Sunday, July 12, 2015

In Brief #7: The Prodigal Blog Returneth (sort of...)

Whoa, I've been gone for a long time. To the joy of perhaps no one at this point, the prodigal blog has returnethed (sort of.) Time commitments to personal and professional pursuits the past two years have lead to Auxiliary Out rotting in a roadside ditch. At this point, there is a vast archive of unreviewed material and as I prep a move back to the West Coast (LA this time,) I am cataloging numerous releases with the hopeful intent to write at least a little about them. I am not kidding myself in thinking I will be able to write the bloated reviews of all (or any) of them that became this blog's signature, nor am I deluding myself that this blog will ever return to the kind of productivity it once had many years ago. That said, I don't want it to die completely--or at least I want to give it an honorable death without a litany of unreviewed materials to its name.

There's no good place to begin, or maybe every place is a good place. I have a few vinyl entries next to the turntable so perhaps that's as good a starting point as any. Dragging amplified metal across polymers always seems to excite the public.

Ssleeperhold - Ruleth [Holodeck/Light Lodge]
I pretty much lost my shit the first time I heard this (and the 2nd, and the 3rd...) It's not a perfect record, the second side is not as strong as the first BUT man, do I just love fucking jamming this. This was my actual notation while listening for the first time "The first side especially fucking, fucking great!" Yeah, I really felt the need to modify "fucking great" with another "fucking" that's how fucking great this is!
This record is lean and beastly. It sounds incredible. Now what does it sound like? It's mostly sequenced synths and drum machines. I don't know if this actually qualifies as "new" but to my ears not enough people are making enough synth music like this. Jose Cota, the brains behind the operation, limits himself to two maybe three melodies per track but makes sure they're 100% solid melodies you want to want to hear on repeat for 4 minutes. He'll embellish them, maybe remold them a little over the duration of the track but the real dynamics (and despite the repetition this thing is dynamic) are achieved through the drum programming and its interplay with the repeating synth lines.
As I alluded to earlier, the first three tracks on Ruleth are all walk off homers. The title track sets the tone with a positively thundering synth. The laconic bassline lays the groundwork for even more thundering drums. All the while the hot-headed hi-hat ticks away and a few brave trebly tones try not to get squashed. The record can't start any better. If I were forced to single out a favorite it might be "Beatsslave" which features a simple but amazingly invigorating bassline (and fragile counter-melody to match) but features Cota's best work behind the drum machine. "Timeghosts I" is addictive; a dancefloor throbber with swagger to spare but coated in this ethereal sweetness that oddly evokes an emotional reaction. I didn't expect this from such a stone-faced killer. I'm not sure how he did it but Cota really got inside my head with this one.
The remaining 5 tracks are in no way bad, some are quite good but they don't achieve the same potency of the opening trio. They carry the torch but don't affect as profoundly. The exception is "Dreamwaves I" which exhibits a softer sensibility. It doesn't betray the framework of the LP but as the title suggests gives you clearance to drift and sink into the most plush textures on the record.
I don't even want to get into influences or reference points here because, while there are so many, they're all vague and distilled into something so spartan that it hardly seems constructive.
Totally fresh and totally bold, this is one of more exciting pieces of instrumental synthesizer music I've heard in a while.
Buy it HERE
David Lackner - In the Well of Eternal Living and Dying [Newtown Creek/Galtta] 
Anyone who has heard David Lackner's various tapes on his Galtta Media label knows the guy plays a very distinct style of jazz. Seemingly unlike just about everyone else who plays jazz and releases it on cassette, Lackner's work is very melodic, very consonant. That isn't to say it's traditional exactly. The title track of Lackner's debut LP encompasses it's entire first side. And dare I call it a 20 minute "song"? There are vocals, there are lyrics (provided by collaborator Gabrielle Muller,) there is a chorus. Lackner, working with saxophones, Rhodes, flute and synths, spins a very intricate web with the help of Dominic Cipolla on electric bass and Derek Vockins on drums. Melodies are doubled by various instruments, they crash and cascade into one another but all in accordance of a specific structure. This goes back to that line about the chorus. The structure is not all that dissimilar to a pop song but Lackner stretches it out and opens it up, mutating it slightly with each go round. Always the same, always different. It makes the pieces feel like a trance, but not one reliant on drones or constant repetition. "Eternal Living" is a colorful, vibrant piece of work. Cipolla and Vockins support Lackner's clouds of notes with the perfect propulsion, instilling, not only energy but structure into his endless bag of catchy melodies.
The flipside is a five song suite entitled "Music for Regular People" which I'm guessing is a joke(?) This side is a perfect pairing with Side A as it juxtaposes Lackner's divergent shades. "Eternal Living" sees Lackners work in a live trio setting while the second side is nearly all Lackner (Cipolla chips in on electric guitar.) It has a different demeanor than the first where Lackner was cramming many ideas under a unified umbrella. "Music for Regular People" is a bit anarchic by comparison, bizarre voice samples stain the fibers, frenetic drum samples thump and sizzle and crunch and spit. If "Eternal Living" is a silently breathing in a temple performance, this is stumbling your way through a wacky carnival. Senses are accosted from all sides, sounds connected in their strangeness but little else. For instance, the title track features the voice of a robot in a therapy session, the clash of drum programming, melody lines which veer from tragic, loopy and beamed in from a dancefloor in an alternate reality. Lackner whisks you away over the album's first 20 minutes and grapples with you incessantly in its second. Perhaps the most important track of the entire album is "A Semiperfect Number" as it coheres the erratic elements before it into a piece of the same cloth but this time cut, sewn and structured into a pleasing, even a little gorgeous and certainly intoxicating swansong for the album.
If you haven't checked out Lackner's music, In the Well of Eternal Living and Dying is actually pretty great place to start; it's delivers the variances of his musical pursuits in the most coherent form yet. An album can bear its author's signature no more clearly than here.
Buy it HERE

Those Howlings - Paid For You/Dip It In [Swear Jar]
This was my first experience hearing this Austin, TX pop trio. The A-side "Paid For You" translates the vibe of those surf-ingenue ballads David Lynch is so fond of into a peppy 90s college rock-style number. Bassist Jolie Cota Flink (great name) can coo with the best of them. The track totally feels like the pleasant surprise of taking a chance in the clearance section on a single pressed in '94 by a tiny little imprint you've never heard of.
Now, in classic 45 single fashion, I dig the B-side "Dip It In' so much more. Guitarist Kyle Fitzgerald grabs the mic and his boorish sneer drools perfectly over the polite guitar jangle and buoyant thumping drums. So so easy to drop the needle over and over.
There's nothing profound to say about this single, it's just two crisp songs you'll enjoy listening to.
Buy it HERE

Nathan Bontrager & Christopher Riggs - Moleman in the Morning [Holy Cheever Church]
When I originally drafted this (a couple years ago) I wrote:

Rejoice! Cheever has been resurrected! Christopher Riggs, in addition to being one of the best guitar players around, was the proprietor of the Holy Cheever Church cassette label. Incredibly focused on improvisational music, many of the releases featured Riggs's work on electric guitar (though occasionally other instruments) plus work by other like-minded weirdos like Chris Dadge, Andrew Royal, Bill Corrigan and Gino Robair. Always a fertile and grimy bed of interesting sounds the Church seemed to vanish as quickly as it had sprung to life, leaving sixty-some releases in its wake. If you missed out on the many spraypaint splattered tapes that HCC rapidly issued over a couple years you can check out some of the Riggs solo releases here.

Since that time Cheever has gone back underground (though Chris Riggs's website is still operational and recommended.) However, a few whispers have indicated the Church's reemergence is possible. At the time, Riggs, high priest of Cheever had emerged with a few new CDrs under the revitalized HCC imprint.
My favorite of the CDrs issued during Cheever's resurgence is certainly Moleman in the Morning--a feature length duel between Riggs's groaning, guttural guitar exhalations and Nathan Bontrager's freely wandering cello. At times, the duo mirrors each other in scratchy friction studies but mostly Bontrager is bowing long tones or plucking out odd melodies against the aural machinery of Riggs's electric guitar preparations. Somewhere between a field of crickets and a rusty door hinge, Riggs's guitar excavates a junkyard making a nice gravesite for Bontrager's quasi-classical notions to recline in for the rest of their days. Can't recall hearing a guitar/cello ensemble like this one. Totally awesome.
Not sure if there's any way to hear this at this point. It was limited to 30 copies and the bandcamp has slipped into nothingness. Worth a bit of googling or at least a prayer for the Church's reestablishment though.

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