holes of sound reel among each other as rusted frequencies emit themselves. Indeed, Sullivan and Stelzer often seem more initiates of a process—albeit a guided one—than controlled musical catalysts. As tape is run over heads and odd distant hums murmur beneath whispered vinyl shifts, a refreshing freedom manifests that is largely devoid of any standard forms of musical expression. There seems a near academicism to it all in fact, more in line with the output of Stockhausen's "Kontakte" works than the turntablism of Christian Marclay or the noise efforts of Merzbow.

As the piece progresses, it continues to unfold into pockets of process whose sources are difficult to identify but highly varied in nature. Caked in a thick layer of analog dust, each sound is given a character apart from its means while still maintaining its sense of industrial reworking. One moment, there is the sound of contact mics rubbed against rotating vinyl; the next, the turning is allowed to speak for itself. There are pockets so dense that it is nearly impossible to decipher what sounds are coming from where, yet there are others that are stripped down to what sounds like the white noise created by the instrument's very existence in the room. That all of these modes contain the restraint and inwardness that they do is an impressive feat, and one that provides the work with a near ambient, timless quality.

By the time In Remembrance reaches its end, with its increasingly distressed nature, it becomes clear that this is a work born from the great care of veteran experimentalists. Its mechanized nature is impressively stagnant yet engulfed in movement and constant change, giving it an organicism that is too often ironically lacking in music made from far less automated means.

Asmus Tietchens - Abfleischung (Die Stadt CD)

Since the mid-'60s, synthesizer and musique concrete experimentalist Asmus Tietchens has been an enduring symbol of artistically motivated musical work. This album, the 12th in an ongoing series of his works and the second in a four part series originally released on Hampster Records, sees Tietchens "recycling" previous pieces made between 1967 and 1970. Originally released in 1989, the album is intended more as a demonstration of the variety of techniques utilized than a presentation of new pieces culled from old works.

"Mineral 4" opens the disc with a synthesizer exploration that sounds like a ping pong game in a cavernous hallway. Its gestural punctuations are encapsulated in swathes of silence, giving the work a physicality rarely achieved with so few sonic resources. "Drahtmensch 1" follows it with a similarly percussive piece, albeit a more metallic one, sounding like some strange merger between a Karlheinz Stockhausen percussion piece and the industrial soundscapes of Nocturnal Emissions.

The droning crescendo of "Ultima Terra" is marked by its static lushness—as its volume becomes louder, its details reveal themselves, displaying a world of sound in itself. Later, "Modal 5" takes choral-like repetitions and meshes them with the echoing atmosphere present throughout the album. Odd synthesized lurches bound about behind the rich pulsing fore of the work.

"Ein Fleißiges Insekt 2" features well-like kerplunking of sounds beneath the kinetic scraping of insect-like movements. "Kryptophonie 2" presents an eerie world of glacial moments. Synthesizer sounds glide about behind mists of delicate reverberations and mechanical chugging rhythms. The less cohesive "Gesichter Von Gestern" incorporates radio broadcasts and space-like synth sounds as it quickly romps through a variety of moods in its brief minute.

In addition to the album's original twenty tracks this reissue provides two bonus tracks. "Kryptophonie 1" features loops which mesh in and out of phase with each other as they ebb and sway about, eventually evolving into some loping mythical creature all its own. "Zweite Sekunde" presents an exploration in rhythm as taps are bounced about the speakers and turned into whispered echoes of the original.

Abfleischung, while hardly the best demonstration of Tietchen's capabilities, does offer a fascinating glimpse into his working method. Each piece serves as its own distinct world, and it is the abundance of details within those that keep the work as rewarding as it is. Tietchens is a sonic sculptor in the truest sense, and here he is able to display the depth of his talents while providing a window into how he utilizes them.

Astral Social Club - Octuplex (VHF Records CD-R)

Given Neil Campbell's musical track record, it may be surprising to hear him state that, "I don't take psychedelic drugs." With a penchant for experimentation, Campbell's hallucinogenically inclined pallet has been an important presence on the British side of the experimental pond for years now. Having left the rock-drone pursuits of Vibracathedral Orchestra in favor of his own unit, Campbell continues to explore levels of electronic catharsis on this album, which moves from techno-inspired ravers to drifting expanses of electrified psychedelia.

Fittingly comprised of eight tracks, Octuplex represents yet another example of Campbell's resilient musical talents. The album opens with the techno beat of "Caustic Roe," whose laser synth sounds open the disc to a club-like environment before turning the track toward a dizzying array of psyched out squelches and synthesized mayhem. "Mugik Churn" features John Clyde-Evans contributing beats as Campbell continues his restless smattering of sounds atop. Immense waves coalesce under skittering rhythms that bounce so thoroughly through the sonic space that they create a dense and insular environment of crazed kinetics. The result is a kind of maniacal pop music that combines sugar-coated glamour from throughout the globe until no individual style is decipherable.

The clicking rhythms of "Aggro Vault," also supplied by Evans, are all that Campbell requires in throwing off the song's near video game-worthy backing melody. Not unlike Muslimgauze, Campbell has a knack for finding a groove and sticking with it, changing what is essentially looped material just enough so as to maintain momentum. It is this tension between minimal tactical change and maximal sonic detail that keep these tracks afloat. As beams of sound slide their way over near breakbeat structures, the sheer overabundance of rhythmic and tonal resources calls for a patience on the part of the performer in order to maintain a sense of continuity. With little melodic material present, Campbell is moves the piece in more subtle (and thus less motivically significant) ways. Rather than slipping into all too conventional tactics of dance music, Campbell utilizes those same techniques with a different goal in mind. On "Pilgrim Sunburst" gentle new age melodies slide atop rising washes of warm drones and jet-fueled crescendos while Campbell's son Magnus speaks in the background. The result is a zoned out space that has little to do with "getting down;" and much to do with getting there, wherever that may be.

"Sweet Spraint," featuring both Richard Youngs and, if you can believe it, Pogues member Spider Stacy on reeds, murmurs about beneath a thick two-chord progression that grows in momentum until it has expanded itself into washes of warm white light. "Radial Hermaphordite", also featuring Stacy, mellows the epic conclusion of the previous track with a near raga-style workout, complete with drifting folk guitar behind meandering pipe moves. Its thick spectral backing gives it a feel unlike most pursuits of the aesthetic as it maintains an electronically overloaded sound that avoids the pitfalls of less fearless delvings into that arena.

The loose "Muscle Abductor" slips apart as it splays its buried melodies about before the closing "Hot Toxer" brings the beats back to the fore as it moves toward stadium scale euphoria. It is a fitting close to an album whose perfect pacing and distinctive style go far beyond the standard "experimental" expectations. Campbell's reconfiguration of the medium is refreshing in a time when the term "psychedelic" often references the same prescription again and again.

Loren Connors & Jim O'Rourke - Two Nice Catholic Boys (Family Vineyard CD)

Guitarists Loren Connors and Jim O'Rourke have individually been fixtures on the experimental music scene for years. Yet their frequent collaborations throughout the past decade have resulted in only one release preceding this, a collection of three pieces hand-picked by O'Rourke from performances the duo made on tour in Europe in 1997.
Two Nice Catholic Boys opens with a thick strum on "Maybe Paris," a track title which alludes to the ambiguity about exactly where each of these sets occurred. Wherever it did, the 22 minute piece is an impressive improvisatory feat as it opens with a soupy psychedelic wailing whose metallic energy is distinctly opposed to Connors' usual approach. Soon the piece slips into Connors' realm though, with languid folk meanderings gently swaying about. O'Rourke slips right into the piece as each note is carefully considered, displaying whole worlds of mood in its near silent excursion.

"Or Possibly Köln" displays a less peaceful side of the duo's sound, with tense feedback control and a slowly chugging background. As it builds steam, the piece moves into near drone territory, one axe-man providing the thick background blanket while the other sets up a choppy groove on top. This eventually steamrolls into a frenzy of guitar tone more in line with Fushitsusha than John Fahey. Thunderous as it is the work retains all of the detail and richness of sound that the quieter moments of the disc have as well. When the clamour all but stops in its tracks, the work slinks into equally bleak but softer realms as the two make clear their intimate musical relationship.

"Most Definitely Not Köln" is a near split between eerie sonic buildup and gentle comedown. The dichotomy and ease with which the piece shifts between these two modes is astounding. Slowly evolving across barren terrain, the two guitars scrape and bend their way into a sheet of near static before opening up into a wash of tones. Not unlike some of the material off of Neil Young's "Dead Man" soundtrack, the set soon dissolves, drifting into a near silent melody that is rendered all the more fragile and eloquent by the onslaught preceding it.

The disc represents a beautiful collaborative effort between two closely tied musical experimentalists. Somehow these two, whose typical musical pursuits often differ widely in nature, have managed to form a musical relationship that allows each to expand their standard repertoire in a creative and enriching way. The results make for great listening.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Pistil Cosmos - Smoking Clouds in the Land of Fire (Stunned Records CD-R)

French psych guru Vincent Caylet has apparently made a bit of name for himself in groups such as Monks of the Balhill and "V." Haven't heard from those units yet, but word on the street is that this new solo project--which has releases on labels such as Cloud Valley, Middle James Co. and the Great Pop Supplement as well as Stunned--is a bit of a noisier take on his sound. Given that, his other stuff must be downright dreamy, because Smoking Clouds in the Land of Fire is the work of a talented drone weaver at work in some pretty vaporous realms.

The two cut disc opens with "The Dreamt Language," whose near-choral vocal bellows are looped amongst harpsichord-like string flutters and washes of ambient sound. A tambourine beat comes in as the work lifts itself, exploring the kind of world that the Skaters might if they suppressed their world music flavorings in favor of long sifts through cosmic sands. As layer upon layer are added up, the piece begins to create its own internal patterns that sway about in your inner ear. The sheer density of the loops is the only thing oppressive here as a black hole of blown out vocals and warm undercurrents are strewn atop one another before being left to drift on in support of its own weight. When the rhythm drops out halfway through you are left to bathe in the black waters as their currents take you to some endless nowhere.

The second cut, "There's No Ghost Here," begins with some weird oscillating drone (a real ear deceiver) on to which metallic undulations are mapped. Given its 22 minutes, the piece is able to unfold at an especially slow pace as it digs its zonked hole into the earth. Vocal concerns are voiced wordlessly as the night takes hold on the inner conscious, whose sharp shots of feedback are merely eyes staring back. A way darker take on the sound than the previous track, "There's No Ghost Here" nevertheless has a kind of haunting beauty to it. Whether attributable to the piece's suggestions of the infinite or the personal nature of these works, they have a gripping nature that is a step above a lot of the drone stuff out there. Caylet seems to begin with one idea and spend the rest of the time extrapolating on that, exploring all of its pockets. Of course that doesn't mean there are no sudden changes: harsh noise rhythms do enter to cut off the drone for moments before slipping back in. Yet these are so well placed and timed that they merely feel like brief mental distractions before returning to the environment at hand. As the drones drift off, we are left with the hazy electronic repetitions whose underbelly reminds us of where we have been, rendering it all nostalgia as the grind keeps us centered in the present.

A total beauty and somehow already sold out at source. Stunned's been getting rid of these things quick, but definitely keep your eyes out for it elsewhere. Everything they're putting out is totally worthwhile; keep your eyes peeled so they can keep your cranium peeled.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Country Teasers / Ezee-Tiger - W.O.A.R. / W.O.A. (Holy Mountain LP)

Another monster courtesy of Holy Mountain, this time around it's a split between London country-punk-experimental genre-defiers Country Teasers and Hospitals member Anthony's one man project Ezee-Tiger, making this a real cross-continental mind melter.

The LP opens with Country Teasers' side, where the unit display their prowess for short and angular take on post-rock whateverness. Total Eugene Chadbourne meets Butthole Surfers meets The Fall vibe here, as they exhibit their adept capabilities at re/misinterpreting country & western forms for their own sludged out weirdo sound. "Bung Oats" opens the side with a long nearly Swell Maps style song with a bleak palette that really moves about beneath these zonked vocal mutters slur across the whole thing like Scritti Politti covering Charlie Feathers or something. "C&W Song" is all Fall, with echoed vocals and angled, just-in-time riffs. The brief "Far Triff" is a piano melody and drum thing with scraping background sounds that bring to mind the kind of beginnings that Blues Control do--that it stops 50 seconds in before leading into the sleepy "Grand Entry and Exit of Man w/Pasta," which has some serious Kinks style British nonsense behind a loping bass line. "Space" sees near epic weirdness in the form of a pop song rendered useless by the subject matter; most of the lyrics refer only to drugs and the singer's desire "to take drugs." Pretty much right where the whole thing is at, and far be it from me to shun that. The rest of the thing is totally killer too--"Open Country," the longest track at five minutes, is a slow and stoned little gem while "Rich Tape" uses some drum machine loop to get to its nowhere and "Bury the Male Nurse's Dead Corpse" is about as jolly as its title suggests.

In stark contrast to the Country Teasers, the Ezee-Tiger side presents only two songs, both of which explore the same fuzzed nod-out territory. The common thread here seems to be the Butthole Surfers, as Ezee-Tiger too uses their psych-punk attitude and crazed acid feel. "The End (From All of a Sudden)" starts off with this little chord rhythm and vocal fits beneath layers of silt. Total blow out nowhere zone here as warm synth tones ride atop like ooze sputtering out while the drums continue in pummeling themselves into fried oblivion. The title of "Crush Medley (A Stupid Rock Opera Kinda)" pretty much says it all for the track and the album as a whole, at least attitude wise. Opening with some bird chirps and a little guitar slide hurry along to nowhere riff, the track soon delves even deeper as heavy, Dead C meets Ozzy drums and bass enter. Really rich sounds going on here, total downer vibe as acoustic guitar slips in under cries of drunken sorrow creep in before turning themselves into some kind of pop tune for the Texan undead. The track just goes on an on, moving through near metal onslaughts, almost dancey groove-rock to sign-songey campfire under the coal sessions to total bass fuzz stoner realms. Really heavy duty and a lot to deal with, but crazy good.

Total slayer disc, and another winner from the Holy Mountain folks. A split that really makes sense for both of the bands on it, and one that should garner some praise if anyone out there is listening. Worth snagging for sure.

Ducktails - II (Future Sound Recordings CS)

Ducktails' Matt Mondanile just sent me a couple of beautiful releases on what I believe is his own Future Sound Recordings, so thanks Matt! Having received pretty decent press as of late and with a few LPs on the way, Ducktails and his other group, Predator Vision, are starting to ingrain themselves pretty solidly in the scheme of things, with releases forthcoming on labels like DNT and Not Not Fun.

II reads like some great bedroom demo tape, though the soon-to-be-reviewed 1992 Demo would seem to appear this project's mythical demo tape. Yet Mondanile nails the aesthetic with that kind of storyline--"Tropical Heat" sounds like some instrumental groove out of Miami circa our nostalgic reinterpretation of the early 90s. "Backyard" is little more than one little melody that rests neatly against the side of your martini glass while "The Mall" is a miniature piece whose melody is as much Jimmy Buffett as it is Destroyer--just lo-fi and honest warmth. "Afternoons Tray Sliders" reads like some lost Doors instrumental jam as interpreted by some Carolina beach music group while "Boating" bobs along steadily on crystalline waters. "Island Flavor" strengthens Mondanile's connection to the Skaters as Casio samples are interlaced creating a kind of psychedelic beach music whose rhythms drip about a la Spencer Clark, but whose overall sensibility and aesthetic is more in line with Ferraro's ruminations on past-as-present, nostalgia-as-reality views.

Side two stretches out a bit, taking the time to explore only four tracks. "Let's Rock the Beach" uses a drum machine and nifty guitar lick as the sum total of a work, letting it sprawl on and on across the ocean and into the horizon. Mondanile has an incredibly strong sense of pop melody, but it is his sense of timing that spearates him from that of pop craftsman. Rather, Mondanile uses the endless repetitive shapes and tongue-in-cheek attitude toward his work to his advantage, simultaneously coming off as completely heartfelt but also sarcastic and humorously in touch with the standard connotations of his sound. "Status Quo" similarly stretches out into oblivion with a light-as-air wailing attitude that require shades for sure. It's like Ariel Pink with more balls as acquired by less balls. A real paradox. "Udelco" has pitter-pattering rhythmic pulses while synth lines meander on top--the near tabla drumwork and Casio fidelity only deepen the mystery. The closing "Neptune City, NJ" gets into the most spacey territory on the album, letting the tape close off in drifting synth that undulates pitch shifted rides as your head slips below the waters to reveal the bevy of coral beneath. Who knew it was so colorful under there...

Killer tape and yes, it's from a bit ago, but I figured that you can never have too much Ducktails, and this is one of the best. Simple stark palm tree themed art that's spot on.

Metal Rouge - Salt Stones (Stunned Records CD-R)

Andrew Scott and Helga Fassonaki's Metal Rouge have been it for a few years now, I believe. They've had releases all over the place but perhaps none quite so well presented as this. Salt Stones represents over 45 minutes of their opaque sound just soft enough to expose the fragile details within.

The disc opens with "Aligning Mud with Salt," whose interweaving clouds of guitar annihilation are, like a swarm of insects, insurmountable in their density but highly mobile and active. Squalling riffs interlace as vocals seem to ooze out of the mix in one cacophonous wave after another. Definitely some Dead C and even some Harry Pussy in there, but so dense as to melt those influences down into a molten lead.

"Embryonic Bird Zero" opens with sharp guitar strums over Helga's distant moans. As Andrew shoots off high end electrical wire fuzz, Helga's voice adds an ominous, near Pocahaunted singing style, though hers is one of fits and starts rather than the longer, chant-like vocalizings of Pocahaunted. Before too long the proceedings drift into a slower and more minimal metallic slant. Electronic arpeggiations interweave with strums and gestures from Andrew as washes of fuzz coalesce with Helga's atmospheric vocal shudders. Soon the fuzz builds back as Helga's vocals subside. Slow and dizzy blues twangs and slides bend over one another while synthesized guitar insanity lurches on in the background. Blips and squelches emerge from the dust of the dense layer of fuzz which lies below all of the proceedings here, soon moving into bassier and more obtuse territory that nearly sounds like some monk chant stuff or something.

That Metal Rouge are able to wield such heavy axes without losing any lushness or detail of activity is wonderful. Rather than pushing its listener into a dark cavern they merely seem to suggest a number of paths at any given moment, opportuning you the ability to peak down each of them before they choose one. "None People," recorded live at, fittingly, Frank's Power Plant, though I suspect that's probably a club and not an emitter of cold electric energy, though it sure would be fitting if it were. The duo tone things down a bit for the crowd here, opening with a steady three-note pulse while guitar wails pummel about as softly as the simmering hum of electric lines underneath various discursive events in the audience. As the work crescendos over its length, it begins to merge more and more with its surroundings, seemingly melding with the very air in the room and just hovering, static and warmed by the friction of its minute vibrations. Small details begin to break off and make statement; feedback, cries, equipment battles, all add to its organic and fluid sound world.

Metal Rouge, clearly with a knack for finding the inner rhythms of a work and letting them unfold as they will, have released another great one with Salt Stones. The package, yet another step for Stunned, is a beautiful CD-R with sari cloth and gorgeous liner notes. The CD too is printed, and it all fits right together to make this one of the most beautiful looking Stunned releases yet. Sold out at source, but probably available everywhere else.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Stephen Steinbrink - Ugly Unknowns (Gilgongo Records CD)

Formerly known as French Quarter--whose impressive debut LP is yet to be reviewed here much to my dismay/scheduling issues--Stephen Steinbrink is a 20 year old singer/songwriter whose compositions are far more achieved than about 95% of the other stuff out there in this realm. With an ear for catchy bedroom melodies, Steinbrink does an impressive job of leaving enough unanswered questions to lend the proceedings a mystery all their own.

The disc opens with "Breath of Fire," whose initial guitar line could be a Reich piece if the well placed drums didn't come in to drive the riff along. A small organ mimics it as well while Stephen sings lyrics that fit snuggly between his distinctly indie sound and a more lo-fi approach. "Overpassing" follows with a steady bass line and an steady crescendoing vocal melody. When the fuzz box comes in it moves this into grayer fields before the lines drift back to allow for his warm voice to shine through again.

"South of 13th" initiates a run of three songs that explore a darker side to Steinbrink's potential. A two chord minor melody sways about while the singer's vocals sing in mournful nostalgia. "Huachuca City" sounds like some reworking of "Blue Jay Way" or something, as its subtle psych sound is achieved by nothing more than an organ, drums, guitar and voice. There is a warm sorrow to the track is it undulates along. "In Six Days" closes the run with a lovely guitar line and soft, near whispered vocals about lost love. Steinbrink's knack for soft vocal lines tend to obscure how beautiful a voice he has--the fragility of his singing plays a huge role in the whole vibe of the album.

A song like "My Best Intent," with its sliding guitar and bongo drum rhythm, has a quirkiness that might aline Steinbrink with thos eworking in the "freak-folk" (terrible genre name...) realm, but Steinbrink's voice is far more singular, less interested in making his works strange than making them work. The following title track, whose bass line has an arbeggiation that somehow finds a space between"Stain Alive" and "She's Lost Control." It's one of the catchiest works on the disc. "On Sleeping," uses Steinbrink's minimal instrumentation carefully--he is a musician who is never afraid of letting his melodies and small moments speak for themselves, an impressive level of confidence that makes these work. "When It's Easier" is a light, near eighties Cocteau Twins style melody that sways about beautifully before "I Don't Want to Get Stabbed" finds him finger-picking in Simon and Garfunkel meets Dylan territory before a psych guitar phase comes out that re-situates it to Steinbrink's own sound world.

The disc closes with "I Don't Ever Want to Die," a gentle lullaby of a song whose overall sense of timid fragility recalls groups like Akron/Family and Grizzly Bear before moving into near Stereolab pulses. It's a wonderful album, and perhaps for the first time on this blog, done by someone who is working in an overtly pop-y realm. Steinbrink's strength of composition and maturity of execution make the album one that could/should harken far greater recognition of his work. Of course to say that he "could go somewhere" is absurd in this context. He already has. Let's just hope more are willing to go there with him.

It may not out yet, but definitely will be soon. Check Gilgongo's site out for more info on that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

La Otracina - Blood Moon Riders (Holy Mountain LP)

Just got a nice batch of Holy Mountain releases thanks to Adam Kriney (thanks, Adam!), previously drummer for Owl Xounds but today focusing his seemingly endless supply of energy toward psych(otic) rock unit La Otracina. Having started back in 2003 with long drifts of psychedelic explorations, La Otracina has since honed its approach into something more overtly post-rocky. Fear not though--unlike so many of those technically savvy post-rockers, La Otracina has maintained every sliver of its psych expansionist approach. It's merely filtered it into direct bouts with the form as it bathes in its waters.

The LP opens with the longest track on the record, the over 15 minute "Inner Mind Journey." Starting where the Amboy Dukes' similarly situated "Journey to the Center of Your Mind" left off, the trio pursue vast realms of burning psych rock. Kriney's drums hone in on the same kinds of shapes as King Crimson's Michael Giles without sacrificing himself over to mere technical prowess. Guitarist Ninni Morgia similarly uses his chops to his advantage as he wields shards of burning riffage. Evan Sobel's bass holds the whole thing together beautifully, elastically winding around within the pyrotechnics. The whole thing just goes on and on, never running out of steam as it floats about like smoke curling among the flames. Definitely appreciation and knowledge of their form here too, it's not too far off from the same explosive potential of groups like Flower Travellin' Band and Hawkwind.

"Ballad of the Hot Ghost Mama Pt. 1" provides a brief respite from the onslaught of the opening cut as it lightly drifts about in near zephyr-like swells. More like their earlier material, the piece is a total zoner as cymbals build and the guitar's beautifully phased out tones echo across the work's outer parameters. The following "Zunblazer," if the name weren't indication enough, is another entrance head first into total riff dementia. Morgia's guitar opens with vast waves of tone before Kriney and Sobel join in to provide a pulse for the building loop work. When it all comes together, it's total krautrock burner style, unapologetically, head-knoddingly rad.

The second half of "Ballad of the Hot Ghost Mama" comes next, continuing in its first half's direction while building on its feel. A little less aired out than its sister track, it still provides shelter from the all-out onslaughts of the more rocking numbers. Thick wah'd drones undulate about as if they will continue forever. Instead the veer down into the closing "A Drifted Memory," which spends its first half mucking about beneath a thick layer of fuzz, like hearing the middle of some Pink Floyd epic on the very edge of radio service. The second half kicks in with the most overtly proggy bit on the disc. Total riffology as a two chord line is explored and kept aloft by the taught rhythm section beneath. Soon that too dissipates into a cloud of soft warm light that slowly turns to red, then blue, then black. It's a beautiful ending that poises you for another listen. Really nice work from a trio whose sonic potential seems near limitless.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sasqrotch / Yuko Chino - Split (DNT Records CS)

Never got around to this split on DNT so it got tucked away for a bit, which is a real shame considering the content therein. Splitting the action between two groups, the split explores some of the darkest territory a DNT release has contained, splitting the bill between the awesomely named Sasqrotch and Yuko Chino, the side project of Sasqrotch bassist and guitar player Danny.

The first side is given over to the group effort, whose doom laden drone rock is thick and soupy as guitar wails are sent spiraling down into the vortex. It's a grizzly scene to be sure, but it does contain a certain intimacy and bedroom charm (though I suppose that's only the case if you can find the same in the likes of Robedoor or some other dark droners). The difference I suppose is that this isn't really drone so much as chiseled down rock forms, more in line with Sunn 0))) if they were to loosen their grip. Sax wails scream something creepily close to "Taps" as played from Uncle Sam's grave while crazy ghoulish howls emerge from the black. Totally heavy material here, with a definite end-of-days, dirge-like vibe. Even when it gets quieter, hunkering down into its lonely gloom, the terror is only amplified. Then the drums drop. And now Sasqrotch, cloaks in hand, display their true colors as the doom-metal scream heads that they are. And it is heavy as a black hole and expansive and just totally ruling.

If you expected anything less from the Yuko Chino side, then the first sign you were right would be the cheerily innocent child singing like he's along some god forsaken gumdrop road. The first sign you were wrong would be the leaving of said child in favor of a minor melodic progression that is soon overlaid with the most shreddingest guitar loop ever. The bass and drums come next, and all too soon this thing has worked itself into a dark instrumental realm for harsh effected vocals to scream across like a razor to canvas. Raw as can be. Next comes the buzzing, which is accompanied by guitar twang and heavy bass oscillations while feared whispers turn into screams. Just bleak as hell, and totally killer.

Super nice split and another success from DNT. The two sides fit right in next to each other but be warned. This ain't break up music. It's breakdown music.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fossils From the Sun - Somebody's Gotta Lose (Abandon Ship Records 3" CD-R)

Seems I'm always coming back to those Century Plants guys, but with their collective abilities and the rate of their release schedule it's tough not to. Back when that Rambutan 3" I reviewed earlier was put out, it was paired with this baby from Ray Hare from Century Plants' other half.

Where Hardiman moves into psych realms pretty quick, Hare tends to prefer sheer wailing, and his guitar loops here do just that. A certain weight is imbued in all of the proceedings here as a thick chunking chord progression is strummed out under this frenzied solo which moves around all sorts of realms. The situation calls for a good deal of head-nodding (in the good way) as territories are spread and horizons broadened. Hare's ability to take a simple idea and patiently expand upon it makes for super rewarding listening.

As the piece approaches its halfway point, Hare enters with vocal utterances and looping two beat statements which decay outward from the inferno guitar at its core. Things just keep building into the light, reaching a degree of feverish bliss that can only be achieved by the commitment of its creator.

Fuzzy bass rumblings fit themselves into the loop towards the ten minute mark before everything else except it just stops dead. The rest of the track is dedicated to that stuttering bleakness while vocal grunts and almost choral melodies are sprayed about. When everything cuts out again, to reveal Hare's lonesome singing, it makes for a grim and insular end to an explosively congested piece. Another good one from Abandon Ship and the Century Plants camp!

A.M. Shiner - Bananarchy (Stunned Records CS)

Despite the fact that I (this time anyway) have an excuse for the lack of recent reviews--I just got hooked up writing with Brainwashed, so I've been making the necessary adjustments to the ol' routine--still, it's been a bad scene review wise, so once again sorry. I hope your patience is greater than my will.

The good news is that Stunned has released a bunch more things, which surely means that the label will continue blowing my mind. This one's from the previous batch though, put out by the "young and troubled" Andrew Michael Shiner. I don't know what "troubled" references, but the music only deepens the mysteriously fearsome vibe surrounding this lad. If its length weren't enough (the things a pretty fat stack of noise at 100 minutes...), the sheer grinding of Shiner's sonic palette would surely do the trick. Starting off with this murky pot and pan clanging (or, as the title seems to suggest, "Clocks Crush"...) beneath static lurching, these tracks just go and go, moving into realms of lo-fi fuzz rarely achieved by even the most savage sewage dwellers. Thick walls of grays and blacks co-mingling in some weird realm of volcanic heat. Real go nowhere attitude on exhibit here too, sometimes sounding even a bit like some weirdo Fag Tapes meets Brokenresearch excursion. Totally burnt out rust covered sounds slink along for such huge stretches you can't even keep it up front and center in the noggin--just keeps plugging along before it gets back in the cranium to nestle itself down.

The first side is apparently comprised of seven tracks, but at 50 minutes in length it might as well be its own album--it traverses so many spaces, each distinctive and wholly submersive. Really intimate situation too, very stripped down sound that really takes one sound and milks it for all its worth. And if that weren't enough, the second side is even more minimal! Way long drones just glide across these barren landscapes of binary code. Totally zonked shit that's really capped off by the closing half hour, "Holy Ghost Smoke Music," which is basically comprised of one soft tone just going and going.

As junked out as they come, but totally effective. Hell, I'd even say it's borderline meditative. Just check out the instruments used... yeah, there's your standard mic, mixer, tapes, etc... but there's also a whole Cagean thing going on with the metal and even a blowtorch! Crazy beautiful sounds though, and enough of them to start finding which movies match up best Dark Side of the Moon style. Also, special mention must be made of the black on white doodle cover compiled from Shiner's own sketches at work. The clear liner notes only further seal the deal on this wild package.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Kabyzdoh Obtruhamchi - Kabyzdoh Obtruhamchi (Stunned Records CS)

Realized in my last post that I forgot to wish all a happy new year, so a belated one to all who read! Nearly one year deep in this blog, so here's to another year of that as well (I hope...) Also, I'll be writing a bit over at too now, and may even repost some of the blog material over there, so keep an eye on that site as well.

As for the sounds, another batch of Stunned stuff came in, including this C-50 from Sergey Kozlov's Kabyzdoh Obtruhamchi project. Kozlov hails from Russia, but this cassette sounds more like some German eastern-tinged psychedlia record circa 1972. Opens with mellow droning material of "Intro" that's quite beautiful before it out-of-the-blue explodes into the rhythmic battering fest that is "YebashilNepopodja," whose blown out guitar fuzz and howling moans totally take the work elsewhere. This thing is totally expansive and just crushes. Nice to hear someone use the eastern-style tabla rhythms without going into cheapo "trippy" territory too. No raga cliches here at all, as Kozlov instead uses the rhythms like some blown out rave vibe that drips across the sheets of sound created elsewhere, driving the whole work forward. Tons of layers from bongos to cowbell to guitar wailing--and the dude can rip--as well as more thick bass fuzz than most can muster. The bass always sits back a ways too, playing some longer inner-world rhythm that really breathes life into this. Once it mellows down a ways, dude starts singing some Pandit Pran Nath overtone style stuff, but again, there are so many other influences present here that it doesn't sound the least bit cheap or cheesy. It's heady stuff that just grows and sprawls about, but it's hardly for the faint of heart. "Pan Shamanic" closes off the first side continuing in the same plane, with a bass line grooving along to the excursions within.

Side two opens with "Joey Jewey," an oddly titled little thing that is drenched in delay and reverb as it eeks about, opening with a welcome mellowness that builds into a crazy sort of Grateful Dead meets Neu situation. Kozlov's willingness to allow the rhythms to speak for themselves is again a major strength, allowing his guitar lines to sink into the rhythms as it steadily ebbs up and down. When the rhythms break down toward the end its pulse remains, stretching back to its minimal roots as the bongos continue on. Seamless transition into "Anepoe Khamunado," which is a bit darker and has some flute and freer flowing oozey atmosphere happening, synth filled and zonked to hell. Hell parts of this side, which soon manage to merge into one big work, sound almost classical in their heavy weight and construction--like some Wagner or Mahler thing that just slams you. Synth sprawls on give way to tumbling tympani style drums and snare rolls that are crushing as hell while still remaining spacious. Eventually it's all just fuzzed out weirdness with high-note melodies and tapping rhythms before "Danunahza Epalcea" moves into the closing "Extra," a fitting rhythmic psych excursion that slips right into the general mix here before slipping into some weird piano ditty with orgasmic female moaning atop. Crazy closer.

Man, these Stunned tapes are killer. Another one from A.M. Shiner on the way so keep your eyes peeled. I know this tape's sold out from the label, but if you can get your mitts on a copy do so, especially if you're a sucker for Parson Sound, Amon Duul, etc, etc, etc. Totally great stuff.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Rambutan - Fallen Smoke (Abandon Ship Records 3" CD-R)

Eric Hardiman's resume is quickly growing as he moves into more and more personal territory. First the bassist of Burnt Hills, then half of Century Plants, and finally solo as Rambutan, Hardiman's growth is palpable, his vision unique. This 3" on Abandon Ship captures Rambutan's first live outing, though this is clearly the work of a veteran in psych psychosis.

I've already spoken of my fondness for the 3" format here, so it was thrilling to throw this on and be treated to its one twenty minute track. Starting with hollow vocal yalps which create a cavernous, echoing effect, the piece slowly develops as the various sonorities bounce around the space of the UAG, a small gallery over on Lark Street whose long and thin space seems a perfect location for such billowing and smokey sonic drifts as these. As loops build atop one another and a sinister giggle is added, the work continuous its endless expansion, spiraling downward in to some pit of beautiful light.

The amount of focus allowed for on a format such as this is perfectly taken advantage of here. Hardiman's restraint and careful compositional process is further explored here, expanding on his full length release on his own Tape Drift label by presenting another side of his sound. As the piece continues to bend around itself, never changing so much that you are pulled out of it for an instant, there is an immersive, dreamlike place that is reached. When the initial loop is slowly replaced by a perfectly placed guitar drone it is nearly seamless, giving a brief respite to the ear before revealing the inherently raga-like details of the first part only in its more overt exploration in the second. A strange and singular sound world whose careful creation pays off in spades.