Sunday, September 29, 2019

SEPTEMBER 2019

Waxy Tomb - Imminent Fold [Gilgongo]
Well, here’s a tricky one. Every so often you run across a record that seems to taunt you while you write about it. With every attempt at description, I hear a ghostly scoff of “Nice try...” One must forge on through the aural and authorial wilderness, however, for the chance at arriving anywhere close to the desired destination. Dither and die.

Waxy Tomb is Jules Litman-Cleper, ostensibly a human hailing from this terrestrial plane, though I’m skeptical. Ah, the age-old ‘alien music’ trope. Overused? Quite. But, I swear, this time it’s really true. I have no trouble picturing an extra-terrestrial researcher poring over hours and hours of static and suddenly happening on Imminent Fold beamed from another dimension. Frantically attempting to explain to the skeptical powers-that-be that these are songs. Sir, sir! If you pay attention there are rhythms, melodies and (inaudible gasp) even words: “This is pop music.” An astonishing revelation sending chills up several spines.

Though it is far from a one-to-one comparison, I keep coming back to Sightings as a point of reference for Waxy Tomb. Both artists make it a point to work within traditional(ish) song structure but eschew any traditional approach in doing so. For Sightings, it’s the power trio rock band. For Waxy Tombs, it’s synth pop.

If you revisit the beginnings of synth pop, when Kraftwerk had sufficiently infected the minds of Daniel Miller and John Foxx, inspiring their respective synthetic discharges, things were weird. The Normal is weird. Metamatic is weirder. And then Gary Numan somewhat accidentally becomes a pop star and the form gets progressively straighter, more refined, more digestible. Imminent Fold is the result of an alternate history where synth pop never catches on, instead becoming a permanent refuge for the strange. The outcast form enduring mutation after mutation for four long decades until this LP emerges.

Is it a stretch to call Imminent Fold a pop record? Probably. But that’s the point. Litman-Cleper is re-imagining what one can do with familiar features and creative building blocks. But what does it sound like? Digital synthesis brain scramble, violently swinging between severe two-second loops of thump-click-bloooop and hare-brained drip and splatter, smothering an amorphous being who sounds like she’s attempting to communicate to a new race for the first time. Not haphazard, but employing structures a mere mortal can’t comprehend. The LP’s 18 tracks don’t feel like songs so much as nooks and crannies of one big bulbous, misshapen growth (handily approximated on the cover).

A big lyrics book (yes, real words are being sung and spoken!) is included, appropriately stylized to the point of illegibility. Looking like a fucked edition of those Magic Eye books with the hidden pictures I could never see as a kid (and probably still can’t as an adult either). It feels like a momentous event when I make out a phrase in the book and on the record at the same time. 

Sometimes when I finish reviewing a recording, I feel like my journey with it is complete. I know it back to front and have extracted everything there is to know. I certainly don’t feel that way about Imminent Fold and I don’t expect I ever will. Too many unattainable secrets lie within these grooves. A pop record I’ll be listening to the rest of my life and still never figure out. How often does that happen?

Kyle Motl - Augur [Metatrope]
San Diego-based contrabassist Kyle Motl reminds us all that the double bass is quite overlooked in the avant-garde solo improv zone. I've got loads of recordings of this ilk using guitar, percussion, violin etc. but the only other example of solo double bass I recall having in my library is an excellent tape by Andrew Scott Young (of Tiger Hatchery fame). So Motl has some fresh earth to plow, and plow he does.

Motl makes his instrument quaver and quake. Sometimes swelling to a burly, hulking mass, sometimes reduced to a frantic whimper. Tones heave and wheeze, subject to insistent palpitations. Contrabass truly is an incredible instrument, capable of mammalian squeals, didgeridoo-esque drones and timpani-like percussive thunder ("Augur II") in Motl's masterful hands. I couldn't blame you if you thought "gee, that's a ripping sax solo" on the particularly impressive "Phosphene II" where Motl manages to both take the lead and provide accompaniment for himself—a one-man-band of the highest order. Another curve ball, "Augur III" almost has a 70s crime movie vibe, somewhere between moody and slinky while "Augur IV" nearly sounds like a drum solo.

Augur is about as good as solo improvised performance gets. Diverse approaches and timbres abound; Motl doesn't fall into any repetitious habits, always finding a fresh approach to his instrument. Motl wasn't on my radar before, but he definitely is now. (By the way, the cassette sounds fantastic and according to the credits we have Matt Baltrucki (recording/mixing/mastering) to thank for that. Thanks Matt!)

Tashi Dorji & John Dieterich - Midden [Gilgongo/Moone]
[Skip to the second paragraph to avoid the navel gazing] Ah, Deerhoof, so many memories from my high school days. There was the time I reviewed their album Milk Man in the school paper and actually had parents lodge complaints about it (I had to meet with the principal over them!) And there was the first time I listened to a Deerhoof album. I was staying with an out-of-state friend for my 15th birthday celebration and when asked for a gift idea I requested Reveille by a new band I heard about called Deerhoof. My friend and his mom generously granted my wish and eagerly suggested we play the CD on the way to lunch while I politely declined, hoping to avoid judge-y looks during the clatter that would surely emanate from the car stereo. They insisted against my protests, and you know, things were actually okay through the first few tracks but then "No One Fed Me So I Stayed" started blaring on the speakers and the bomb was dropped "Do you actually enjoy listening this music?" It took a little while for the mushroom cloud of atomic-awkwardness to clear and needless to say they didn't play any more of my CDs in the car. Despite, the rocky first go, I unabashedly dug Reveille and, now listening as an adult in a place of my own, shielded from taunts of the unconverted (ha!), I can say the same about Midden.

I've been a fan John Dieterich's elastic and kinetic guitar fireworks in Deerhoof but had never ventured into his improvisational work and Tashi Dorji is a name that sounds familiar but I'm pretty sure I'd never heard him play. So Midden functions both as an educational course for yours truly and a portrait of slammin' six-string skronk etched in ethenyl. 

Each guitarist takes one channel. My guess is that it's Dorji on the left and Dieterich on the right. I love the inauspicious beginning as the first side begins with several seconds of near silence before the twin guitars start chiming. Bent notes build quickly to a thick, noisy thrum early on then the duo briefly approaches "regular" guitar jazz and even settles into a delicate moment before later kicking up dust in a Hototogisu-lite shitstorm. And that's just the first side.

Supposedly, this recording documents the first time Dorji and Dieterich played together, but the two are so in sync with one another that I'm struggling to fathom that this could be true. They have the uncanny ability to ride same the dynamic shifts blow by blow. It's a seamless journey through peaking levels and tempered valleys.

Throughout Midden, the most notable trait in my mind is that both players inhabit this nether region between dissonance and consonance; there's no real melody or harmony but there's the specter of both amid the gristle and grind. It's difficult to properly describe but this is the kind of out there record that could get the uninitiated into out there records.

If Midden can be this excellent as a first-go, the possibilities are scary if these guys started playing together regularly. Could the world even handle it? You know what, fuck what the world can handle. I'm ready so let's do this. Tashi and John gimme your best shot, blow my mind.

Gilgongo is killing it with this recent trio of LPs, all of which are worth tracking down.

Derek Erdman - Coyote (Archives Vol. 1) [Sanzimat International]
Ohio has birthed too many great troubadours to count (Tommy Jay, Peter Laughner, Jim Shepard, Pollard/Sprout, and on and on) but one that had never showed up on my radar is Derek Erdman. This probably isn't too surprising given that Erdman is a particularly odd duck when compared to those above.

In addition to Erdman's solo material, Chicago's Sanzimat International has collected material from Erdman's groups Beauty Pageant, Double Decker Bus, The Future Cobras and Witch Duck amounting to 30 tracks recorded between 1991 and 2004. (Dates for each track aren't specified, and it's not clear if the tracks fall in chronological order) The tape flies by, however, as the 30 tracks comprise brief songs and even briefer interludes (some lasting a handful of seconds).

Coyote really runs the gamut: rolling piano pop with titles that double as lyric sheets ("Everybody Likes That Girl", "Do You Want It, Do You Need It, Do You Love It"), post-Violent Femmes frustration pop ("On Again, Off Again"), melodic tape experiments ("Carom", "Crayons"), soundtrack-y pieces ("Thirty Minutes Over Dilemma"), spacey synth-goofs ("Gorf-y"), various flavors of GBV-ish balladry ("Teenagers & Hamburgers", "Hello Claire" (twice), "Hoping That You'll Never Know", "The Ballad of You") and morose noise-sludge-pop ("I'm Thinking About Getting Married"). Sometimes it's just an unholy conflagration of all of the above ("That's Portrayal (6-Hour Megamix)").

Most tracks hew to a rough-ish fidelity but "Drunk" (credited to Beauty Pageant) is a lightly polished 90s pop tune that would have felt right at home on college radio (and maybe was!) The two tracks credited to Double Decker Bus stand out with the K Records-style shamble-pop of "You Will Never Know" and "It Really Happened" which sounds like the communal goof-folk territory Happy Jawbone Family Band has been mining in the 21st century (a la "No More Smoking Pot in the Bathroom").

All of the above is great stuff, but the track "He Knows That I Love Him" which arrives at the tail end is the reason this tape must be owned. A minute and a half of gentle pop bliss. I swore that it had to be a cover, that I already knew the song, that I'd been hearing it all my life. I searched and searched and have never come up with anything, leading me to believe that Erdman tapped into some eternal pop spirit of the late 20th century and delivered this song straight from the gods. The track feels so familiar and comforting in all the right ways, a gem of sweetness and charm. Utter perfection. Take it easy on your rewind button now cause you'll be needing it when you get this tape in your clutches.

There are one or two moments on Coyote (Archives Vol. 1) that can be annoying ("Zork-y") but overall it's eclectic and endearing, and for someone who has no clue who Erdman is, it's quite the adventure.

[EDIT: Sanzimat International sent in a photo of the full archive from which Coyote was culled]


Men's Recovery Project - Make a Baby [Vermiform]
Men's Recovery Project is one of the more fascinating 90s "rock" acts; they were a hardcore band morphed halfway into a neo-Residents outfit. (The metamorphosis completed on their masterpiece of a final LP, Bolides Over Basra, one of the more cherished records in the AO archive.) Anyway, they have a record called Make a Baby and I'm obsessed with my baby so it's getting a review. (You'll likely be seeing some random baby-themed selection each month on AuxOut for the foreseeable future.)

With 8 tracks on a 45rpm 7" platter, the Project wastes no time packing Make a Baby with weird hardcore ("Why We are Lazy"), bleep-bloop interludes ("Ant Propolis"), jokes ("Man Urinating, Laughter") and Commercial Album rejects ("Man Hole"), obviously that's a compliment. The pinnacle is the final track "Enjoy Life" with its Flipper-level philosophical insights into what it takes to be happy: "Work hard/Show promise/Make friends/Establish trust/Fall in love/Man a vehicle/Make a baby/Win approval" I followed this path exactly (seriously!) and I'm living proof that it really does work! I oughta negotiate a little endorsement deal in exchange for the MRP records I'm still on the look out for. There's no substitute for inspiring testimonials.

Make a Baby is one of the cheapest MRP project records you can score ($2.75 on Discogs as we speak) and it's one of several essential documents of the 90s' most entertaining prank-punk wackos. So, yeah, buy it already.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

AUGUST 2019

I have a daughter nowwhich kicks fucking ass—so I've tried to hew toward shorter releases for the most part, to fit better within the diminished amount of free waking hours. Now let's get blazin' through these reviews filled with love and low on sleep.

Tyvek - Changing Patterns of Protective Coating [no label]
Tyvek is back! It's been three horrific years since Tyvek's last release, the 2016 long player Origin of What, and while there are a lot of things ahead of "no new Tyvek" on the official list of Shittiest Things About The Last Three Years, it still sucked for everyone. But want to know what doesn't suck? That's right, this single!

I shall not mince words, "I've Not Thought Once" and "We're Back" are two of the best songs Tyvek has manufactured. You got the scent of early 80s UK DIY and a whole lotta Buzzcocks-fueled power pop endorphins (especially on "We're Back"). Tyvek's hooks tend to be of the delayed release variety for me; it takes several plays before a song gets stuck in my head. Not immediately, but intensely gratifying, and I've grown to love them for it. Not the case here. It feels like Kevin Boyer plunged a syringe through each ear, injecting each side directly into my brain.

The two tracks are glued together by an instrumental two-parter "30th" and "34th/Market" which ends side A and opens side B. It could easily feel like filler, but it's actually really good too, pleasant midtempo jammin' with a touch of Trompe le Monde twang at the end of "34th/Market". But it's the two aforementioned songs that are the star attractions, whether it's the contagious guitar melody of "Thought" or the caffeinated slash and boogie of "We're Back", I'm pleased as rum punch when the needle's in the groove. I just wish I had a lyric sheet so I could make out Boyer's message to the incel community on "We're Back".

So when's the LP?

John Collins McCormick - Ad for Nails [Gilgongo]
It warms the cockles of my heart that Tempe, AZ's Gilgongo Records is still chugging along better than ever (15 years folks! That's like four decades in 2000s experimental DIY label years). Gilgongo has received its fair share of praise from AuxOut over the years, and judging by the three LPs the label is rolling out next month, there's plenty more on the horizon.

On his debut LP, Ad for Nails, John Collins McCormick emulsifies solo percussion and a bit of musique concrète and that's a cocktail I'd happily intake intravenously 24/7 if I could.

The piece for which the album is named takes up the entirety of side A. Dropping the needle immediately emits a roar of red hot, thunderous drums (though fidelity cools later on). The notes say the piece contains sounds recorded around the Midwest so there's editing going on but it's hard to tell to what extent. At times it seems like McCormick might have some kind of mechanical assistance (a la Eli Keszler) rather than overdubs? Definitely a sheets of sound scenario. The jump cut to the second portion is a favorite moment shifting from a free percussion-as-noise tape feel to a more spacious recording with two pieces of metal infinitely grinding around and around (definitely some Aaron Zarzutzki vibes, which the world could use plenty more of). A few subtle oscillator tones materialize signaling the advent of something. And sure enough, that something arrives in the form McCormick taking up sticks again and working the kit in a much jazzier fashion this go round. There's a few computery glitches woven here and there. There might even be some didgeridoo and bagpipe in here?? More likely to be more oscillator or bowed something or other, but at this point who the fuck can say? Ah, then comes the palate cleanser of distant seagulls and cooing crickets. Out of the fog of near silence comes McCormick once more with a nice little percussive coda. Total banger, and not like every other free percussion weirdo out there either.

The second side, "How to Consider it Done", is the "weirder" one, leaning a bit more to the concrète side of things, which is just dandy with me. Besides, Johnny was probably exhausted from the workout he got on the first side. There are snatches of people speaking and industrial machinery mixed in among rattling percussion. McCormick moves away from drums toward quieter, close-mic'd hand-manipulated percussion which I always find thrilling. The smaller the gesture, the more tactile the texture, the greater your pleasure. We get more birdsong, some sonar blips at one point, various split second musical samples. In one particularly indelible moment we witness the sounds of an electronic can opener in the midst of a mental breakdown. The piece is more free flowing and less structured than the first sidesurprisingly restful too. According to the notes, elements of this performance were recorded live for radio at Northwestern University so that may have something to do with it. Some people like sitting on a beach and listening to the waves in order to relax, but I'll take sitting on my couch and listening to McCormick any day.

The insert for Ad for Nails matter-of-factly states: "For best results this record should be played." I'd have to agree! I inadvertently tested the limits of this premise as during the first spin I had left the turntable set to 45rpm. I'm happy to report that it passed. Those "20+ minute" sides flew by! It sounds good at the designated 33rpm as well, so any way you play it you'll be satisfied. Hell, I bet it'd sound great if you played it backwards too, if you're into that sort of thing.

Still don't know what a "gilgongo" is but after 15 wonderful years, I'm still enjoying the mystery.

William Carlos Whitten - Burn My Letters [I Heart Noise]
Shame on me for not writing about this earlier, as this cassette was probably my favorite 2018 full length if I took a proper accounting, which I almost never do. I foolishly thought if I waited long enough I'd magically offer up a truly profound bit of prose befitting this excellent tape. But it hasn't happened so you're stuck with this.

Bill Whitten previously lead a pair of bands (St. Johnny and Grand Mal) who I had never come across (though they're sure as hell on my radar now) so I really had no expectation of what Burn My Letters would sound like, much less any idea of who Bill Whitten was. Many thanks to Boston-area institution I Heart Noise for introducing me.

I'd spill thousands of words if I dug into every great song on Burn My Letters, and I'm already struggling with my resolution to keep things shorter, so I'm gonna focus on the album's top two tracks. I Heart Noise cleverly picked these two irresistible numbers to float out digitally before the release and I was hooked. I don't spend much time listening to music on digital devices, so the fact that I became so addicted to a pair of songs I had no choice but to listen to on computer or phone is a marvel. "Burn My Letters" and "In My Borsalino, Pointing a Revolver" are hands down two of the best songs of the decade, pure ear candy. The rest of the album is fantastic too, there are plenty more good songs, but these are the central pillars holding up the temple.

The title track kicks off the tape, fueled by the interplay of piano, organ and guitar lines and a doggedly simple drum beat as Whitten waxes poetic about "hair the color of tarnished cutlery." The framework of the song is simple, but Whitten has a gift of building little melodies on top of one another, conjuring up an endlessly listenable number with ease. "Borsalino" is similar but imbued with a tougher rock & roll stomp. After a spacey intro, the guitars are switched on and Whitten starts tossing out the names of poets, revolutionaries, French new wave directors and other people you'd want to hang out with. (I suspect "borsalino" may be a nod to Alain Delon as well.) Anchored by an unassuming but supremely catchy guitar riff, the track's strut is unbeatable and Whitten could have stretched it to "Sister Ray" length and I'd still be on my knees begging for more. I don't often comment on "coolness" in these pages but the tune is impossibly cool. A savvy director is gonna come along one day and license this track, and then take all the credit when it transforms a run-of-the-mill scene into some thing magnificently memorable.

You have to reach back a bit to find suitable comparisons (masters of melancholy like Elliott Smith, eels and Sparklehorse) with some production tactics you'd find on a Creeper Lagoon record but Whitten has his own flavor. My favorite Whitten mode leans into his unhurried swagger, delivering lines like "it was your emptiness that appealed to me" in a husky, haggard drawl that sometimes sounds half-asleep in the best way possible. Burn My Letters never exceeds mid-tempo at any point yet it features some of the most invigorating and propulsive tracks in recent memory. Whitten also proves himself just as adept at the delicate ballad throughout the tape especially the concluding duo of the imposing "Every Man for Himself" and lovely "100 Days".

Burn My Letters feels out of time, like I've unearthed a gem from 25 years ago that's patiently watched the hands of the clock confident that due adulation will be arriving eventually. There's a warmth to Burn My Letters that seems harder and harder to find these days. In fact, given I Heart Noise's reissue project of underserved 90s act, Turkish Delight, I thought maybe Burn My Letters is a reissue as well—it just sounds so classic. But it's not, it's the year 2019 and we are still blessed with people who can write some goddamn enduring songs. Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

Jacken Elswyth/Quinie - Betwixt & Between 4 [Betwixt & Between]
Some months ago a mysterious tape showed up in my mailbox from the UK. It had this cool drawing of a mermaid-chicken-man creature, and quite obviously, I had no clue what it would sound like. This type of sensation has happened more than a few times over the years, and, let me tell you, I don't always end up a winner. But sometimes I get lucky and this is one of those times.

Jacken Elswyth takes the first side and showcases several sides of the banjo. "Improvisation for Bowed Banjo and Shruti"is a great little piece merging Indian and Appalachian worlds making for some kind of banjo raga thing. Elswyth's take on Fahey's take on the traditional hymn "In Christ There is No East or West" is quite scenic. "The Banks of the Green Willow" is a lovely little change up as Elswyth sings a traditional tune as he walks through the woods, with a chorus of birds singing and leaves crackling underfoot. So much texture and a handsome vocal performance. Love it! The woodland sounds segue perfectly into "Improvisation for Banjo and Brushes" which features a rustling backing track of brushes rubbed across the banjo's membrane while Elswyth lets it fly over top. The piece features my favorite instance of Elswyth's playing, there's a touch of Bill Orcutt to it, simultaneously brutish and lyrical with the scrape of the backing track amping up the tension. A+

The brief "Improvisation for banjo and delay (25.1)" is the only piece I don't connect with as much. I can't find fault with it but I tend to prefer acoustic stringed instruments sans electric effects. I like my whiskey neat and my banjo dry. Just rubs the right way, I don't know why. (That's fuckin' poetry if I do say so myself.)

As charming as Elswyth's side is, it was Quinie's side that really bowled me over. Hailing from Glasgow, Quinie arrives with a bag of folk songs under her arm. I'm not sure if these are traditionals or what, but Quinie's take on them is undoubtedly her own. Occasionally a capella (or usually near to it), her side is bold and self-assured.

The gorgeous "Whas at the Windy" is nothing but Quinie's voice and a touch of reverb but for most tracks she devises subtle accompaniment for her voice. The opener "Red Yoyo" perfectly encapsulates her approach, judiciously employing chimes, rattle and whistle to create a sparse backing track. She nails it. I'm not even sure what I'm hearing on "Jean" maybe heavy accordion tones and some kind of insistent kazoo(?) On "Link and Scone" Quinie sings over nothing but the clatter of echoing percussion. Each track seems to have a different arrangement but they all fit together seamlessly.

The most memorable of Quinie's vocal performances comes on "Cock Sparra" (or "Cock Sparrer" to all you punks) as waves of reedy organ lap at her feet. There's a wondrous instrumental post-script that concludes the song, once again proving she's as skilled a composer as she is a performer. The breathtaking final track "Blue Boat" doubles the length of the next longest track and it's tremendous to have an extended track to get lost in. The accompaniment is among the most sparse on the tapethe song's nearly a capella but it returns at the ideal moment. After Quinie's voice fades, foggy bass saxophone (or at least that's what it sounds like to these hears) mourns in the darkness for a few moments more and that's it.

I'm really doing a poor job of describing this and that's the beauty of it. There are so few elements, that there isn't so much to describe in a quantitative sense. It's Quinie's magnetic and incomparable performance that produces such personal magic. Something you have to experience for yourself because these words certainly won't translate it properly. But, trust me, it's great.

Quinie reminds me of Laurie Anderson if she disappeared into the hills of Scotland for a few decades and re-emerged fully intoxicated by the Scots folk tradition. I love Laurie Anderson and I don't throw her name around willy nilly so that should give you some idea of how taken I am with Quinie's work. Such power in both her voice and compositional prowess. Her vision here is fully realized and utterly perfect. I am blessed that her music appeared in my mailbox.

Two distinct sides that perfectly complement each other. Very hard quality to find in a split. I could listen to this tape all day. Recommended!

Venom P. Stinger - Walking About [Drag City]
How did I make it to 30 years of age before someone told me about Melbourne, Australia's Venom P. Stinger?! I'm pissed at the world because of it. I don't have a strong case, however, because our Chicagoan chums at Drag City reissued all of the output from the "classic" line-up (before singer Dugald MacKenzie bowed out) back in 2013. I was literally living in Chicago when this happened! Obviously, I was pretty jacked up on Portillo's and Pequod's and didn't exactly have my wits about me. But let's not dwell on the good times, because Dugald MacKenzie surely isn't on "Walking About", the finest two and a half minutes the Stinger squad ever laid down.

If you already know V.P. Stinger, you've probably stopped reading by now ("I've listened to this thousands of times, mate, I don't need you to tell me about it. Get over yourself!") but if you don't, their biggest claim to fame these days is that Mick Ward Turner and Jim White took a left turn post-Stinger, going on to form Dirty Three with Warren Ellis. (Ward Turner previously played in the fantastic Aussie hit squad Fungus Brains as well.) Sure, Dirty Three are alright but wait 'til you hear Venom P.

Is paranoid punk a codified subgenre yet? If so, "Walking About" is the flagship anthem. The opening salvo "They got my car/They got my house/They got the keys to my door/I can't get ooooout!" is probably felt as deeply in 2019 as it was in 1988. MacKenzie exhales the lyrics with such desperation that you're instantly looking over your shoulder, rifling through drawers for anti-anxiety medication even though you were having a great fucking day just a minute ago. Ward Turner provides one of the most gripping riffs I can think of while White barrels down the street with his inimitable jazz-drummer-impersonating-punk-drummer style. Moving at an intelligibly breakneck pace, merely slowing to shout "walking about" a few times, the track is one of the most arresting compositions in the pantheon of Western music, right up there with the fourth movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.

The B side "26 Milligrams" is really great too and probably deserving of its own A side. I struggle with the guilt of not flipping the record often enough. "Walking About" being so good is no excuse to neglect "26 Milligrams". Self-flagellation seems like the appropriate action here but I'll substitute telling you about it instead. Coming on like a pissed off "Shot by Both Sides", "26mg" is one of the more "classic punk" sounding Stinger tracks, sounding like The Clash if they were a bunch of fucked up miscreants instead of a successful rock group. Dugald doesn't hit the same lows he does on "Walking About" (thankfully) but there's no lollipops or sunshine to be found either. Backed by a frenetic two-chord stomp, MacKenzie drops tortured stanzas like "So learn no more to cry/All our ways they change/From a gland, into the core/I think it's slowly eating me away". It'd choke you up if you weren't too busy moshing in your living room.

I might've survived three decades without Venom P. Stinger but I'm not gonna let my kid suffer the same fate. She's gonna be the coolest girl in school when she's rocking a homemade Stinger tee on her first day of preschool.

メトロノリ Metoronori - "?" Letter [Cudighi]
Short tapes are like manna from heaven. Relatively few artists have earned the right to make an album lasting over 40 minutes, so next time you're thinking about dropping your second c-90 in a calendar year (you know who you are) think a little bit longer about it. Thankfully, this is not a complaint I have to lodge with the curiously titled and unpronounceable "?" Letter, which clocks in gracefully under 20 minutes. メトロノリ Metoronori is an artist hailing from Japan (although the label Cudighi records is local with a delicious looking logo in tow) and this is my first experience with her music.


I was immediately taken with "?" Letter because the first two tracks don't have proper drum tracks and I love it! It's a brave move and pays off in spades. "Blue Sheer" features shards of vocals and synth gently tumbling through space in a frenetic but pleasing manner. メトロノリ Metoronori instantly creates a little pop world of her own. "まだ" is mellower owing much to a lovely synth phrase. Quite a beautiful piece, somewhere between contemporary electronic pop and neo-classical composition.

So the first two tracks really knocked me out, and the rest of tracks are good too but メトロノリ Metoronori introduces traditional beats and, unfortunately, it causes the rest of the tape to sound just a tad more conventional by comparison. Not a deal breaker by any means, just that I think the tape would have gone to another level if the initial (beat-less) aesthetic she established had carried though its duration. Abstraction really works for her.

"Course 辷る" reminds me a bit of Enon's electronic moments, though pushed far more outré while "鬼の目" features catchy filtered synth swells. The last track "空で、動かないで" nearly returns to the same initial aesthetic as the drum track makes only a brief appearance and it sounds great, giving the wonderful little song room to move and breathe.

It's abundantly clear that メトロノリ Metoronori is more than capable of making great techno-pop, but on a few tracks she shows she can make something even greater and it's my selfish wish that she pushes herself further in that direction. メトロノリ Metoronori's compositions are inherently rhythmically sophisticated so the beats feel superfluous and perhaps slightly cramp her fascinating pop structures. Still, beats or no beats, "?" Letter's vibe remains in tact, one that is soothing but entirely present, never hiding behind a haze to achieve its remarkable dreamlike effect.

If you are a person who (a) really digs electronic drum tracks or (b) isn't as finicky as yours truly (good for you!) then you'll probably find no fault whatsoever and think it's a perfect way to spend 20 minutes. Its brevity makes a delicious little morsel that you'll want to flip time and time again.

Richard Papiercuts - Twisting the Night [Ever/Never]
Ricky Papiercuts has traveled a long way since that noisebomb River of Shit 7" with Chinese Restaurants (and an assist from Barack Obama). Now he's making tunes that my dad might even dig. I've got the first Papiercuts LP A Sudden Shift but I missed his second and there definitely must have been a sudden shift (nailed it) because Twisting the Night eschews the Beefheartian skronk and  punk edginess present on his debut. (Although on "The Riddle", Papiercuts does briefly paraphrase Scott Walker's "Farmer in the City" when he deeply bellows "Today I am a citizen" signaling he hasn't left the avant-garde completely.) This refinement/softening (you pick) isn't a bad thing in the least as I quite like the four songs that Dick has come up with here.

The sound on Twisting the Night is akin to 80s-era Bowie or less synth-y Tears for Fears (who Papiercuts did cover on A Sudden Shift), with a bit of U2 and full pop-mode Psychedelic Furs swirling around in there too (particularly on the rockin' epic "Starless Summer Night".) The EP is chock full of great horn arrangements, driving guitar lines and twinkling keys with Papiercuts's confident baritone leading the way.

Timing is everything and the first track "A Place to Stay" lands a sentimental bulls eye at this exact point in my life. I think I still would have appreciated it ten years ago, but I certainly appreciate it more now. Papiercuts expertly and honestly weaves a portrait of the anxieties that marriage and a child can bring but also the love, comfort and reassurance that comes part and parcel. A trade-off you never regret. (A bunch of smiling kids adorn the inner sleeve leaving no question that Papiercuts is aiming squarely for the middle-aged softy demographic.) Propelled by a galloping bassline, synth-string swells, and soaring sax and trombone lines, you really feel like "yeah! I can figure this life stuff out too!" Thanks for the encouragement Richard!

The closer, pseudo-title track "World and Not-World (Twisting the Night)", is all chorus. Built upon a little sequenced synth line, Papiercuts keeps building and building on the same melody, folding in more instruments until it ends abruptly on a quiet ping. It's hard to pick a standout track because they're all so evenly matched. The sentimental pick is "A Place to Stay" for me but an argument could be made that "World" may be the record's most succinct and catchiest composition.

Nerd note: this 12" EP was cut at 33rpm with the same four songs (same versions too) appearing on both sides. Still not sure why. Maybe it's to help out the parents out there? If your kid gets her sticky fingers on side A, just flip the record and it's no worse for wear. The CEO of Ever/Never has publicly professed his love of the 45rpm 12" (seemingly the perfect format for this very recording) so Mr. Papiercuts must have some serious weight to throw around behind the scenes to implement such an eccentric format choice.

Slovenly - Drive It Home, Abbernathy [Ajax]
Despite several records on SST and New Alliance, California's Slovenly have remained under the radar in the decades since their dissolution. Not all that surprising considering they don't share a whole lot in common with Greg Ginn nor Mike Watt, sonically speaking anyway. They were an offshoot of Saccharine Trust yet didn't really retain any of those characteristics either. Nevertheless, Slovenly were an excellent, eccentric band that everyone should hear and I've chosen to write about this EP because in spite of its wretched artwork, it's short, it's really good and (unlike the rest of the Slovenly discography) you can track it down for dirt cheap if you keep an eye out (one of my best dollars spent!).

The thing about Slovenly is that they tend to be wordy, too wordy for some. I often wonder if that Lifter Puller/Hold Steady guy happened across a Slovenly record many moons ago and thought "I bet if I dumbed this down and threw in a couple Springsteen riffs, I could make a killing off the shtick." Comparing a band I don't like to a band I really like doesn't seem like the best foot to start on but somehow I ended up here anyway. Slovenly isn't The Hold Steady though.

This 7" finds Slovenly trying out a few different styles that complement one another over the course of four tracks. The small-size platter also forces the band to be more economical so the tracks steer away from the more languid approach of some of their LP work. "Seeking Equilibrium" begins with an odd quasi-island rock vibe, but whatever supposed relaxation there was quickly wears off and the lyrical anxieties set in. Struggling through the fog of melancholia and wrestling with his "supposed sanity", Steve Anderson opines "I'm thankful for my days off". Me too, man, me too. The track volleys between soothing violin with shimmering keyboard and in-the-red shredfest. It's one of those instances where the lyrical theme is aurally translated (and successfully!) as the instrumentation embodies a muddled mess of emotional states. Kinda mindboggling that the track works but it absolutely does. One of my favorite songs of theirs.

"Obviousness" embraces the angst head on with fuzzy strained vocals, though it also sounds like every stringed instrument is being played with a slide making for an oddly smooth contrast to the voice. The drums also sound like they've been treated somehow, like the snare is being run through a delay or something. Again, quite bizarre, yet satisfying

"Welcome Home" stands out in the Slovenly discography. There is a female vocalist (Trish Scearce) singing along with Anderson and even taking the lead for a bit. It's the only track where this occurs (at least on the Slovenly records I have) and feels quite good. It's a jaunty tune with a jangling earworm riff and wonderful, stuttering violin melody. Guest violinist Sam Goldman makes a damn good case that he should have been a full-time member as his contributions are among my favorite aspects of the record. Even with a lyric mentioning infanticide, the track sounds downright pleasant.
"Sixth Fingerless" is an abstract instrumental with fragments of voices and guest trumpet courtesy of Phil Smoot. It's a restful way to end the action-packed EP.

All in all, it's 10 minutes well spent, and who knows maybe you'll find yourself to be as fond of Slovenly as I am.

Exhaustion - Phased Out [12XU]
Blaxxx - Blaxxx [12XU]
Manateees - Croc N My Pocket [12XU]
Like everyone else who likes music, I've enjoyed 12XU's makeover this decade. Formerly in the business of exporting Spoon offshore, they've since been hustlin' various flavors of a baseball bat to the face (The Unholy Two, Burnt Skull), a really good Gotobeds record, reissuing Stick Men with Ray Guns (the Lord's work) and a host of other records that I haven't heard yet but probably kick ass. I'm sticking with this trio of 12" EPs today.

Exhaustion dropped one of the finest Australian exports of the decade, their debut LP Future Eaters on Aarght!, so now I have a standing order to grab any record emblazoned with some arrangement of a bold uppercase E, X, H, A, U, S, T, I, O, and N. (They stick out like a sore thumb when rifling through the bins so bang up job by Exhaustion's in-house marketing team.) Phased Out struck me as a bit of a curiosity. Two tracks on side A and two remixes on side B. Um, okay... I'll take remixes over an etching or some other non-audio decoration though. And to be honest, I really wanted to know what the hell a remixed Exhaustion song would sound like.

Exhaustion build on the trance-punk vibes of their debut, but where everything moved pretty slowly there, Phased Out ramps up the tempo. The title track features some EXCELLENT drumming, militant dance floor pummeling. A barrage of toms, serious thwack-thwack-thwack from the snare and thump-thump-thump from the kick. I'm not often one to zero in on drums during rock tracks, but drummer Per Byström can't be ignored here. The drumming fucking rules on "Colleague" as well but it's supported by some killer industrial feedback grind calling to mind Sightings and Angels in America. Totally relentless rhythms. This is my kind of headbanger's ball.

The trio (though a fourth member, Mark Barrage, is credited with "FX" on this release) has an uncanny way of conjuring a blurry sound, that somehow feels forceful and overtnever getting lost or looking directionless in the process. Not entirely unlike the Spacemen 3 ethos, but delivering a very different product. Exhaustion don't sound druggy though, and what's so great about the band is there isn't any easy shorthand adjective to describe them. Their sound isn't radically different but it's absolutely their own. If I'm picking an adjective, I'll just go with captivating.

Now that I've had my ass thoroughly kicked, how about those remixes... not too bad actually. They're definitely odd, and perhaps obviously the tracks aren't a seamless translation to the club but I have a good time with them on the turntable. Aussie punk royalty Mikey Young opts for the traditional synth-throb remix genre, throwing in a stepping synth-bass line. Not taking any chances but it's a tried and true method I can't fault. And you're taking a chance by remixing an Exhaustion track in the first place. I'm a sucker for disco, so when he starts laying on the synth-string counter melodies, I'm all in! I actually find myself pulling out the record just to hear this track which surprises me more than anyone. Seemingly borrowing the drum track from "Love to Love You Baby" the "Colleague" remix by Rites Wild has more of a dark late 90s techno vibe to my ears. Doesn't get me on the dance floor like Young's remix but it would be nice mood music in a splattery Refn flick.

So with Blaxxx and Manateees, it's clear 12XU has a fetish for band names spelled with three letters in row. I shudder to think what Exhaustion had to give up at the negotiating table to avoid rechristening themselves Exxxhaustion before signing on the dotted line.

Blaxxx seems to be one of those one-off "we happen to be in the same town for a day so we might as well record some raging hot-as-shit rock & roll" type of bands. A four song mash up of Bim Thomas (Obnox) on drums and microphone with Orville Neely (bass) and Tom Triplett (guitar) of OBN IIIs is about as wailing as you'd expect. And, yeah, they push the all the levels into the black

Leading off with the eponymous killer "Blaxxx" is a bangin' move because it immediately gets you in a savage mood. It's got my favorite groove on the record and there's some wailing sax buried down deep and a combustible solo on the breakdown. I don't know Bim's stuff too well (outside of Puffy Areolas) but Obnox is an obvious reference point, or a less psychotic Puffys (if you can even fathom such a thing). "Cut 'Em Down" is the easy choice for a single, with the shout-along chorus and mirrored riff. A well-placed "woo!" doesn't hurt either. I haven't heard all 300 Obnox LPs Bim has dropped this decade so forgive me if I'm off base, but this is the most Obnox-y jam on the record.

On the flip side "Let Me Hold Your Hand" features a spoken intro from Bim making it clear that Blaxxx is the real music and in turn they should be getting all the money. An amusing beginning but the track is the obligatory dirge, a thick as molasses fuzz trudge. The final Blaxxx track (of all time?) "Get a Hold on Your Life" is a genuine firestarter that will keep you blastin' even after you lift the needle. It literally sounds like the tape is a degree or two below its flash point, and the trio is about immolate themselves in a legendary rock & roll death by basement inferno. This one rivals the title track.

The record flies by leaving lots of room for future plays, a perfectly designed 45rpm 12".

I mostly just bought Croc N My Pocket because the cover is hilarious. Manateees was on the endless list of band names that rattle around in my head even though I don't really know who they are or what they sound like. I thought maybe there was a connection to another band but couldn't remember (turns out it was True Sons of Thunder. Nice.). But, hey, when the rubber meets the road sometimes a hilarious cover and a reputable label is all you need to lay down the cash.

The initial impression the EP makes isn't quite what I expected. There's a surprising bit of jangle on "Buoyant Life" matched with pissed off vocals (which fit the MO I presumed). "Under the Gun" is speedier but there's still a weird amount of proper minor chords in use here. The production is notable because it's not quite lo-fi but has a thin sound (1 vox track, 1 guitar track, 1 bass track, 1 drum trackno overdubs) reminding me of late 70s and 80s indie records where the song had nothing to hide behind. "Stellar" adds Manateees to the long list of punk bands singing about aliens and/or outer space (The Twinkeyz, The Zoomers, Outer Spacist, Tyvek and, uh, Blink 182). It's a solid addition.

Things get weirder on the second side. "River of Death" is all evil vibes holding a strange prog/metal fixation (replete with a half-time bridge and dramatic chord changes) with bad news lyrics about heavy topics like "chemical waste". The main dude really gets shrieking at one point and you know he ain't fucking around. Best track of the record for sure. "On the Run" is up there too, really locking into a fast punk rave-up with multiple jaw harp solos and a sick whistling breakdown. Wacky as shit and totally catchy. Feeds my earlier observation that they only have four tracks to work with and the vox were sacrificed to make room for the jaw harp and whistling. Can't say they made the wrong decision. "Witch" is no Sonics cover but it is the most KBD-style track, going harder and faster than everything that preceded it with a pretty sweet octave line. Oh yeah, then it turns into an extended metal-tinged breakdown with Bathory-esque yelping.

Crazy record and I feel like I don't quite grasp exactly what Manateees are all about, which makes me think I do probably grasp exactly what they're all about.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

JULY 2019

Surveillance - Man [Various]
Since I presented an utterly essential east Canadian platter of recent vintage last time, how about I just do it again?

Simply put, the sole 7" by Halifax's Surveillance is perfect. After scanning Wikipedia's list of musical groups from Halifax, I feel comfortable proclaiming Surveillance to be the greatest band in Halifax history based on this record alone.

"Death" tears out of the speakers sounding like a scuzzed out Visqueen, the most effortless of power pop moves played in a truly beautiful ugly fidelity. A delicious piece of sticky ear candy rolled in dirt and lint. The titular and equally tasty "Man" eases off the gas while staying in the red. Vocalist/guitarist Rachel Fry knows how to coo with guts, making the perfect foil to the clangorous production. At one point, I recall having "Man" stuck in my head simultaneously with "Dream Police" and "Way of the World" (by Cheap Trick). The three of them were rabidly tussling for my brainspace, fragments of each of the songs all colliding with one another. Empirical proof that Surveillance literally writes hooks that compete with Cheap Trick's.

When I first got this record, I kept playing side A over and over. With these two songs it was already a perfect single. The flip could have been a 5 minute recording of the trio puking up bad seafood or whatever they eat up in Halifax and I wouldn't have felt the least bit shortchanged. At some point, I resolved that I would fight the urge to drop the needle on the A side for the umpteenth time and venture forth and flip the record, with the full expectation that it couldn't possibly hold a candle to the first side. And you know what? It might actually be better.

At about 4 minutes, the also titular "Surveillance" is seething and comparatively epic. The charming sweetness of side A is gone but it's no less infectious. Raw, cathartic and 100% alive with angst, "Surveillance" makes a strong case to be the best of three sure-fire #1 hits (on my charts). Even with the accompanying lyric sheet I'm not quite sure I know what's being sung about but I feel it without question. If you have any interest in the past three decades of rock music, this is as essential as they come.

A band called "Surveillance", a record called "Man", and a label called "Various", that's a recipe for a search engine nightmare so I've helped you guys out: seems like Various and the band still have copies so buy that shit and thank your lucky Nova Scotian stars.

Prana Crafter - MindStreamBlessing [Eiderdown/Cardinal Fuzz]
Seattle's Eiderdown Records is creeping ever closer to the 10 year mark and in that time they've established themselves as one of the go-to outposts for modern psychedelia. No easy feat! In conjunction with Yorkshire label, Cardinal Fuzz, Eiderdown is reissuing one of its tapes as an LP for the first time, so if you weren't one of the lucky few to get Prana Crafter's MindStreamBlessing in your cassette deck, you can now get it on your turntable.

The world is filthy with one-man psych units but Prana Crafter a.k.a. Will Sol stands apart, or sits cross-legged or whatever. Sol avoids the trap that less astute psych-mavens fall into of overprocessing everything with effects, leaving a soupy haze that blunts the impact (there's a pun in there somewhere that I'm feeling too lazy to tease out). The recording and production is vitally important to the record's success: the guitar fuzz has hair on it, the percussion sounds dry and woody coming from the corner of a small room, the keys have a graceful amount of warble. There's a lot of detail to take in for those that really want to listen. But even pitch-perfect production is nothing without the tunes and Sol brings them in spades.

"At Agartha's Gate" is an inimitable opener, with a chiming guitar line that wiggles deep into that brain of yours and never leaves. Cushioned gently by organ tones, it's a plaintive little wonder and I won't blame you for replaying the track a few times before you jump in to the rest of the record. Sol does a quick about face on "As the Weather Commands" where he unleashes The Shred immediately over hand drums. Somehow, from its wildfire beginnings, the track resolves into one of the silkiest moments of the LP. Sol makes a habit of these juxtapositions, as on the drifting "FingersFlowThroughOldSkokRiver" which is roused awake into a Appalachian-style rave-up.

The second side features some strong tunes as well. "Mycelial Morphohum" takes on a creepier tone and it suits Sol nicely. Fuzzy oscillator drones, disembodied chatter and rumbling tones make a fertile bed for his excursions on untreated acoustic guitar. "Luminous Clouds" takes this idea and ups the ante, taking MindStreamBlessing to its most dramatic and blistering point. Weaving piles of fuzzbox debris in and out of a hypnotic repeating arpeggio, Sol shows some serious compositional chops here, keeping things dangerous but finely controlled. MindStreamBlessing's final chapter "Bardo Nectar" jumped out at me immediately when I first jammed the tape way back when and its luster hasn't waned one bit in the years hence. Saving his catchiest tune for last, Sol walks up the neck dropping a heck of riff as he goes and layering on multiple melodic counterpoints to make the whole thing sing. A finely honed piece of work. And like literally every release Eiderdown has birthed, the LP oozes lustrous visual beauty. Looks good. Sounds good. Feels good. Total package.

Takahiro Mukai - Helplessness [Degenerate Trifecta]
I'm a perpetual neophyte when it comes to techno. Acid is the one with the 303 and the hi-resonance filter sweeps right? I'm woefully unqualified to be writing about techno, but when techno cassettes show up at the door, duty calls (even if it means I'll be embarrassing myself). I have no teknowledge bank up in the noggin to pull from to offer up detailed analysis. I can provide little more than a rating of It Bangs or It Does Not Bang so that's what I'll do.

Luckily for a tech-no-nothing schmuck like me, Seattle's Degenerate Trifecta label offers up online liner notes for its releases helping me suss out what branch of the techno tree my heart is thumping along with. Detroit techno? German club techno? Broken techno? (Now that last one sounds intriguing.)

Degenerate Trifecta dropped this tape titled Helplessness by Japan's Takahiro Mukai earlier in the year and when I read the aforementioned notes by DT, I was admittedly apprehensive at the word "glitched". I remember the Glitch (sub)genre being in vogue in my younger days and, to be honest, it always sounded a bit annoying to me. I wanted techno to kick my ass like that popular Prodigy record (or was that electronica? Is that different than techno? I know nothing!) not sound like a beat up CD. But to my surprise and glee, Helplessness doesn't sound like that, it sounds good!

With a name like Helplessness, you get the sense this could be real dark and scary, or maybe a moody downer thing, but I think this stuff is catchy. This fueled some big time apartment cleanup so, if anything, I'd be lobbying for a reissue under the title Helpfulness.

Mukai starts out unassuming enough with a grinding low frequency sawtooth and unbothered drum loop. The lead-off track "#422" acts like it doesn't need your attention but quickly gets under your skin. It's minimalist not so much in sound (there's no silence) but there's like only three things happening max at any given point. Reminds me a bit of that Ssleeperhold LP from some years back. "#424" is more active without betraying the modus operandi. Rolling along on a sinister bass groove, a calm, cool and collected Mukai layers on some tastefully chattering filter squelch.

Conversely, "#425" is a reluctant freakout, like the sequencer lost its meds and is just trying to keep it together for one more jam. Things expand a little with "#426". Lost of bubbling, babbling and skittering slowly moving between the channels over a mid-tempo trot. Mukai switches his synth to the "idling car motor" preset and closes with "#428", a slowly throbbing concoction of syncopated electronic clatter culminating with an even thicker saw than the tape began with.

It bangs.

Preening - Greasetrap Frisbee [Ever/Never]
Back in my impressionable years (early 2000s) no wave influence had a bit of a resurgence in the contemporary indie scene (Ex Models' update on DNA has always been my favorite of that ilk) but I can't think of a band mining that neo-no wave territory since then that has really turned my head. But Oakland's Preening have with this EP, and I think they might be onto something.

Preening pack five jams into this small 33rpm platter, first of which is "Associated Press" which is as good of a thesis statement as any--deliciously jittery, hitting harmonious and dissonant notes in all the right places. Near the end it sounds like there may be a power drill in there somewhere. The track sums up Preening's sound: a stripped down power trio channeling late 70s Contortions. Not a guitar in sight just like that Playboy record I raved about last month... Which begs the existential question, if the band is playing bass, drums and sax, then who's playing the drill?

The trio is comprised of Bay Area skronk vet Max Nordile (of dual-sax duo The Blues, Uzi Rash and a hundred other things, as well as, FNU Clone inc.'s preferred hornblower), and Alejandra Alcala and Sam Lefebvre on bass and drums, who are both new to me. Nordile and Alcala split vocal duties, and I think the trio is at its best with Alcala at the mic. Nordile's vocals on "PO Box" and "Poison" lean a little goofier without enough of the edge that Alcala brings. Plus, the more Nordile sings, the less time he's got to huff and puff on that horn of his, and I really like when he does that.

The brief title track is a highlight, nodding toward a This Heat-style collage aesthetic but the final track "Face/On" is the obvious hit. Armed with a delectable sax riff that just won't quit, Nordile volleys between playing it straight and twisting it up like a pretzel and unfolding it again. The rhythm section is tops, surprisingly sparse and tastefully plodding, the perfectly sturdy yin to the saxophone's elastic yang. Alcala's vox are totally on point too, adding just a touch of brimstone. Really, really good.

Adrian Knight - Vacation Man [Galtta]
Considering Adrian Knight had such a huge hand in Nick Stevens's fantastic tape last summer, I was very keen to take a listen to Knight's new tape when it arrived earlier in the year. After dropping something like 15 releases in the past decade (not to mention his work on other people's projects like Stevens), the ever-prolific Knight rolls with a very distinct style and, admittedly, it's taken me a bit of time to figure out how I feel about it. To be honest, I'm still not quite sure, but that almost always turns out to be a good thing in my experience.

After a brief intro, Knight launches right into his patented concoction of jazz-funk-space-pop. Sounding like what would be ruling the charts in 2135 in a movie from 1996, a jump through a wormhole would no doubt reveal a host of socialites grooving to the title track along with their nano-vapor cocktails or whatever the party animals are ingesting at that point in time. The production is thick. So much going on at every moment. Palm-muted guitar plucks, multi-tracked vox, swinging bass, complex percussion and copious amounts of synthesizer. You almost don't even realize it when David Lackner drops in with his woodwinds because they're so thoroughly processed and blended into the arrangements.

I'm surprised that it has taken me so many years to realize this but I see a similarity in Knight and Canadian electro-pop weirdo Man Made Hill. But where Man Made Hill makes the decision to play it strange, Adrian Knight makes the stranger decision to play it straight. Knight really leans into the glossy kitsch and cheese factors that often shroud themselves in irony (if not make themselves the target of punchlines) and embraces them guilelessly with great vigor. It's easy to respect something so pure.

The one thing that holds me back is Knight's vocals aren't strong enough for my taste. They have a tendency to get lost in the hyperactive mix, perhaps blending in too well. That may be by design, as Knight seems to revel in blurring the edges of the bevy of elements in each track, and I may just not be aligning with his aesthetic. That's probably why I went bananas for the Nick Stevens tape; it features so many of the signature qualities I enjoy about Knight's work but with a more compelling vocal presence at the center.

With all that said, there are plenty of great tunes here, like the aforementioned title track and back to back romps "Waiting to See" and "Anna Marie"--the latter of which features the hook of the album courtesy of a plinky synth. Everything considered, the tape is a hell of a lot of fun. If you've ever wanted to groove like it's 2135, look no further.

Gary Wrong Group/Wizzard Sleeve - Halloween Violence [Jeth-Row/Pelican Pow Wow]
The mark of a great split is when you can never settle on which side is your favorite. After the first few rounds, Wizzard Sleeve was the leader but Gary Wrong Group has been sneaking up ready to pounce and wrestle the belt away. Both projects are lead by Mr. Wrong so it figures quality is equally high across both sides.

Gary Wrong Group deliver "Dream Smasher" which grinds along in no particular rush, layering on plenty of thick fuzz, sci-fi synth seasoning, samples of glass shattering and a casio-style vibraphone lick that totally seals the deal, transforming this sucker into a total earworm. Gary creeps along muttering about violent dreams in stereo. What I like most about this track is, despite the preceding description, it's quite pleasant to listen to. The track seems to just be smoothly gliding along for I'm guessing 5+ minutes, very dreamlike and otherworldly in its particularly odd and ugly way.

"Loupgarou" on the Wizzard Sleeve side ventures forth with a lobotomized lope. Dragging knuckles and dragging its cloak and sickle as you drag your feet when it takes you to your final resting place. The Sleeves summon swirling visions of an exotic alternate-universe Flipper who only played through busted theater sound systems after midnight movies. Nocturnal sludge.

Whichever side you pick, Halloween never sounded so sick. (The B side label is an iridescent moon, which is pretty choice.)

Drunkdriver - Born Pregnant [Parts Unknown]
Born Pregnant*, Drunkdriver's debut LP, is nearing the 15 11 year mark which is a bit crazy to think about. The band apparently disintegrated at the end of the decade due to drummer Jeremy Villalobos being accused of sexual assault and Load deciding to scrub their, at the time, upcoming follow-up from its catalog. (This lead the band to self-release the LP which I still have yet to come across in my record store travels.)

Liberated from the shackles of having a bass player drinking 1/4 of their beer on tour, Drunkdriver consisted of drums, guitar and Michael Berdan's agonized screams. Berdan's angsty shouting and cry-for-help liner notes were fine but never particularly moved the needle for me. The real reason I'm still listening to (and writing) about Drunkdriver in 2019 is that guitarist Kristy Greene is a speaker ripping terror.

I'm over here like a maniac with a loupe in hand trying to make out her gear on the dingy inner sleeve photo, jonzing for some clue as to how she gets this soul-quaking, building-crumbling tone. (Metal Muff, Morley A/B box, Boss tuner. Interesting!) I'm not sure there's been a guitarist who has so thoroughly and successfully melded rock guitar and undiluted harsh noise. I listen to the record in that way too; I never pay attention to any of the, I don't know, let's just say 8 songs, and I definitely couldn't name one without glancing at the jacket first. I view the record as two side-long blasts of face-melting sonic savagery, thanks to Greene. To be honest, I still get a little scared to pull this one out cause whenever I play it, I feel like this could finally be the time the whole hi-fi goes up in a blaze. Nothing left but a ruinous pool of melted plastic, charred metal, and smoking rubber.

Greene never released any music post-Drunkdriver that I'm aware of (please correct me if I'm mistaken!) and that's a goddamn shame. Such an incredible talent with so many more faces to melt. I, for one, feel cheated.

*Fat Worm of Error definitely one-upped DD on their album title game when they dropped Pregnant Babies Pregnant with Pregnant Babies the following year on Load. Just ignore this whole spiel regarding the (incorrectly asserted) album release dates. I don't know how time works.


Sunday, June 9, 2019

JUNE 2019

As has been clear for fuckin' years now, I don't have a lot of time to crank out (long ass) reviews with some degree of frequency like I did once upon a time. There's probably not gonna be many "featured"-type reviews going forward and things are probably gonna be mostly in this vain, which is some blurbs about things I'm listening to (both submissions and just shit from my own collection). 

Playboy - Celebration [Negative Jazz]
The greatest Canadian record of all time? Well maybe not as good as Leonard Cohen's, but better than the Matthew Good Band's. All seriousness aside, this is the greatest Canadian record of all time. I can't stop listening to it, and when I listen to it I can't stop punching the fucking air (until I have to stop and flip the record). And when I'm listening and punching the shit out of canuck ghosts, I also have to drink ice cold English gin. I can't figure this out because they're Canadian and I'm a whiskey/rum guy. It doesn't make sense. But when I listen to Playboy, I'm a gin guy. I actually keep gin in the freezer so it's available whenever the moment strikes. I don't know why, it just feels right.
So Playboy sort of has that early No Trend or Flippery vibe. Thuggish and sluggish. The bass grinds as much as it grooves (and has this odd, somewhat metallic quality that I still can't pin down--adding just a hint of Shellac-y seasoning). The rhythm section is really the foundation of Celebration, with A Frames-like precision, it churns like a machine. Its importance can't be overstated. But the thing that sets Playboy apart is those clarinets, man.
Is it one clarinet? Is it a cadre of clarinets? I can't tell, but they can really wail! Every so often I hear a bit of barely-there synthesizer but when it comes down to it this is one of the most arresting, rocking, virile and tough-as-shit records I've ever heard, and without a guitar in sight.
Normally, packaging isn't especially important to me but this is top notch stuff both in production-quality and the cool cartoons-meets-vorticism design aesthetic. Los Angeles's Negative Jazz imprint (LA rules, fuck you) did the whole fucking world a solid dropping this hot little number.
Just fuckin' buy it, buy a fuckin' case of Ford's or whatever's on sale and don't stop listening 'til yr dead from a busted liver. Be a part of history and own the magic for a mere 10 bucks. Oh, Canada. 

Aaron Zarzutzki & Nick Hoffman - Exhaustive Expulsion [Pilgrim Talk]
As far as I know this is the cacophonous duo's follow-up to the the bizarre and awesome LP Psychophagi and its accompanying cassingle Opening Band. This dual tape set of live performances is no less obscure or interesting in its sounds but less of a curatorial eye was taken in its construction. The LP had a single 20+ minute improvisation and two more in the 10-12 minute range; the cassingle was fascinating as it distilled Hoffman's and Zarzutzki's efforts down to under five minutes a side. 
This session of dual hour long tapes is more difficult to consume and a bit of a "fans only" affair. But if you can't get enough of a spinning metal plate scraping other pieces of metal, you know who you are and you should have this dynamic duo's full discography in your collection. There are dozens of us!

Amalgamated - Spark I [Intangible Cat]
Amalgamated is a crew operating somewhere in Illinois (I think) with a bit of an unusual set-up that makes their name ring true. Four people generate music, not sure if they’re all jamming separately or together, and then another two people are responsible for editing and other post-production duties. Apparently this 3” CDr had been in the works for some time and saw the light of day earlier this decade (yeah, I'm late). The vibe is mostly chilled out electronic music drawing on a variety of sources. I’m assuming there might be some acoustic instrumentation in here but I’m not positive, there’s definitely a hearty dose of synths, samples and drum machines often spun through spacey dub delay and filters. To the group’s credit, I don’t think this sounds like 6 people had a hand in it; it sounds like it came from one mind to me.
“Rot Makor” features some heavier synth percussion but the tracks generally yield to a smoother pulse. Usually, at least one element in the mix is set to ultra-glide at all times. So even when things get a little crunchy, there’s a plush keyboard somewhere smoothing out the bumps.
People into the trippier electronic music spheres take note, if you haven't already that is!

Back Magic - Chorus Line to Hell [Milvia Son]
I woke up one Sunday morning and had a hankering for Back Magic's Chorus Line to Hell LP. Figured I could try out one of those "Now Playing tweets" and link to the review I wrote about it. Except after some mildly frantic searching, there was no review to be found. Could've sworn I'd written one but once again I reveal myself to be an incorrigible fuck up. So here comes the review that I thought I wrote and definitely should've:
A pungent concoction of punk, surf, no wave, medieval folk and moldy psychedelia (that doesn't quite sound like any of the above) emanating from some basement in Indiana. Back Magic is the work of the Brothers Hoffman, billing themselves as Hair EXP on guitar and sometimes voice and Terror Trans on drums. Chorus Line to Hell marks their debut LP following up 8" and 5" lathes (which included one of my favorite punk rippers from last decade "Cough Syrup Buzz") and a tape on Nick Hoffman's Pilgrim Talk label. And I did actually review those (here, here and here).
This is full of bangers and well worth grabbing to hear all the alleyways the Back Magic boys trek down but a couple favorites are the lo-fi punk anthem "Peace Police", "Thing I am" which heads into a noise rock zone (with a certain Suicide-ish propulsion), the Middle Eastern vibin' of "Paradise of Skulls" and the eerie and droning "Class Coven" with its 60s Italian pulp film score fumes. Oh yeah, there's a ripping Crass cover too because obviously an LP as magnanimous as this should end on a Crass cover.
You can grab yourself a copy from Back Magic themselves here.

Bearded Astronaut - 9.8 m/s^2 [Green Tape]
Like all projects released by Illinois's mysterious little Green Tape label, Bearded Astronaut is a little mysterious. Nearly every phrase on the j-card (save for the label's URL) has at least one space or physics related term: the artist name, tape title, track titles feature words such as "Moon" "Trajectory" "Stellar" and "Transmission" and, probably the most telling "Third Sun from the Stoned." 
Bearded Astronaut at first really subverts the general, sonic expectations associated with "space." There's no ethereal, cosmic keyboards, no 'future sounds'. The tape sounds decidedly terrestrial. Clean-toned guitar offers pleasant arpeggios amidst a backdrop that sounds more than a little raw and gristly. There seems to be a light coat of rust on everything, nothing is space age or state-of-the-art. Bearded Astronaut mostly ambles along pitching makeshift song structures comprised of said guitar, fuzzy bass and stumbling drum machine. 
You know, when I said there's nothing here generally associated with space? Well that only holds true for so long as "Pause and Reflects" does feature pretty organ and guitar glistening. The drum machine still thumps underneath giving the universe a heartbeat. It's a humble, quietly beautiful piece--certainly the centerpiece of the tape. After soaring for so long the piece crashes and burns into a crude 8-bit drum machine loop. Maybe there's some sort of concept going on here: Bearded Astronaut beginning in the terrestrial sphere, ascending upward to the heavens before falling face first once gravity gets its paws on the spaceman again. Jus' sayin'...
"Final Transmission" marks a spiritual heir to "Pause and Reflects." Gliding organ notes are overcome by pulsing static and humming feedback into another very fine track, the aforementioned "Third Sun from the Stoned." There's nothing radically "new" about this tape, but there's something a little intriguing about how they concoct the recipe.

Body Morph - Pussy for Breakfast/Medical Fame [Moon Myst]
Who love da sax, baby? Are there still sax duos out there nowadays? Haven't been keeping my finger on the pulse but Daniel Dlugosielski was in a pretty rad one called Uneven Universe which I hope you heard back in the day. Dlugosiekski helped to pioneer those moldy scrape 'n creep "jazz" moves that oozed out of Michigan on a regular basis (and has since been coined "psycho jazz" if I'm applying the proper meme).
Double D has been in the game a long time and Body Morph is his ongoing solo project of processed sax and mildew. This hour-long album luxuriates across two 30 minute tapes. Bleary-eyed sax drifts from place to place via the occasional sputter and bend of electronics and tapes. There's an occasional harsh punctuation but mostly Dlugosielski lets you just sink in the foggy bog, cushioned by tape hiss.
Each half-hour tape is given a separate title (Pussy for Breakfast and Medical Fame respectively) but they blend together as one big clammy mass for all intents and purposes, though the lovely, drifting melodies of Medical Fame's first side do stand out. When you're in the mood, there's nothing that scratches the itch like Dlugosiekski's brand of reedy, feverish lethargy. Soak up the sonic smells while lying flat on your back and except no substitutes.
Tape's longggggggg sold out as far as I can tell because I'm a pathetic no good loafer, but there's a host of other great ways to ruin your ears from Moon Myst.

Embarker - Point Location [Send Help]
Embarker - False Purview [Send Help]
It comes with the territory, but in the realms of the that's-just-noise genre there are some folks that just seem to fly a little too under the radar for my liking, not getting the amount of pub they deserve from my vantage point. Michael Barker better known (or perhaps not) as Embarker fits into that category. He dropped a self-titled LP over a decade ago, my first introduction to his work and still one of my favorite harsh needle drops in the AuxOut home library. He's been plugging away since, dropping a tape every year or two on labels such as Phase!, I Just Live Here and Spleencoffin, but lucky us, The Bark dropped a tape twofer last year of Point Location and False Purview.
I was gonna try to work this next bit into paragraphs with complete sentences and shit, but I decided fuck it. Here are my listening notes, reproduced verbatim:

point location
side a
track 1
cut-up freak out - killin' it
track 2
Unexpected shift in to vintage Yellow Swans territory. sheets of electric needles crashing on the beach - hell yeah
track 3
splits the difference between the first two
track 4
clicky percussive track, longggg

side b
heavy, violent herk & jerk, sounds like hightops on a basketball court (sick. where are the wells fargo center samples?), some background whispers (really sounds like a mashup of first two tracks)
then back into clicky percussive track, longggg
banger.

False Purview is a 60 minute slab of twisted tech(no)ise. The opener "Chrome Hill" embraces the minimal, patiently building around a thick, irregular throb while "Skeeball w/ Georgio" could totally bang at an adventurous club if you upped the BPMs a bit.
The casual yet insistent slow burn of "Haze Gradient" is far better than so many recent techno 12"s I've heard (okay, I probably haven't heard that many) but, still, Barker's grasp of pacing and drama is far better than most. Somebody offer this guy a record deal!
Even though False Purview is the most approachable Embarker joint that I've heard, dude's not looking to go pop anytime soon dropping the title track's 21 minutes of trance-like rhythmic noise nirvana on the listener only four minutes into Side A. I don't know if False Purview represents the current Embarker phase or if MB has already moved well on to some other exciting territory but it's a direction he certainly excels at.
Check for the tapes (and the excellent LP) HERE

Future Storms - "Chew Me Up" & Other Dance Hits [no label]
The thing that attracted me most about this tape when I received it was the recording credits which read: "I did everything my goddamn self." In places such as "Nacho Mountain" and "Crap Island" no less. How could you not look forward to listening to something with that scrawled inside. This tape is lo-fi. And not just in terms of genre or sonic affectation, this truly sounds like it was recorded all by someone's "goddamn self." There are five tracks, maybe 15 minutes?
It seems like the tracks could be sequenced chronologically based on the date of recording as the production seems to shift as the tape rolls along. "Stellaphone" which opens Side B, while blown out, sounds much louder (and better) than the first side perhaps indicating a musician figuring shit out. The track really thumps with a great little guitar lead peeking out near the end, easily making it the high point of the tape's hissy, buzzy Future Storming. The kicker is that tape ends with a verbal "You're Welcome." Yes, thank you very much Mr. Storms.
Not sure how you're supposed to acquire this tape, but it exists.

Things Falling Apart - One Must Not Move Quiet [Green Tape]
I am curious if there is any overlap in personnel between Bearded Astronaut and Things Falling Apart, as there were certain touches of post-rock dynamics among the mounds of basement grit. Well this tape pretty much eschews the basement grit and amps up the post-rock. 
My relationship to post-rock was always something of a love/hate affair; for every piece of genius like F#A#that the genre produced there were another 25 completely underwhelming, useless albums. Maybe it's been so long that the bad taste has worn off or maybe post-rock just doesn't seem so damn priggish on a cassette but this tape is pretty enjoyable. Even the goddamn title One Must Not Move Quiet is coming straight out of the A Silver Mt. Zion or Do Make Say Think playbooks. With the world drowning perilously in a sea of crooked cheats, some truth-in-advertising is more appreciated now than ever. Thanks guys.

Voicehandler - Light from Another Light [Humbler]
Whoa. This one is potent. If I see percussionist Jacob Felix Heule's name attached to anything my expectations skyrocket, from my discovery of Ettrick back in '06 to this modern day banger by Voicehandler, every experience I've had with his live or recorded work has delivered. I missed out on Voicehandler's debut several years ago so this is fresh territory for me and it certainly stands apart from Heule's other work that I'm familiar with.
Voicehandler marks Heule's percussive prowess teaming up with Danishta Rivero's processed voice and things get wild. This CD collects three sessions recorded late May/early June 2017 in Berkeley ranging from 11-18 minutes, which is kind of great for a short attention spanner like me cause I just pop on an individual set if I just need a 15 minute dose.
That's not to say that care wasn't taken in the track sequencing as "June 8" is a perfect introduction to the album with its kosmische freak jazz vibes. Shards of digital synthesis ping hard back and forth across your speakers, with feral chirps and barks creeping in and, of course, Heule keeping the foundation ever shifting as he volleys between manic and minimal modes. Particularly excellent is the breakdown midway through which sounds like Heule practicing his chops to an alien transmission instead of a Milford Graves record.
I wasn't familiar with Rivero before this but her contributions here are pleasantly unexpected. It's my own bias speaking but when I see "voice & drums" I assume the vocalist is going to be going for a lot of volume (shrieks, guttural moans, whatever) but Rivero's work is wonderfully subtle and calculated on Light from Another Light. She has her in-yr-face freak out moments for sure, but she derives a lot of interesting textures from her voice and electronic processing. The tactile nature of the sounds fits seamlessly with Heule's approach.
That kosmische vibe I hinted at earlier comes thick and heavy on "June 1" which is a sort of twitchy, witchy drone track, really tossing the jazz elements by the wayside with percussion emulating crackly patterns of static. The longest session "May 25" concludes the disc, with Heule picking up the sticks again for some focused, champion-level workouts and Rivero droppin' some wigged out Gremlins-inspired vocal exhalations, an angelic coo or two and a heap of cyber-mainframe pulses.
Great care was put into the recording and it sounds sharp as hell, listen loud on a decent system if you can. Hit up Humbler records for the pro-pressed CD which looks quite spiffy with artwork supplied by Brittany Nelson. Edition of 200.