For those involved in the Seattle noise/drone scene you know Sam Melancon from Debacle Records nearly props the scene up singlehandedly, the guy is crazily active both with his label which focuses exclusively on Seattle-area artists and with Debacle Fest a multi-day festival which he curates. This year's Debacle Fest is coming up quick, starting tomorrow night and running through Sunday (Sept. 17-19) and features the likes of Pete Swanson, Rene Hell, John Wiese, Chrome Wings, Stag Hare as well as local/Debacle favorites Dull Knife, Du Hexen Hase, Physical Demon, Wind Swept Plains and Megabats, among many others.
Anyhow, a long while back Sam handed me a hefty stack of Debacle discs and I'm sad to say I've only taken the time to review a few of them so I'm playing catch up now.
Various Artists - Bleak|Beauty
Since I was just mentioning the curatorial capabilities of Mr. Melancon. I figure a compilation is a good one to start out on. Culling artists from across the Debacle catalog and beyond, there's hearty doses of noise from Slates and Pig Heart Transplant and gritty, occasionally groovy, malfunctioning machinations from Summon Thrull and Physical Demon among many other sounds. The opening track, Slates's "Rainscatter" is all jagged, serrated edges; a relentless 7 minute rumble in the gutter. Certainly a brave way to kick off the disc. Meanwhile, later in the disc Pig Heart Transplant give the listener a quick run through the wringer with "How to Survive in the Woods." What I really like about the track is how succinct the pummeling is. They drop in and 3 and a half minutes later your skull is pulverized. Thunder Grey Pilgrim and KRGA both turn in some really nice drones as well. TGP's track "Breathe Eons Breadth" does a great job balancing melodic elements while sustaining atmoshere. There's some sparse, ringing Western-ish guitar notes near the end which you know I love.
Although the disc is solid on the drone and noise fronts, it's often the oddballs that catch my attention here. Walrus Machine delivers a great, idiosyncratic jazz track "Attic Stains" which stumbles around at a quick pace like a drunken man chasing the bus. Red Squirrels make an excellent raga-ish contribution "My Bike is a Sailboat" that definitely stands-out amongst its company. Forrest Friends are probably the weirdest band in Seattle and their track makes that very clear. A four minute menagerie of literally thrift store instrumentation. Cheap acoustic guitars, weird metal chimes, yelping, hand drums, toy accordion, you name it. Wind Swept Plains challenges them for weirdest here though with a loping, detuned, weirdly voiced "folk" ditty. Megabats shifts things into a heavy fog with sequenced melodies and drum machine barely peeking through, very nice.
Overall, it's quite a good compilation as it features a lot of quality work that covers a lot of area on the sonic spectrum. Perhaps a good place to start if you've never heard any Debacle material before. There's plenty of artists here I hope to hear more from.
Megabats - In/Out
Megabats is Sam Melancon's music project along with somebody named Riley. There's next to no info on the disc so I'm gonna guess this is predominantly keyboards, electronics and possibly a guitar. The disc veers back and forth between dronier selections and rather vibrant keyboard-driven pieces. "Meek Attack," the opener for instance, finds Megabats gradually building in volume over the course of 7 minutes. Grey-blue drones dominate but it's slowly apparent there's a synth melody burbling underneath. The next track "Battleground Sky" totally flips it around. There's pretty much no reverb, just multi-tracked, quivering synth. A stomping bass drum is a nice touch that really slingshots the melodies on their way, upping the energy of the track. The melodies slowly become more complex as does the drumming. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to hear live drumming on this track as well. Since they're trafficking in such boldly in electronic textures, the live drumming gives the piece a wonderful balance between the electronic and the organic. Nice choice boys! "Bag Lady," the only short track, is another good one, delivering a heavily murked out two minutes of looped melodies. "Clever Teeth" twinkles, lopes and glimmers over its seven minutes while "Jarritos" slightly echoes "Battleground Sky." Its got a murkier feel than "Sky" but its got a boatload of keyboard melodies all locked arms and skipping down the street. Megabats kick in the distortion for the default epic, the 13 minute closer "Canopy Fire." Spitting sequenced synth melodies through static distortion, the duo straddles the noise and electronic music realms without actually sounding like either.
Hemingway - The Mansions in Heaven are Empty
First of all, love the title of this disc. Now that that's outta the way, Hemingway will be playing Debacle Fest in their two-man heavy metal riffin' guise Great Falls. On this disc though, a single 22 minute track, they use space very well. Panning spacey, percussive bass notes while a guitar crackles and feeds back, the piece moves through peaks and valleys. Just when you think a crescendo may be on the rise they push everything back leaving only a few deliberate sounds. This disc is all I've heard of Hemingway but from where I'm sitting they are at their best when they are the most restrained. They really know how to hone in a few potent sounds and garnishing them with a few noises around the frayed edges. The duo mostly moves back and forth between a simmer and pummeling, as occasionally they like to drop some in-the-red rumbles on you. The back half of the track continues the peaks and valleys trajectory but also works around a loose guitar progression leading to a modest but satisfying finale.
Slates - Street of Dreams
Here's another single-track CD-r but this one's twice the length. Yikes! I'm guessing there's a concept here but there's practically no info to back me up. If you look at the cover which is a really wonderful piece of photography, you'll notice the house burning amongst the beautiful flowers and otherwise quiet neighborhood. The cover folds out to show the rest of the photo a crowd of neighbors grouped in the street, some craning their necks out windows, all attention focused on the fire. The flip-side of the booklet thing shows the fire from another perspective, raging even further, with the group of neighbors still captivated by the smoke and flames, with one man caught in the act of photographing the fire on his cell phone. I'm guessing that this piece is attempting to capture the experience on these onlookers. I may be way off base here but I'm goin' with it anyway. What's my evidence? Slates's track sounds like a fuckin' fire! It crackles and grumbles incessantly and grows, very slowly, more massive, more intrusive and more violent. There's a hypnotic aspect too as you see with the onlooking crowd. (May I also cite those DVDs of nothing but footage of a crackling fireplace to warm the homes of those without chimneys?) You can't keep each crackle, crunch and pop straight and, for better or worse, you get lost in the noise. Some people will appreciate the experience of this 44 minute arson-steeped piece, others won't, but it's gonna keep burning whether you like it or not.
Anyway, Debacle Fest will be kicking around The Josephine and The Black Lodge here in Seattle over the next three days. Hit up the Debacle myspace for full info