Wednesday, January 5, 2011

GDC - Jours Avec Jennie [No Label]/Horse Boys - III/IV [Feeding Tube]

I am ashamed that it has taken me this long to write about this GDC cassette. Vermont pop genius Zach Phillips (Horse Boys, Sord, Nals Goring, OSR Tapes etc.) has delivered unto us a motherfuckin' faux-French masterpiece and I've been sleeping on the review for months! The fact that I received the tape literally a week after he finished recording it(!) makes it only that much worse, though on the day I got it I did listen to the tape 5 or 6 times in a row in my walkman as I walked around in the sun for a few hours. So here I am to ask forgiveness and shower the copious amounts of praise on this tape that it deserves.
After "Les Regles" a half minute opener of pounding synth chords, a refrain of "I don't make the rules, I just make them" and background "Hoo! Hah!"s Phillips brings the heaviest hitter. "Leur Heure" is one of the best songs of the year an absolutely gorgeous mid-tempo number featuring French lyrics and too many wonderful synth and vocal melodies to count. It is an incredible specimen of pop craftsmanship, the song takes unexpected turn after turn growing more and more infectious and lovely. Serious masterwork as far as 2 minute pop songs go. "Why Did You Reste" fills its 52 seconds with a catchy walking bass line and vocal melody to go along with its Sega Genesis-style synths. "D'une Journee" is another wondrous track featuring a bevy of keyboards all chiming in with their own unique melodies and voices. Though the tape has a very modest and warm feel, there is some serious ambition here with the staggering amounts of synths and melodies (even copping one briefly from "Poker Face") and multi-tracked vocals. I'm happy to report that Phillips' ambition is fully realized as well. I'm reminded of the mouth organ in Huysmans' À Rebours where each new melody and voice is a new and surprising flavor on the palette. "Les Histoires" changes things up beginning in a jaunty, vigorously strummed acoustic guitar in addition to the keyboards, adding a touch of rawness to the thoughtfully composed nature of the tape. "Flow Vait" comes off as rather minimal in the midst of the other songs here considering it only employs a few keyboards and vocal tracks. "Statues Francais #1-3" is the first of a series of instrumental interludes featuring piano; they make for very nice changes in pace as they still have the same heart but the stripped down dynamic breaks up the album in an effective way. The interlude leads into "Haut Contre Bas" probably the second finest piece on the tape. It kicks off a seriously infectious melody and light-footed French lyrics that skip through the song. There's an uptempo hi-hat via an unseen drum machine which pumps up the energy as well as Phillips delivers some soaring solos and choruses. Really brilliant. "Statues Francais #4" features a bit of vocals over warbly, rolling piano making for a nice lead into "Comment J'ai Aime Une Fille" which is a grand 30 second piece brimming with 18th century classical extravagance and a bit of sports arena excitement. Great way to end the side.
The next side opens with the jittery grooves of "Statues Francais #4" and continues on with the title track, an unabashed piano ballad. "Reverser Temps" is another standout in an album filled with priceless moments. It features one the prettiest melodies on the tape, and thankfully Phillips takes time to even give it a solo spot in middle of the piece. "Time Time Time Time" features dueling piano and synth formed into a boney ballad. "Couer de Lion" unexpectedly moves in between stately ballad and ambling doo wop and both are good with me. "Idiomes" is another fantastic selection. Over a relentless, pulsing bass synth riff, Phillips himself carries the melody delivering some of his best vocal work on the tape. I only wish the piece was developed past a minute and fifteen seconds. "PPPPP" is a cute little song with a slight circus feel in the melody. "Statues Francais #7-13" is a nearly 3 minute pastiche of various piano works. "Hotels D'Aeroport" barely makes it over a minute which is a damn shame as its the peppiest, most feel good thing on the cassette. Seriously great composition, I am amazed at how much Phillips packs into a minute. "Statues Francais #13" wraps things up unassumingly with more piano fragments.
One the best cassettes of the year and hands down the best pop record I have heard this year. This is a must hear!

Also along for the ride is III/IV, Phillips's first tape on Feeding Tube under his Horse Boys moniker.
The first side, known also as III, is probably the weirdest thing I've ever heard come out of the Horse Boys mouth. It's a half-hour scatterbrained blitz of upright piano pieces, plunderphonic shenanigans and tape mulch. It's such a clusterfuck that there's an accompanying list of the 20 "tracks" denoting from which second to which second they last. Even with such a detailed map it's easy to get turned around in the madness.
Beginning with two intros, "Intro to Bundt" is brief, part TV static, tape crunch and pretty piano. "Intro to Jim" revs into motion a chugging bass piano melody before splintering into piano improvisations. "Bill Wells Data" features more piano sketches but ends with a nice duo piece with a horn. "Intro to Blintz" has a cool eerie organ that duels a little with the piano which eventually takes over with Thelonious Monk-on-speed melodies. "Xmas + Easter" is the first track to hit the 3 minute mark and starts out with a shambling trio arrangement of piano, guitar and tambourine. Surprisingly, their jam lasts nearly two minutes before being interrupted by a conversation of two flamboyant males, which is in turn interrupted by barking dogs and lo-fi ivory tinkling. Phillips is built for speed on "TV Tour" tearing though the keyboard before getting cut off by pause button play, next comes a really beautiful melody again cut off by the pause button and the track moves forward in the same fashion. "Intro to Kings" features more cut-up banter with the occasional piano flourish. This continues into "How the West" which is probably even weirder, squeaky stutters (tape manipulation?) and sparse piano notes. "House Call" brings in a synth to duet with piano and they make for a very nice team for about 30 seconds. "Birds Toucans" is one of my favorites as it delivers an unusual multi-tracked piano piece and strangely enough, Phillips lets it run for almost the duration of the track before cutting it off! 'TV Tour" is just weird with frenetic pitter patter and icy, brittle piano notes. Organ turns up in the middle of the piece and it's a very welcome addition. Phillips stitches together more pretty piano fragments and found-sound conversations for the rest of the track. "Lessons" opens with a cyclical piano melody that slowly morphs over the course of a minute or so before it jumps ship and another multi-tracked piano piece steps in. There is then a flash back to the trio piece that cropped up earlier. The side is a very odd piece of patchwork, pretty difficult to get a handle on even after multiple listens but there are certainly some treasures littered throughout.
The flip side IV is an interesting transitional work between Phillips's Horse Boys style work and his work on the GDC tape. Beginning with a standout, the stumbling pop song of "Lime." Despite how many great melodies Phillips throws at you, he manages to keep you off balance through the piece so you can never quite nestle in like it seems you will on first glance. "PD Jeep" sees a few pianos and keyboards dueling it out with a random drum machine, making for an unusual jazz-pop morsel. "Friendship Rd" is a friendly pop ditty that might as well be a children's song "Friendship road, my friend/There is no other road" with a jaunty, jiving piano to match. "IV" is another very good pop song caught in a whirlwind of 4-track experimentation. There's a little of everything in here it seems, hearty doses of piano, keyboard and voice but also some bongo drums(?) and sound manipulation. "Cole" is a short piano instrumental which segues into "Days on Earth" which may be the best track on the tape. It's hard to describe the relentlessly buoyant nature of the track, even with all the unexpected left turns Phillips throws in over its 4 minutes. The song fits somewhere in between old timey, new wave and 60s psych pop. It's strange but, man, will I take it! "IX" is a very elegant 18 seconds and "Tin" flirts with being a high-energy rave-up but decides to keep things plowing at a more manageable level, saving the real wackiness for loopy synth solos. "D" is a good one that lets the vocals carry the melody for a change and "Kanabala" and "Peach" segue into the longest cut on the tape. "E Key" puffs its chest out with a striding lead off melody, occasionally changing things up with some lo-fi drum programming on the chorus before ever so slowly bowing out. Phillips sends the tape off with "Make the Call," a vaguely Beach Boys-inspired piano pop piece complete with a whistled outro. A perfect tune to go out on.
In my estimation IV is the stronger of the two sides but, hey, I got a pop heart so what do you expect? The tape doesn't top the first Horse Boys cassette on OSR Tapes but since the fine folks at Feeding Tube have put this out in an edition of 200, unlike that first tape, you actually have a good chance at snagging one of these.
Basically, what you should take away from this review is grab anything Zach Phillips gets his fingerprints on!

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