Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dead Black Arms - Lake Reflection Catalyst (Stunned Records CS)

Trying to catch up on these long overdue Stunned numbers since I finally have more than a minute to give a couple reviews their due. Feel like Stunned always deserves its due too, what with their exceptional releasing prowess and all. Man, sometimes I feel like a wanker for hyping this stuff up so much but every time the material just leaves me crushed... what can I say?

Of course it's the same deal here as well. Dead Black Arms is another moniker of Claus Haxholm, the same man behind The Doom Riot, who did a release on Stunned a ways back if I recall... I remember being into that disc, but this is something different entirely. Two side-long pieces here, and man do they cook. The first one, aptly titled "Lake Reflection Catalyst I," gets thick real quick, and from there on Haxholm works between the lines with long vocal loops (I think) hovering above these mono-note bass thuds and absolutely terrific guitar tirades that somehow manage to keep this whole thing afloat for its entire length. Rather than slip into the overtly doom and gloom aesthetic though this stuff is full of life, ablaze with energy and indescribable detail. Each sound careens about the others like some dark blue mist blanketing the ground, only a couple inches up so's to protect the toads inhabiting its soils. Which isn't to say it isn't heavy as shit--this thing just rolls and rolls ceaselessly, discovering all sorts of pockets within its layers. Beautiful and frightening and completely invigorating.

The following side is (again, fittingly) called "Lake Reflection Catalyst II," and this go around things start a bit more ethereally, with cymbal clatters writhing around one another to the point of sounding like nothing Keith Moon ever played. More like some junkyard gamelan ensemble really, as overtones knead their way across and out in an aimless bevy of textural clatter. Soon though, the cymbal clatter begins to hurdle into a less airy space as percussive thumps begin to bleed in to a slowly developing and ultra-stark underbelly that writhes like some intangible worm in the sky. Really tough to pin down this stuff as its entire sound evolves so slowly and with such textural dexterity that it all meshes into this strange organic collage the parts of which are always slipping, resituating themselves, and slipping apart again. When the underbelly does finally come to the fore it is perhaps a tad more menacing than might have been hoped for, but at halfway through the twenty-minute track the arrival is so steady that it's hardly unexpected. Just to have arrived to the destination--even if its at the foot of some cavernous gulch--is accomplishment enough.

It's a dense and beautiful sound presented here, and one that's sure to be dug by Dead C, Skullflower, Michael Flower and Metal Rouge heads alike. When the end slips into a near destructo-raga melody it sees the album off in a fittingly relaxed and well deserved row boat. You might be on the same waters, but the tide is finally out. Though hints of the foreboding weather are still on the horizon for sure... totally killer.

Chapels - Last Night of the Earth (Stunned Records CS)

Adam Richards' Chapels project has been getting some heavy play around these parts, but I figured there was no harm in covering another one. Actually, there's yet ANOTHER on its way (a split with Rambutan) but I thought I'd go with this one today seeing as how Stunned just dropped what looks like another monster batch recently. Good way to spread the word I s'pose...

Anyhoo, this particular release finds Richards once more beckoning the grimy underside of his instruments as he works out a nice and languid couple sides here. The tape opens with "Inhale," a brief introduction before continuing with the odd vocal and electronic thud duet of "Inhale." Chapels manages to find some zones here that were left uncovered on So Many Blood-Lakes, concocting some oddly harmonizing hums and billows above a din of shins being slid over asphalt. There's almost an American Tapes aesthetic with this stuff, utterly grimy and bathed in the finest basement acoustic sludge where everything seeps together into some cesspool of fritzing circuits and contact mic'd shudders. An interesting sound, and paced so as to give it some shape as well. Maybe it's just me, but some of this stuff reminds me of some of Chris Riggs' work approach-wise; the sounds are always tough to pin down but the general shape suggests some real control present throughout. The third track, "She Came Bearing Blood Flowers," has the same kind of hollowed out feel. You know that strange hush that happens in Grand Central, sort of this subdued din where all these loud voices below recede into a hushed atmosphere above? Same kind of deal here, with odd sounds being heard through some air-conditioning vent.

The flip side presents a real treat with the side-long "Beggar." Giving the piece enough time to speak its mind, Richards drags you through all sorts of spaces with this, starting out in some barren tundra where the howls of inhabitants past ride beside you. Beneath the washed out static on this stuff there's always some faint underlying tone that seems utterly relatable and nearly within reach, but Richards is bright enough to let that thing make its presence known in the form of a rock solid and dead as nails drone tone for some faltering chopper blades to sway over. Yet the mud always has some life in it, and it keeps the side interesting and moving throughout as he picks and pulls at the concoction tone by tone, creating some chilling tricks on the ear. What sounds like the string part to some 40s Hollywood score when viewed from outside turns out to be an immense spiral of empty repetition. Nice too though that none of this stuff is ever just harsh or just creepy, but really fun to listen to and take part in. Which isn't to say it isn't creepy of course... Another slayer (as usual!) from the Stunned camp, and beautifully packaged along with all of them. You know how they do.

Monday, April 20, 2009

JG Thirlwell - The Venture Bros.: The Music of JG Thirlwell Vol. 1 (Williams Street CD)

Another one in from Brainwashed. Not really sure if this fits the bill here but it's a killer album so I thought I'd throw it up anyway:

Soundtrack music has always held its own odd space in the music world. Living in constant relation to the images it is meant to accompany, soundtrack music can (and has) made movies as well as destroyed them, as any Ennio Morricone fan can attest to. Yet the best soundtrack music has always been able to positively shape a film while still standing on its own as strictly a musical work removed from its image-based companion. It is, it seems, this trait alone that separates the comparatively schlocky Hollywood mood-manipulations of a John Williams score from the intrinsic depth and subtlety of form found in an Anton Karas, Carl Stalling, Nino Rota, or Bernard Hermann piece. JG Thirlwell (most know him as the man behind Foetus, Wiseblood, Steroid Maximus, etc.) proves himself more than an adept contributor to the genre.

Part of the difficulty inherent in the form is, of course, working within the relatively narrow confines afforded by accompaniment of an image. Not only must a work set the mood of the image, it also (if it's good, anyway) must remark on and strengthen the pictorial element. If it's truly great it can do all this while still maintaining its musical dignity. Take, for example, Stalling's incredible arrangement of Michael Maltese's writing in Chuck Jones' "Rabbit of Seville." Working within Rossini's "Barber of Seville" melodies Bugs Bunny, beckoning Elmer Fudd to get his haircut, punctuates along to Rossini's famous melodic line: "Don't look so perplexed / Why must you be vexed? / Can't you see you're next? / Yes, you're next. / You're so next." Even given the restraints, Stalling and co. manage to sum up Bugs' entire modus operandi in three simple syllables that say more than most dissertations could: "You're so next."

While Thirlwell does not have quite the options presented to Stalling in terms of character development (there is no lyrical content on the album) he still manages to say plenty. Thirlwell's score, like the cartoon it soundtracks, is exciting to its core, bouncing ideas around one another with hectic abandon that simultaneously pays loving homage to and caricatures the work of the greats. The opening "Brock Graveside" is as honest a Morricone rip as you could ask for, complete with lone whistling and muted trumpet. Following it up with the spy-thriller antics of "Tuff" gets the disc rolling quickly, immersing you in its over-the-top production and go-for-broke approach.

What makes the album remarkable however isn't that Thirlwell pulls out all the stops, but that he does so in such a focused and articulate manner. More than any one track being a highlight, the entire work flows smoothly from traditional soundtrack styles through to psychotic electro-funk without ever losing sight of its identity.

What's further, it's masterfully produced and every sound, whether it be the consistently pummeling drum work or the brass band backing, is treated with precise and orchestrated detail. Clearly no band effort, each track presents new sounds, new approaches, and new modes of the same singular sound that Thirlwell's mind hatches throughout. "Mississippi Noir" is, as it sounds, an odd and lilting banjo number whose sloppy, backroom bar piano only solidifies the unavoidable images of some bayou swamp. While the trance of a trumpet may be as rough and guttural as one would hope for from this far south of the Mason-Dixon, the entrance of deep bass drums and a psychedelically inclined chorus of chanting vocals gives it another dimension which inevitably strengthens its ties to the cartoon medium.

By the end Thirlwell's controlled production, fun arrangements and near limitless scope will have anyone firmly in its grasp. It is—and I use this term cautiously—a brilliant work that could well place Thirlwell as the next in line to the pantheon of soundtracking greats. Stalling, Morricone and now, Thirlwell, the cartoon soundtracker for the 21st century. As Bugs might say, "he's so next."

Dredd Foole & Ed Yazijian - That Lonesome Road Between Hurt and Soul (Bo'Weavil Recordings CD)

Just in from Brainwashed:

"Free-folk" is a term that gets thrown around a lot, and to some extent it has come to represent a certain strain of quirky indie cuteness far removed from its more primitive punk precursors. Both elder statesmen of the style, Dredd Foole and Ed Yazijian have been playing together for years to little public acknowledgement. But in an increasingly open musical climate they have at last reconvened for an album of loose extrapolations within the form, proving their collective voice to be as stylistically prophetic and effective as one could hope from these two luminaries.

Of course none of this points toward a disc like this suddenly ringing significant to the average consumer of "freak-folk." While genre stars Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom (especially Newsom) do indulge in their fare share of extended ruminating, nobody does it quite like Foole and Yazijian. Case in point can be found on the album opener, the lengthy "You Feel." A 20-plus minute excursion into the open structural framework surrounding Foole's spare lyrical content, the work requires little in concocting its increasingly distorted take on the quirky energy wrought by precursors such as The Fugs and Holy Modal Rounders. Delta guitar slides, plucks, and Foole's thick and emotive vocals drift endlessly into a strange space of punk attitude fed through folk styles and extended motions on variations.

"Buzzin' Fly" follows a similar format, stretching out over 15 minutes as the two seem to craft the piece on the spot. Foole's vocals are sincere to the point of intimidation, and the work is unabashedly pretty, not afraid to stick with its own guns and counting on those to keep the work interesting. It's a refreshingly unpretentious take that is neither hyper-aware of its own coolness factor nor unaware of its influences.

It is this stripped down honesty that ultimately makes the record as worthwhile as it is. Too often this sort of record either comes across as schmaltzy or self-indulgent, but the relationship between these two is long and well traveled, so it's easy for egos to be left at the door. On "Freedom" Foole sings and strums about, you guessed it, freedom, singing that, "someone said my freedom is gone." Meanwhile Yazijian's broad fiddle strokes push on the outer bounds of the form as his tones swirl in instrumental proof that such is not the case whatsoever.

"Love in the Basement" is likely the most amorphous work on the record as the two tap and twist wah'd lines around strange vocal incantations that stretch the Yardbirds classic "For Your Love" beyond recognition. Meanwhile a droney line and poetic discourse is undergone on "Charlestown Blue," further delving into the basement punk roots that are so deeply engrained in the duo's sound.

Ultimately, it's this extended sense of discourse and the raw honesty which is most effective here. These are pop tunes at heart perhaps, but they are folkier, rawer, and stranger than so many who seek to be. There is no posing necessary here though, and there is nothing more exciting than that.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sam Goldberg - Winter Hallucinations (Pizza Night CD-R)

Been waiting to get around to this one for a bit now, but I figured I'd throw up a quick review while I have a spare moment. Sam lay this one on me after I got him over here to play (great night, everyone was killer!) and it's stellar, collecting all three of his Winter Hallucinations cassettes in one place for instant consumption. Given that the cassettes themselves were all only ten minutes long, it's nice to have this stuff in one place, especially considering the nature of the approach here.

At six tracks and about five minutes a piece, each side here delves into a similar approach, making this one of the most listenable things Sam's done. All guitar as far as I can tell, each piece is a gently drifting work that sways with a spare and ethereal quality. Not so much drone as it is ambient, the pieces seem inextricably tied to the apt title, as "Sleet Apologist" seems to emanate vast snowy vibes of hot cocoa terrain. "Winter on Bexley" finds the same mood further honed, and on "White Out" Sam coaxes out thick tones that call to mind Eno and Budd's Plateaux of Mirror far more than any zoner basement material.

Seeing Sam live really puts this stuff in context too. Whereas a lot of these guys build loop after loop as they head into the stratos Sam is all texture, often ending on much the same plane he started on. Never dealing in notes it seems, his playing is always hovering as he bends and coaxes these thick swathes of tone to his liking. While "Eight Candles" might feature some pretty overt guitar playing then, the soft decays and shifting overtones always leave more to the ear than is expected. The closing "Superior Pho" only gets gentler, forming a beautiful stillness atop odd radio transmissions that seems more in line with some John Luther Adams work then a John Olson one. Sam's sound is so together and patient that this is a truly beautiful disc. I'm not sure how available it is but it's definitely over at Volcanic Tongue... well worth snagging if you come across it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Century Plants / The Qoast - Split (Deep Water CD-R)

Got a massive shipment in recently from Deep Water, and figured I'd start getting through em with this one as it features the oft-reviewed and deeply revered Century Plants. That it was a split with a group I'd never heard from only made it an easier disc to do, of course, and I figured this would be a good way to try and get back on the reviewing train... like I mentioned yesterday though, more to come in big numbers soon but it's gonna be few and far between for a few weeks here.

Anyway though, this disc is part of Deep Waters' split series, which features a couple discs of aural compatriots splitting time over a single disc. In this case, Century Plants open things with two tracks before The Qoast get the last word with an extended blast themselves.

The disc opens with Century Plants' "Flashes," a duel guitar workout that's heavy and airy and expansive. On the track's comparatively brief six-plus minutes, the unit manages to say more than most do in far more time, displaying again the close musical relationship that Hare and Hardiman have managed to cull over what is quickly becoming an intimidatingly large discography. The following "Dissolve," at three times the length of the first track, gives the unit even more time to sprawl out, stretch back, and spew sounds. Opening with some pretty garage-y licks, the work soon turns toward psyched-out guitar mangling riffery that burns and burns, never losing steam as it barrels toward some infinite blaze of glory. Wonderfully paced as always from these guys, as they again display their ability to take a tiny idea and expand it into oblivion.

Hailing from across the Atlantic pond, The Qoast are a French unit who has also recorded under the Ghost Brames moniker. Mixing drums and guita, the unit's 23-plus minute journey is marked by a woozy, drifting quality whose overall effect is far removed from the thick guitar drones laid down. It's a menacing tone, but played with a delicacy not often used in such an atmosphere, giving it a certain journeyman's sheen. The thudding percussion drives it outward, pushing it towards a sound that falls somewhere between Century Plants' own guitar wrangling and a unit like Second Family Band's tribal prog. Beautiful work here, all the sounds slip into one another as it bends back and forth over a relatively constant central mood before opening up into a lulling gentleness. Nice disc, and the first of many to come from this label and more (hopefully) soon.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Electric Annihilation - #1 (Electric Annihilation)

A bunch of new reviews coming up, including the new batch from DNT, some stuff on Deep Water, more Stunned, House of Alchemy, etc. etc. but first I figured I'd hype this new publication from Tynan and some other dudes associated with DNT. It's a great little rag, especially for their first time out, with interviews with a bunch of favorites including Sun Araw, Wet Hair (a track from which the title of the mag is pulled), Thurston Moore (of course) and a bunch more. Cool little scene reports from Sam Goldberg on Cleveland, Shawn Reed on Iowa, Matthias Andersson on Sweden and brief little chats with Steve Hauschildt from Emeralds an Henry Rollins on noise as the new bebop. Perhaps Mr. Rollins... I guess that's why he drops $250 on every American Tapes release that shows up on ebay but for my money I'll just snag the new shit and call it a day. Either way, it's great work and it's made by the inside, so there's some genuine dialogue here that's pretty far removed from your average Pitchfork hero worship. Plus there's 5000 copies of this joint, so you can find em all over for cheap, which basically leaves you no excuse whatsoever. Psyched for more to come from this situation.

Over the next couple weeks I'm gonna sneak in some blog-only reviews here and there, but I'm finishing up my gigantic senior project, so times is tough. Will probably get another review or so in today, but after this is all finished there'll definitely be a flood of reviews so keep your eyes peeled. Quick plug though for that new Sean McCann tape while we're on the DNT discussion topic. No joke, it's crazy killer.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Black Motor - Vaarat Vastukset (Dreamsheep CD)

Just published at Foxy Digitalis:

Given the menacing group name and the cover’s dour processional, I’ve got to say I expected a little more doom and gloom from Black Motor. And while much of the music here does have a chaotic and somewhat sorrowful slant, it is done so in a more refined and traditionally bluesy angle as the unit explores the six original compositions within.

In fact, Black Motor has little to do with Black Sabbath or Motorhead and everything to do with “Yasmina, a Black Woman.” A trio comprised of Sami Sippola, Ville Rauhala and Simo Laihonen, the group pushes the boundaries of post post-fire improvisational discourse on this disc, mixing equal parts AACM, Albert Ayler and Pharaoh Sanders while infusing their sound with a textural, ritualistic approach that manages to carve out their own corner in the free jazz world.

One of the units main strengths is their willingness to pull at will from any number of instruments. Ranging from the expected (tenor sax, double bass, drums, voice) to the underused (bells, gong, bamboo flutes) the group explores an open and fertile dialogue driven by more by mood than mode. Perhaps this is no more clearly visible than on the opening “Yksi Sinulta Puutuu,” whose gentle bamboo flutes begin the album atop clattering chimes and a scraping double-bass. It’s an odd combination of sounds, the flute as smooth and fragile as it is and the bass as grating, but each addition serves to amount into a confusing playfulness underlined by Sippola’s screeching sax utterances.

Elsewhere the group explores more overtly melodic material, as with “Aamen,” whose saxophone line sounds like a military call that walks the line between Ornette Coleman’s momentum and Ayler’s own marching excursions. At times his tone even resembles early Gato Barbieri, raspy and deep but nimble as well as it bounces along atop Rauhala and Laihonen’s explosive rhythmic backing.

On the closing “Vainila,” the group once again highlights their strength for subtly stretching improvisational vocabulary as a snaking bass squeal writhes above a dancing drum rhythm and sax bellow. For a group like this it’s tough to say anything new, and indeed this is hardly a redefinition of the forms they’re working in. But these players have such simpatico and are so well versed in their dialogue that it’s tough not to forget how much fun and how listenable this kind of music can be. It is this ability to intermix the more interesting explorative sound excursions with strong compositional material that positions Black Motor as an important and under-known presence in today’s free jazz community.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Andrea Parkins - Faulty (Broken Orbit) (Important Records CD)

Published over at Brainwashed:

Reworking a site-specific piece she performed in 2007 in New York City, this disc finds sound artist Andrea Parkins using a slew of amplified objects along with her own processed accordion to create an hour long work of bloops, blips, and scratches. The combined effect of which transcends genre in favor of a pure and unadulterated sonic exploration for the electronic age, as her myriad patches decompose much of the sound into pieces that situate the listener on the verge of witnessing, in her own words, "things falling apart."

It's an exciting place to be, but a precipitous one as well, and success in this scenario is often judged largely as nothing more than an avoidance of potential disaster. Yet Parkins puts this tendency to rest with ease, breaking the work into six tracks that each explores her immense hi-fidelity electronic swathes interwoven with aurally tactile amplified objects. This can be seen from the get-go, as "i" opens with a series of gentle scrapes that sound like a comb run over a table. Soon electronic washes glide in, adding to the alien trajectory of the work whose overall organizing principles feel more like a Cagean experiment with chance operations and "small sounds" then the contemporary electronic works most prevalent today.

To some extent, it seems to be this distinction that best sums up Parkins' sound. In the environment Parkins sets up, no sound is uninteresting and each detail is worth the attention afforded it in such an open sonic space. It is music whose visual accompaniment might well change the entire effect (as one sees the contact mic'd brushes--or whatever she's using--run across some metallic sheet). Instead, the disc provides only the aural imprint of the work, and the result is refreshingly abrasive without being overtly harsh. This is hyper-reality, not sur-reality.

Elsewhere Parkins uses her processed accordion, an instrument the timbre and effect of which is barely recognizable among the clicks and nearly sterile screes of data breakdown. This is perhaps clearest on "ii," as the accordion tones wheeze and wooze against a noisy field of sound that could well be a recording of some microscopic insect world. Each tone is clear and concise, but barely any sound is decipherable.

Ultimately this means that barely anything on here approaches any kind of groove in the typical sense. Sure, there are drones, patterns, constructions and even notes, but the overall build leaves little to hold on to, making each second as surprising and intriguing as the last. It's refreshing to hear someone who sounds as though even they are discovering the material as the piece is underway, adding to the genuine sense of new that emanates throughout the work. This is not "experimental" music, but what it is is far more intriguing. It is a genuine example of sound exploration that raises an eyebrow in that unique space between curious discovery and terrified intrigue, and that is too rare a thing in a world that so frequently bestows the title of "experimental" upon itself.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Enfer Boreal - Seven Ways (Centre of Wood 3")

Also in from Foxy Digitalis:

With a slew of releases recently on label luminaries such as Peasant Magik, Housecraft, Tape Drift and Stunned, Enfer Boreal’s Maxime Primault has certainly been busy. Usually opting for a lush drone sound, Primault uses his medium well here, stripping back the project for the less expansive 3” format.

And strip back he does. Broken into two tracks, the album is entrenched in static ambiance as the opening “You Say Seven, I See Five” consists of little more than the delayed decay of tiny vocal fragments laid out over swaths of airy, barely-there drone. You could put this on and forget about it almost immediately, which I suppose is the point as it creates an insular intimacy that’s tough to achieve with any more elements present.

If the first track is ambient however, the second, entitled “Dust Whispers, Chocolate Tooth, Lost Jewel,” is downright elusive. Close examination reveals plenty of sounds within, but the overall effect here is one of almost complete quiet. Over the course of its fourteen-plus minutes it does create some footing, moving from the fan rotation opening into soft tinkling bells and looped vocal layers, but everything here is buried deep beneath thick layers of crackling atmosphere. Primault’s smart enough to make it all work though, adeptly pulling out crucial parts that were so distant you could hardly tell they were there until they vanish. Even the combined babblings of crowded voices sounds more like some cave-captured zephyr until their hiss softly dissipates into a gentle guitar loop that typically would serve as only one small part of Enfer Boreal’s rich soundscape. When birdcalls emit outward, they serve as a peaceful closure which succinctly settles the work right where so many of Primault’s pieces begin.

One of Enfer Boreal’s more soft-spoken works, “Seven Ways” leaves a watermark where so many droners stamp their presence down. It may not be Primault’s most emotive, beautiful, or accessible piece, but it doesn’t try to be either. Instead the work serves as a contemplative miniature that, though packed with enough ideas for a full album, is content in the small crevice where it takes residence. A beautiful package.

Chapels - So Many Blood-Lakes (House of Alchemy CS)

Just in from Foxy Digitalis:

House of Alchemy head Adam Richards has been at it for some time, but only recently has his Chapels project really started to make a splash, and rightly so. This cassette represents yet another success for this conjurer of the strange, manipulating tapes and plenty of other indecipherable sonic obscurities into a brew of garble that treads the line between the “what the hell was that?” sound of Sick Llama and the meandering (de)constructivist slant of Trauma guitar slinger Chris Riggs.

Breaking each side in two, Richards presents four distinct realizations of a similar aesthetic. The first side opens with “Who’s Your Creep?,” which is as good a title as any I suppose considering the deranged string twangs and odd atmospheres concocted. Nice pace here; real slow and mushy without turning into anything significant, as these sorts of dabblings too often do. Rather, each sound is allowed its say before moving along toward some other thwap, twang or wooze. “Wet Heat, Part I” closes the side with a denser version of the sound, moving into a pretty grim drone that shudders rather than hurls its way forward.

Side two opens with the second part of “Wet Heat,” and this time around it’s a nearly Skaters aesthetic, with the sound of the tape starting up a critical part of the piece as a whole. Rather than pulsing along with this stuff however, Chapels keeps it going with wave after wave of static screech atop small pot and pan intricacies. Neither intentionally harsh nor hip, this is some well-conceived, carefully (but not claustrophobically) controlled stuff. The closing “”Song for that Blue Room” is even more still, delving into the dregs of some basement stove where the kettle’s always on and the brew is mysterious. Dusty and ground down, it’s a fittingly uneasy closer to another winner from this intriguing sonic outlet.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Yoshi Wada - Earth Horns with Electronic Drone (Em Records CD)

Just in from Brainwashed:

Fluxus artist Yoshi Wada has had a bit of a resurgence in the public eye lately due to a number of recent reissues of works that, in retrospect, fit alongside many of the best and most challenging minimalist works of the last forty years. Here, EM presents the fourth and final Wada release in their series with the world premiere of a 1974 performance in Syracuse, New York consisting of a single drone and four Wada-created "pipehorns" tuned to the frequencies of the room itself.

What results is a 162-minute drone work (cut to 77-minutes for the CD version) of near stagnant enormity. Beginning from the drone, an oscillation that takes acoustic information from the room and recycles it back out, each horn enters one by one only to spend the next two-plus hours monolithically exploring the overtone structures of the room in a kind of quartet meditation on sound.

Works like this are, to be fair, not for everybody. This is truly directionless, and the musical change which takes place from beginning to end is near zilch. As with anything this unmoving then, the important question is whether or not the journey from beginning to end achieves its intended effect and whether that effect is worth one's time. The answer to both of these in this case is an enthusiastic yes.

Each horn note's bellow or drone gradually builds the whole into an intoxicating blend of overtones no less effecting than those used in La Monte Young's Well-Tuned Piano. It is always a pleasure to hear sound and space used in such unity, as it creates a dialogue not so much between the musicians and their instruments but between them and the sound itself. As the room bends and shapes the slight variations in sound it creates an effect far beyond the actual notes played, and it is to this effect that the horn players (Jim Burton, Garrett List, Barbara Stewart and Wada) contribute when playing their notes.

Thus the work is one whose strength comes from its size, as it is only with complete immersion that the piece comes to hold any its potentially meditative intricacy. This is a minimalism far removed from Reich and Glass's restructuring of classicist forms and is far nearer to the ritual spirit of Angus MacLise, the stark and simple structures of Alvin Lucier and the tonal attunement of Pandit Pran Nath. Often such works are touted as lost classics, but it is rare that it is actually the case. In this situation however, its value is as clear as can be.

Matt Endahl / Christopher Riggs - Pride Obscures It (Holy Cheever Church Records CS)

Another 30-minute slice of Riggs and Co. here on Riggs' own totally esoteric and amazing Holy Cheever Church label. Endahl's a pianist, and Riggs picks up his usual electric this go around for some pretty garbled excursions into the belly of the instrument-as-sound approach. Riggs himself says its like Cage and Cowell as rendered by the Michigan aesthetic, which really sums it up about as well as anything could, but I'll give it the old college try anyhow.

To be fair though, it's tough to avoid the description. Endahl spends most of his time strumming the innards of his ivories, while Riggs' usual brand of scrape and shimmy keeps things mobile and utterly alien. A weird little loop in there of a click throws it off even more while odd little electronic blips and beeps squeeze themselves into the ample space created by the molesting of their combined 94 string destruction. More than anything what always blows me away about Riggs is how he manages to take these sounds and point them in a direction without giving them so much shape as to render their more obscure qualities useless. It's all about mobility here, but a mobility that claims the unknown as its destination. And the two stay right close to each other in approaching it.

The second track answers few of the questions raised at the outset, with odd mini melodies speak n' spelling their way into some seriously thwarted electronic scratch before Endahl's piano thuds about drearily above. There's no deader sound than the dampened insides of a piano, and Endahl uses it in conjunction with the fuzz to create a real slow-burning mystery. Totally amazing.

The second side's low end murmur and clatter opens on a decidedly stiller note than side one, but its atmosphere is equally well drenched in what-the-fuckery. There's an industrial quality to all of Riggs' stuff, but it's always filtered through an avant-garde appreciation for letting a process undergo as it will. Odd dripping percussion and a thick haze, stagnant and immobile, combine and continue long enough to give the setting its own weight. It's always patient, but it never loses the quality of play that keeps it so intriguing. Air vent spouts soon mutter along in the background to add to the "composition."

Man, every time I throw on one of these tapes it blows me away. This is some real deal stuff and as far as I can tell they're all worth snagging. Go to the Holy Cheever Church and start practicing. The light just might be hidden in these little tapes, which somehow still seem to be way under the radar, even compared to far lesser practitioners of the noisy arts.

Transcendental Manship Highway - Lord of the Trees (Carbon Records CD-R)

The epically christened Transcendental Manship Highway is a supergroup of sorts, comprising both Ray and Eric of Burnt Hills/Century Plants fame alongside Stone Baby's Cory Card and Joe Tunis, head of Carbon Records. With so many heavy hitters present in one room at a time, it's sure to be a wild ride, and what results here is a half an hour of brain bending guitar and drum sprawl that immediately brings to mind Skullflower or even some of Dead C's more expansive excursions.

Beginning with a slow drum pulse, the piece only builds, bringing in vocals that soon loop into a frenzy of guitar strewn stretch outs. Bleak? You bet, but there's also something earthy about this in its primordial thump. Welcome to mulch gulch, feel free to get your feet dirty. As the drums keep it all focused the guitars layer upon one another with a cohesion not usually attained with this kind of match-up. And sure Ray and Eric have been playing together for centuries (ha, get it...?) but even they have rarely sounded so cohesive and unified in their vision. Everything here just combines toward the same sound, and it moves too, going from thump riffer to free rock brain-buster in no time.

Come to think of it, excursions like this don't happen often enough in a world where everybody seems to know everybody anyway. And sure, people are all over the place and doing their different things, but enough people are within reach of one another that this sort of option is available and, as is surely the case here, a worthwhile endeavor that manages to expand on all involved parties' work. When the whole thing shudders back down to a close with free drums and guitar lacings it leaves an emptiness that calls for more from these guys together. Let's hope there's more to come.

(VxPxC) - Second Street Tunnel (House of Alchemy CD-R)

Adam over at House of Alchemy sent me a package recently with some of his gorgeous releases. Figured no better place to start than with (VxPxC), a band I've spent much time listening to and no time reviewing. Considering what a sucker I am for a good package, this one snagged my eye before I had any idea it was who it was--the picture here doesn't quite capture it, but the whole thing comes in this great big folded piece of cloth that gives it that relic feel you know?

As for the tuneskies, (VxPxC) are one of these bands who seems to just jam endlessly and, as a result, release endlessly. They've got a billion things out, so it's near impossible to compare one with the rest, but this one definitely fits right in there, if not outright up there with the best of them. The opener, "Distant Joy," is a 17-minute zoner that combines all the unit's usual elements--drone, psych, aimless scrape and clatter--into a nice brew of sludgy backing to some Moloney-style dementia-induced singing. Pretty zonked out stuff, with harmonica and a nicely paced chord progression that provides some footing for the group to slip across.

"Red Hand Shops" follows, and it's of course another mind-bender, taking a less heavy but equally serpentine take on the (VxPxC) sound. When the group lets it loose like this things always get especially weird and spacey, which is nice coming from a unit that could easily retain their grip on the sound at all times. Instead the piece just floats about with odd instrumental entrances and exits alongside the blips and blurps of some cheesy Casio sounding keyboard. Splendid indeed, but not quite so much as the following title track, whose 23-minutes makes up nearly half the disc here. This is where it really goes down, as the group stretch out into some cavernous and dim realms with monk-style chants and heavy rhythms. (VxPxC) always reminded me a bit of a cross between Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood (review coming shortly...) and Sunburned, but this moves in so many directions that it ends up sounding like little else aside from itself. Must have been an especially potent brew that night...

The closing "Little Tokyo" takes the damaged trudge through the last track into more restful territory, with harmonica and surging guitar lines drifting across an open space that finds itself in strangely expansive waters considering the near claustrophobic ambiance of the session. Everything is held together very loosely, but also quite gently, giving it a fragile and undulant quality that makes for a wonderful close. Another killer one from both band and label, and still available from House of Alchemy I believe.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wet Hair - 08 Tour Tape (Night People CS)

Also from Foxy Digitalis:

With the sad demise of Raccoo-oo-oon this past year, the underground lost one of its most fertile sources for warped and expansive sound journeys. But when one flower withers, an ample amount of bacteria is sure to manifest, and so the circle continues with Night People head Shawn Reed’s new project with Ryan Garbes, Wet Hair. Luckily, the similarities between the two projects more or less stop there, as the latter does a much more in depth analysis of the mental cavities than Raccoo-oo-oon’s epic scale and velocity could allow for.

On this particular tape, the unit split a c30 in half on both sides to present four angles on their sound. Opening with “White Strobe Void,” directionless synth lines seep into garbling electronic lurch that opens things in a rather unsettled fashion. Guess they figure once they have you there they can take you anywhere, and its true. The following “Black Sand” bends the directionless shape of the previous track into a synth pop voyage into the blue yonder, as bouncing lines and cartoon bloops sway along, peacefully building themselves toward something far more intoxicated than the initial cutesiness entailed. Sounds a bit like Ducktails or any of the other current harnessers of tropically good vibes, though it’s a bit more psychedelic and oozy than they’re wont to do, especially when the vocal utterings come drifting in.

The second side opens with “Saturns Return,” which starts more or less where the first side left off. Organ lilts along patiently before fading into a bliss of electronic lines and deep background drone that keeps itself nice and grounded despite the lofty illusions it plays on your upper half. Having disintegrated into a clunkier version of itself, the track soon fades out in favor of the closing “Electric Annihilation,” an ultra-slow excursion into the belly of psychedelic head-noddery. Here, Reed’s thick organ drone progressions and Garbes’ clattering drums mesh into a spaced out void where vocals can drip out from the clustered center. Garbes, for those who haven’t been clued in, is a real motherfucker of a drummer, and he exhibits it here as he balances free improvisational scattershot with undeniable pulse; there’s not a beat underplayed. As the synth comes in and contributes to the wash, the whole thing has an almost minimalist effect as it supports you from below with the sheer quantity of repeating lines. When the vocals enter repeating “we are going” over and over you really can’t help but agree. An impressive effort, as has come to be expected from the Night People camp.

Various Artists - Sun, Smog and Hate (Folktale Records LP)

Just in from Foxy Digitalis:

A compilation is a tricky matter, and the more artists the more dubious the odds of positive results become. Too many artists can spread the album too thin, and too few just feels like a jip for each track you do like. So I was a bit hesitant to throw on this compilation concerning, as its title suggest, sun, smog and hate.

Luckily this little number isn’t half bad, presenting ten tracks by ten artists each focusing on the more depressing qualities of the Golden State and other locales with less fortunate nicknames/attitudes from the get go. You have to admit, it’s a good idea, and the players here come up big with some very humorous, dry and downright obscene portraits of their collective hometowns. That most of these performers typically has a cutesy-ish singer-songwriter slant only makes the grim outlooks more endearing.

So what of the music you ask? Most of the bands here I’ve heard nary a word from, but many of these are the ones coming up the best material here. Clark 8’s “Get Back to It” is a slow drawler that’s snide as hell, while John Thill’s “Smog Machine” cuts hastily from indie vocalizings to feedback crunch without so much as a bridge. Other luminaries come in the form of French Quarter’s taught and fertile melodic pop sensibility on “Overpassing” (which also appeared on his recent release, “Ugly Unknowns”) and Andrew Jackson Jihad’s exceptionally brief call for contentment on the amazingly titled “Hate Sick Hard Party Pt. 2 .Com.” Asleep in the Sea’s “Microcosm” is an orchestrated work of real scale and depth that leans to the sunny side, closing the record on a less sarcastic and, dare I say, hopeful note.

A really nice little compilation, nobody stands too tall above anyone else and the loose thread of thematic material holds the LP in order. It airs on the poppy side, but it’s good to hear that this kind of music is still being done with such dignity, creativity and sneer.