Wednesday, November 30, 2022

NOVEMBER 2022

Markus Acher - Like a Plane [Moone/Morr Music] 
Markus Acher - Like a Plane [Moone] 
No, that’s not a typo; there really are two different releases titled Like a Plane on Moone Records by Markus Acher. I don't know much about Acher’s oeuvre beyond Neon Golden with The Notwist which was hot shit when I entered high school. For the younger persons in the audience, it was called indietronica back then, but you will know it simply as “indie”. Turns out that Acher has left the ‘tronica behind which is fine by me, that was always my least favorite aspect of Neon Golden. The first of these Like a Planes is an electric blue 10” with each side split between an instrumental melodi-drone piece and a melancholic folk ditty. “You Danced” ambles along simply and sweetly on a churning banjo figue, once again taking me back to high school hearing early Iron & Wine for the first time. The title track is my pick between the two “songs”. Moving fluidly between intimacy and grandeur, the tune is initially very spare until Acher brings in expanded flourishes at key moments while building to a modest crescendo, layering processed autoharps one on top of the other. I might be more partial to the instrumentals actually, the eerily elegiac “*+* (Harmonium)” and poignant “Never Sleep” recall Jon Brion’s Eternal Sunshine-era film work and have me keen to hear Acher score an entire film. Maybe he already has!(?) 

The second Like a Plane is a cassette tape containing renditions of the four songs on the 10” plus a Blaze Foley cover, all recorded live at Optimal Records in Munich. Acher performs with a quartet of other musicians on a variety of instruments keeping the feel of the record very much intact but adding a bit of idiosyncratic charm. “You Danced” in particular comes alive with a denser arrangement and looser rhythmic disposition. Similarly, the addition of the lovely, insistent viola melody on the title track provides an appealing new wrinkle. Both are worthy versions standing up well to (and maybe even surpassing) their studio-recorded counterparts. 

Kyle Bruckmann - Triptych (Tautological) [Carrier] 
I’ve heard oboist Kyle Bruckmann in collaboration with Jacob Felix Heule and others but never on his own as he is on Triptych (Tautological), a work of oboe, English horn and abstract electronics. Bruckmann extensively discusses the inspirations and processes behind these pieces in the liner notes, with the key point being that he intended to create an unpredictable environment that would keep him off-balance and uncomfortable as a solo improviser. For his piece “A Spurious Autobiography of John Barth” Bruckmann employed a digital system that randomly generated fragments of his first album chopped up and processed by an EMU modular synthesizer. Triptych features two separate performances of the piece, one where Bruckmann performs live using electronic devices and a second where he improvises on oboe and English horn. The solo performances are, in effect, duets as Bruckmann spars with the digitally rendered ghosts of his past work. I prefer the second piece for the textural incongruity between the randomly-generated electronic sounds and the sound of human lungs pushed through wooden tubes, particularly in the more spacious moments. 

Triptych also includes two other pieces. “An Extruded Introversion for Blixa Bargeld” moves, with its inspiration clearly stated, through a world of sputtering electronics and percussive pitter patter. Blending modes of free float and throbbing pulsation. Bruckmann states in the liner notes about this piece that he intended to “make something unapologetically… well, beautiful” and he’s clearly succeeded. Alternatively, “A Fuzzy Monolith for James Turrell” is chillier than the other tracks and seemingly the most concentrated dose. Careful tones dither in a meticulous sound world, prizing absence as much as existence. Restrained but taut with emotional tension. Around thirteen minutes in, a bass tone is introduced and that simple addition changes the complexion of the piece radically. Bruckmann emphasizes why sound is so powerful, its ability to transcend language and cognitive thought to create feeling. I dig it. 

Stefan Christensen - Ruby [Ever/Never] 
The 2x7” has always been a pet favorite format to me. I own a handful (including some genuine classics like Peter Jefferies’s & Robbie Muir’s Swerve and Psychedelic Horseshit’s Too Many Hits) but I’m always eager to enrich my life with more. Thanks to Stefan Christensen and Ever/Never our lives are one 2x7” richer. Now while I dig the 2x7”, when you get to 3x7”s and 4x7”s and whatever zaniness Stephen Merritt and Mark Robinson get up to, things start getting unwieldy and ridiculous. Just stick the tunes on a 12” please. However, for Christensen, he thinks even the 2x7” format is absurd and that’s what motivated its selection for this release. Ruby is a tragic tribute to Christensen’s friend Rob Talbot who was murdered by corrections officers while in custody and Christensen chose the 2x7” format for its “perfect absurdity… a description that seems tailor made for Rob himself”. 

Sparsely littered with run-down instruments, there’s seemingly as much negative space on Ruby as there are sounds plaintively ringing out. There are several fragmented improvisations that focus on particular instruments such as “Ruby” (banjo), “Goffe Porch” (guitars) and “See Things” (wheezing chord organ) as well as unplugged ballads like “Pardon Time” and “Time Elapse”. Given their presumed status as Christensen’s favorite muse, it’s no surprise that “Exact Formations” and “Luxury is God” channel heavy Dead C vibes (in the “Power” sense) and they’re fucking great. (I’m a Dead C guy too!) Hollowed out, blurry bouts, riddled with heartbreak, that don’t betray their tunefulness. A perfectly applied approach for such a tragic remembrance. 

Caleb Dailey - Warm Evenings, Pale Mornings: Beside You Then [Alien Transistor/Moone]
Warm Evenings, Pale Mornings: Beside You Then is an excellent new cosmic-country LP from Phoenix, AZ’s Caleb Dailey. Harkening back to the good ol’ days of country (Johnny Paycheck and the like), Warm Evenings is a record that bears the stamp of an auteur though it’s comprised entirely of other people’s songs (including tunes by Gram Parsons, Blaze Foley and Gordon Lightfoot.) Dailey contributes acoustic guitar, along with his husky and winsome voice, and he’s joined by a cadre of players including John Dietrich (Deerhoof), Markus Acher (The Notwist), and James Fella (Gilgongo Records and about a hundred other things). The arrangements incorporate traditional country moves (you gotta have pedal steel, obviously) but also hum, shimmer and twinkle, traveling oblique trailways that avoid the “ambient” clichés that seem to be ruining everything nowadays (or so says this grouchy writer). I’m reminded of fellow brothers of the Arizona desert, Giant Sand (who have their own great covers record Cover Magazine), not so much sonically but in the way that community seems to have shaped the sounds of the record. The ultimate stress-reliever, Warm Evenings is the aural replacement for anxiety medication, a big, warm blanket enveloping you while you gaze at the stars. 

Ever Ending Kicks - Small [Moone]
When I saw Anacortes, Washington on the shipping label, my Pavlovian response was “I like The Microphones” and when I dropped the needle on this record, Small, by Ever Ending Kicks my Pavlovian response was “This band likes The Microphones too!” Or Mount Eerie, if you prefer, but to me Phil Elvrum will always be The Microphones. Sure enough, looking at the artist bio, Ever Ending Kicks is the solo project of Paul Frunzi who not only hails from Anacortes but has actually played with Mount Eerie. The track “Big” which arrives late in the album lays out the modus operandi: to embrace being an underdog and to remain nimble and efficient. When Frunzi purrs “I feel small”, you can’t avoid flashes of Phil. 

The Microphones made records that despite their raw intimacy and humble lo-fi trappings are quite baroque and proggy. Brimming with as much bombast as quietude. EEK makes a brave choice to go in the opposite direction, doubling down on the quietude and all but eschewing the bombast. There are a few moments here and there such as the atonal strings in the final seconds of “Gone Other”, but overall Small is a positive without a negative, rendering it somewhat inert. My favorite track “Off Camera” stands apart with a section featuring the only instance of distortion, in which Frunzi raises his voice just a hair above a whisper to deliver the immortally genius line “I want to take a fucking chainsaw to your pantry.” The track marks the only point of friction between Frunzi’s voice and a song’s arrangement, and it’s exciting. I wish there was more of it. 

In turn, Small is often minimal (at moments, it’s a cappella) and even when full band arrangements are present, they often feel like they’re happening in the next room over. This places a great burden on vocals and lyrics, and your mileage will vary with Frunzi’s fey, hushed wisp of a voice and unfettered vulnerability. EEK embraces the quotidian throughout but no more than on “Arkansas” one of the better songs on the record. Brunzi goes so far as offering the titular place and time of August 2017, when he recalls “struggling with money” and opens up a direct portal into his mind: “I was writing songs about being broken and poor/Now I wanna fix things I was cool with, as long as I’m still elastic”. Where EEK diverges from Mount Eerie is a strong jazz-pop influence that crops up from time to time, the humming organ on the wistful “Small Traits” is a highlight while “Dilly Dally” sounds like Yo La Tengo, Dismemberment Plan and Jamiroquai formed a cocktail jazz combo, and I can’t say I really like it. 

In a way, it hardly seems fair to be comparing Small to the likes of The Glow Pt. 2, one of the century’s finest records—not many artists/albums can stand up to this scrutiny—but, on the other hand, Ever Ending Kicks sounds so clearly indebted to Elvrum and Co. that the invitation for comparison is waiting right there in the grooves. 

The Exit Bags - Tower of Quiet [Joyless Youth Home Recordings/Drongo Tapes]
 
Speaking of The Microphones, “Sure, Burn” the second track off of Tower of Quiet, the latest album by Edmonton’s Exit Bags, bears a strong debt to Phil Elvrum’s aural fragility in the same way that The Robot Ate Me did when they showed up some 15+ years ago. While Mount Eerie casts a large shadow over the proceedings, that’s not the only thing The Exit Bags are up to. “Coward Deep Down” recalls Xiu Xiu (another Northwest-y teen favorite of mine) under heavy sedation. Songs drift in and out of the ether, but not in some blissful dream pop way. It’s more like the Exit Baggers live in some spooky old reformatory and they’ve become numb and unconscious to the constant hiss and creaks around them while they play their quiet tunes and occasionally blow them up with the thundering stomp of crusty synth drums. 

I assume that Mike (the only Exit Bag referred to by name in the liner notes) is the singer here and I much prefer when he exhibits more confidence in his voice, such as on “One Hundred and Ninth Year” and “Strangled in the Wilderness”. He has a naturally pleasing tonality, reminiscent of Carson Cox on the earlier Merchandise records, and I can’t help but feel he could take the Bags to another level if he went for it. Go for it, Mike! 

While The Exit Bags do a great job of shaping a specific atmosphere, the songwriting of Tower of Quiet is a one way ticket to Mopesville and the languorous, unchanging tempo grows dreary over the 46 minute run time. The artist must express what the artist must express, yet I can imagine an Exit Bags armed with some melodic hooks. There are occasional glimmers particularly at the end of the record with the fuller harmonic arrangement of “So Kafkaesque” and the end of “I Don’t Know How The Road Ends” when Mike cranks up the tempo on the drum machine a bit and offers a brief glimpse of what The Exit Bags could sound like if they exchanged lethargy for energy. I’m intrigued. 

La Grieta - Askeroso Getxo Sound 2005​-​2015 [Crystal Mine]
 
When you’ve been occasionally writing about music for 15 years, every once in a while something really cool that you had no idea existed falls into your lap. All the way from Germany no less! I’m still not sure how it happened since both this artist and label are based in Spain (one of my favorite places to visit when I get out of this country). What brave crusader is out there in Alemania, slinging Spanish tapes to American no-audience blogs? My hat is off. 

This seems like quite a special release, as Askeroso Getxo Sound 2005​-​2015 compiles the complete discography of La Grieta across two cassettes and nearly two hours. Seems like any time I come across some cool thing I find out later that Mattin is a part of it (Billy Bao, Al Karpenter) and that is the case with La Grieta too. Beginning as a duo of Iñigo Eguillor and Mattin, La Grieta released their first album, Hermana Hostia, in 2006. It’s a mix of one-minute-long songs bristling with 90s-ish alt-rock mess and clutter (hell yeah!) and wandering weirdness like the grooveless jazz of “Porvenir Desierto”. Some songs like “Craso Error” split the difference between urgency and elasticity. Kind of like a uniquely Basque take on the Thinking Fellers anything-goes ethos. As alluded to in the title,“Totalmente Inepto” sounds like cavemen who got a crash course in 20th century avant-garde composition. 

I really love this stuff; I feel like I unearthed some secretly brilliant missing link in rock & roll history, except, you know, I didn’t. Crystal Mine did. It’s so hard to pick a single track to encapsulate everything that’s happening on Hermana Hostia, but the one I keep coming back to is “Enroskado”: murmured vocals, out-of-tune guitar and drums not quite in sync, unstable voltage fed into the recording machine, all masking gorgeously clandestine earworm hooks. I couldn’t cogently explain why, but I keep replaying it over and over. A true beauty. 

Released in 2010, La Grieta’s second album, Decisión, was born in the wake of tragedy as a band member who joined after the debut, Josetxo Anitua (a former member of Cancer Moon), took his life in 2008. It’s impossible to say what the sonic effects of such circumstances are for sure, but La Grieta does move in a more intense, challenging direction on their sophomore effort. Gone are the one minute songs, exchanged for five songs total, most of which last over 11 minutes long. “Obsesión” begins as a sour dirge before a psychotic break midway through melts the stereo into a heap of unbridled harsh noise. The title track is a chorus of power drills surrounded by disembodied voices and discombobulated rhythms. A get a few flashes of Twin Infinitives if the Trux had their shit more together. “Necesidad” features a dark, hypnotic guitar riff haunted by ghostly vocals and insistent synthesized clarion calls. The uneasy rumble of “Resbalando” has the feel of a drum ‘n bass track performed with live drumming (though I’m sure it is manipulated by computer to some extent) complete with creepy barking vocals. The first track, “Otra Vez Hablando Contigo Mismo”, is the only tune not too dissimilar from the sound of the first album though it does feature digitally (and violently) chopped up vocals battling a surging guitar riff. The album is reminiscent of The Dead C’s metamorphosis from noisy rock band to noise band. 

Speaking of New Zealand’s most renowned exports, on the first side of 2013's Último Polvo single, La Grieta channels The Dead C in rock star-mode (think “Scarey Nest”) before concluding with an upsetting recording of someone snoring. The b-side, “Hombre Esperando a la Muerte”, threw me for a loop more than anything on the tape because it’s so… normal. That isn’t to say it’s in any way average or boring, it’s really great, but it sounds like a lush goth-rendition of a 60s folk rock tune. At least, until they slow it down in the final seconds to a slur. Último Polvo is an excellent two-hander, what more to say? 

The real boon to the die hard La Grieta fans out there is an unreleased EP called 2015 (I bet you can guess the year that it was recorded) but it doesn’t take a La Grieta lifer to appreciate these tunes that have been hiding in the vault. Two tracks over 18 minutes, the rough exterior of Decisión is shed with a slight return to some of the longer, more ramshackle tracks off of Hermana Hostia. “Verdades Que Se Rompen” is a pop tune heavily afflicted with vertigo. There is no sense of stability: drums clatter, goofball synths bubble and plop, out-of-tune guitars twang and keen, yet there’s a pulse at the center of the cyclone funneling the cacophony into the most satisfying of places. The last band I can remember pulling off this trick is Maths Balance Volumes; it is an extremely difficult tightrope to walk. My hat is off (again!) “Despierta Despierta” is a loping stoner-rock lament featuring some hot hornblowing courtesy of Jean-Luc Guionnet. Also good, but more typical in its deviance. It’s a damn shame this wasn’t released back in 2015 but many thanks to Crystal Mine for bringing it out into the world now. Recommended! 

Ryan James Mawbey - Eternal Return [Eiderdown]
I know everyone talks about present-day artists living in a post-label world but (good) record labels still offer something valuable to listeners and, by extension, to artists. Case in point: Seattle’s Eiderdown records. The neo-psychedelic outpost has been slanging handsome-looking records and tapes for a decade or more at this point and they are always good. I had never heard of Ryan James Mawbey before and certainly knew nothing about the cassette Eternal Return released by Eiderdown. But I knew it would be good, because they are always good. 

Unfortunately, Eternal Return is a somber affair resulting from a “whirlwind tragedy”. The two side long pieces are similar and resonate wonderfully side by side. My favorite aspect is that percussion forms the core of both. The first piece “Snared by a Spider” is built upon hypnotic snare brushes and precisely tuned bass drums. At first, I thought I was being treated to a percussion only track (which I am always on board for) before other sounds enter the fray. Most notably, a tenor sax (I’m guessing, there are no credits) delivers a mournful, echoing call. Occasional piano plinks, plucked strings and ringing bells round out the arrangement until the most aggressive sound on the album rears its head, a sawtooth sub-oscillator mirroring the bass drums vibrations. The rhythm on the flipside, “I Hear it in My Sleep”, is quicker in tempo and less minimalist but no less focused. The arrangement is similar with woodwinds again positioned as the star player. This time they are sprightly and multi-tracked, a tad Glassy if you catch my drift. The piece culminates in icy winds blown by a chilly synthesizer with nary a drum in sight. 

I’m impressed with the degree of control and restraint Mawbey exhibits in his compositions. They shapeshift subtly, sometimes imperceptibly, generating emotional resonance as large-scale changes happen a little at a time, just like life. Sensational. 

Psuedo Desnudo - Still Underground [Cudighi]
 
First Man from the Second Millennium, Texas-based Psuedo Desnudo’s prior album, is one of my favorite discoveries from the last couple years. A truly original and irresistible lo-fi record that caught me by surprise, so I couldn’t be more excited to soak in Psuedo Desnudo’s follow up Still Underground. As you might infer from the title, there’s no professional recording budget, no Ric Ocasek in the control room (well, besides the obvious reason), and there’s no problem. Like on First Man, Alejandro Gomez-Leos has expertly forged his own home-recorded hallmark, making recordings that sound strange and satisfying. 

Kicking off with “Bathroom in Berlin'' feels intentional, differentiating itself from the loose-limbed, loopy pop of First Man and establishing a new motif of early 80s groove punk (think Tronics if Ziro Baby ever had a proper rhythm section). But knowing that a Psuedo tape never stays in one place for long (and we wouldn’t want it any other way), no time is wasted exploring alternate pathways whether it's the Man Made Hill-ish “Public Key”, the bizarre yet vulnerable “But R U All There?” or the proggy rave up/down “Last Glass into Sand'' replete with bellowing Beefheartian vocals. 

Did Joe Meek ever record Carl Perkins? Because it sure feels like it on “Prisoners of War”, a resplendent bit of weirdness. Sounding like a Western balladeer backed by a monastic pirate choir, Gomez-Leos duets with a strangled bugle, and “Prisoners of War” is truly the greatest, strangest song that 1961 never gave us. Equal parts Rawhide and The Outer Limits. “Gimme Your Car”, with its chugging guitar and organ riffs and evocations of mid-century modernity, doesn’t sound like Suicide so much as a tune that would have inspired Suicide to start a band. “Lattice Structure” is a scaled down somewhere nestled between Suicide proper and early Simple Minds. The final two tracks are among the best and take the album full circle back to the pre-goth illegal all ages club in 1980 Europe where Still Underground begins. 

First Man is still my preference due to its curious arrangements, and that the chorus of the title track pops into my head unannounced at regular intervals, but Still Underground is a worthy follow up by one of the most compelling artists going right now. 

Graham Repulski - Zero Shred Forty [no label] 
Hard to believe it’s been four years since the last release by the ever-prolific Philadelphian lo-fi troubadour Graham Repulski. He’s kept busy making records with Von Hayes (including last year’s tremendous Wa La!) but there’s no substitute for unadulterated Repulski. Zero Shred Forty gives us no less than three new fuzzed up classics deserving of the eventual Graham Repulski career retrospective box set (you know it’s coming one of these years). “Failure Jam” and the plaintive, too brief “Rated Violence” both feature lyrics about vampires or other spooky stuff making them strong new additions to future Rocktober soundtracks. Each tune trafficks in the instantly memorable hooks that Repulski is well-practiced in delivering. “Flaming Television” showcases Repulski’s signature stirring caterwaul on its big big BIG chorus. Immediately sliding into the top spot for Graham Repulski alone-in-your-bedroom rock-outs. Sing it loud and proud. I only wish there were live drums on the track rather than a crummy drum machine. Elsewhere, Repulski makes a few forays into avant-balladry (“Zoey the Cat” and “Jinx Pimp”) and most interesting of all is “Boiled Again”. Clocking in at almost five minutes and teetering between strumming-in-the-next-room-over quietude and thumping wall-of-sound bluster, it’s among the most epic and dynamic Repulski jams but still couched in that rich Tascam flavor. Don’t make us wait four years next time, Graham. Pro tip: you can grab Zero Shred Forty and all of Repulski’s past cassettes and CDs (the ones that are still in print, anyway) for mere pennies at his bandcamp. It’s the best deal in town! 

Sentry - Perfect Blue Bubbles [Jollies]
 
I’ve written previously that I am the least qualified person to review techno. I hardly know the difference between Acid House and Deep House. (Actually, do I know the difference?). I’m not really capable of much more than dig it/don’t dig it. But this, Perfect Blues Bubbles by Sentry, I dig. The compositions here are on another level than some stuff I hear. I’m simply lacking in prerequisite vocabulary to properly critique something like this so I’ll highlight some of my favorite moments. “Fly Approves” shows up as a dancefloor crasher, driven by a relentless four-on-the-floor rhythm but it’s harmonically restless. One of my favorite moments of the tape is when a gnawing counter melody materializes 90 seconds in, shifting the track into a minor key. “Donut 2” is the true star here and I don’t think it’s just because it makes me think of eating donuts. It’s because of the alluring yet convoluted melody, egging me on to chase it until my calves start cramping up. “Is This Real?” (unfortunately not a Wipers cover, that would be sick) gets almost operatic at first before the bass throb and kick punch in. Pick any point on Perfect Blue Bubbles and it won’t take long for it to change, Sentry is in a state of constant evolution both rhythmically and melodically. The finale “Workcitipoly” is a plate spinning trick where so many disparate sounds jostle up against each other yet somehow remain in perfect balance. I’ve got a new favorite to play in my brain-rave. 

Shabbat - Mohave Sessions [Drongo Tapes] 
I work for a company that has a high percentage of Jewish employees and toward the end of the year as the days grow shorter, the office closes a little bit earlier on Fridays in preparation for the Sabbath or Shabbat (or Shabbos as Walter Sobchak prefers when he explains its meaning) which begins at sundown. In order to properly kick off the weekend, we came up with a little tune called “Turn Down Shabbat” obviously set to the tune of “Turn Down For What” by Lil Jon and DJ Snake. This anecdote has no bearing on anything, really, other than I must expose my bias that any cassette called “Shabbat” is automatically going to generate some fuzzy feelings. 

In this case, the name is fitting as this tape, Mohave Sessions, is full of fuzzy feelings. Furthermore, the introductory cut is called “Crescent City Sunrise” and while it is unclear whether it’s about New Orleans or the Northern California enclave, I have good memories of both. I’m just warning you, I can’t be objective here. So when Shabbat uncorks aged Tascam elegies (“Van Alden Dirge” and “Summers Out of Reach”) or lets club bangers seep out of pirate radio antennae (“Love Can Feel So Good” and “Almore”) or splits the difference on the epic “Harbor Lights”, I can’t help but wrap myself in a duvet stuffed with tape hiss and turn down my own private Shabbat.

Monday, February 28, 2022

VIDEO PREMIERE: "After Hours" by Richard Papiercuts

WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS STROBING IMAGES. EXERCISE CAUTION IF YOU HAVE A SENSITIVITY TO SUCH IMAGES.

In an Auxiliary Out first, we are doing a goddamn video premiere (made it Ma, top of the world!) and I couldn't be more excited that the video is good. Really good. An AO favorite, Richard Papiercuts has returned with "After Hours", the first single off of his excellent, upcoming third album Reunion. The LP was written, recorded and performed by Papiercuts himself at home. "After Hours" is an unapologetic banger in the mold of Let's Dance-era Bowie, and visual artist Michael Slatky has fashioned an apartment-bound fantasia around the tune, a kaleidoscopic portrait of a man alone with a song in his head.

Having previously released two LPs (A Sudden Shift and "IF") and most recently 2018's wonderful Twisting the Night 12" EP, Mr. Papiercuts has been called an "American treasure" by Rich Kroneiss of Terminal Boredom and wouldn't you agree? His scruffy mug looks mighty fine standing shoulder to shoulder with Eleanor Roosevelt and Shirley Chisholm. 

Reunion drops this Friday, March 4. Ever/Never Records will be distributing the album on vinyl and digitally via Bandcamp. 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

FEBRUARY 2022

Abstract Butta Fingas - Lightweight HEAVY Vol. 1 [no label] 
Abstract Butta Fingas - Lightweight HEAVY Vol. 2 [no label] 
Two damn fine cassettes of mid-fi instrumental beats from the most abstract set of Butta Fingas that Southern California has to offer. From the plinking keys of “Poolside Dreamin” to the nylon guitar strums of “Nunca No” to the fuzzy bass thump of “Rider”, Lightweight HEAVY Vol. 1 is real solid. And “The Scheme” is flat out beautiful. The woozy synths and heavily processed piano chords really do it for me. All that said, Vol. 1 is real, real nice but ABF takes his work to another level on Vol. 2

From top to bottom, this thing fuckin’ sings. The way the grimy dystopian stutter of “Pulse”―buffered by speedy harp plucks―segues into top shelf banger “For the Hill in the Haystack”―bristling with crackly horn blasts rubbing elbows with liquid synths―and then slips into “Composure”―which at about one minute long feels like an hour too short―it’s a thing of beauty. ABF brings more crackling horns and stirs in choral samples on “Celestial Boogie” and with that title, he just reviewed his own track. What do you need me for? “Vibin’/Giv Luv” gives me Endtroducing..... vibes, and considering that’s one of my most listened to records of all time, I do not bestow that compliment lightly (or ever!). The concluding two-fer of the stately “Lobelia” and blissful “Platitudes”... Wow. Two abstract butta thumbs up! 


Chaltandr - Numbers [no label] 
It doesn’t take much to overwhelm us over here at AuxOut headquarters, and that’s how we regularly (and quite shamefully!) come across cassettes sent years ago but never reviewed. Just like this here tape from Chaltandr. It’s a real brief affair with a non-real voice chanting “numbers” and “whoa whoa”. Way bitcrushed, a sizzling sample of something or other gets entangled among infinitely echoing percussive clicks. Side B is a continuation and/or remix. Introduces a bass throb that gives the composition a little kick in the ass and gets it off the ground. The shuffle slows to a stumble then slows to a crawl. The voice repeats “zero” and wa la! For fans of malfunctioning robo-calls and stuttering software loops. 


CIA Debutante - Music for Small Rooms [Ever/Never] 
I remember coming across the CIA Debutante name as one of the rare acts Tom Lax has branded with the Siltbreeze imprint as of late. But I’m just now realizing that this duo is French! But at least one of them is Australian? These international waters are murky. Regardless, how my American brethren let a great name like CIA Debutante slip through their fingers and across the ocean is beyond me. We invented the CIA for pete’s sake! 

To these ears, CIA Debutante comes from the Shadow Ring anti-rock tradition. But trading the haphazard for the methodical, Music for Small Rooms pumps along on heavily filtered and tightly LFO’d synth squirts. The “singer” (probably the Australian one) speaks in a deep, languorous drawl seemingly suspended in a vacuum rather than a small room. The opener “Nuclear Holiday” sounds like Excepter during one of the times that they stumbled onto a good song. You get the tingle to dance but, uh, how the fuck can you dance to this? In fact, Excepter is a pretty solid comp except the vibe is totally different. Excepter always seemed like a lunatic’s idea of dumb fun but CIA Debutante actually creep me out! All this talk of “catching females in mating season”? Yeah, that’s sending shivers up my spine. John Fell Ryan never did that. Not even in that Shining doc. “Sink Hole” sounds like a Vince Clarke jam at first, but someone unplugged the drum machine, Alison never showed, Andy neither and we’re left with this skeevy crooner from places unknown to fill in. The muttering about an untidy room over a seasick sequencer on “Corner of the Room” sets up for the grand finale, and the record’s best track, “Faulty Appliances”. Against portamento-afflicted synth slipping back and forth and a clanging drum machine disguised as a trash can, our mysterious stranger spins pure poetry: “Faulty appliances unavailable for refund/Receipts disappear into bottomless jacket pockets”. You can’t trust ‘em, they’re gonna turn on you. 

Fits right in line with those Boy geniuses of Budokon and Ever/Never’s ever/growing stable of weirdos, so if you’ve been paying attention you already have this record, right? Right??
 

Eyes and Flys - Anxiety Tools [no label] 
Eyes and Flys - Asbestos Fiber in a Sunbeam [no label] 
Even though I’ve been behind on everything, Eyes and Flys have been chugging along with no problems whatsoever continuing to produce and distribute their own 7” singles. Despite their penchant to rock, I’ve always had a hunch that they’re at their best when they show their softer side. The homey acoustic number “Wait for the Sun” still stands as my #1 E&F song and Buffalo’s favorite sons strike gold again with the jaunty lilt of “Anxiety Tools”. Pat Shanahan’s deep rasp is front and center as usual, this time over a bed of rustic, slo-mo jangle pop bliss. There is some high-quality tambourine work here. I talked previously about “New Way Get It” and my interpretation that it's a statement of purpose, picking up the DIY torch of Desperate Bicycles and others as we enter the third digital decade of the new millennium. Well, Shanahan isn’t even bothering with suggestion now, directly communicating his self-released 7” ethos with the refrain of “getting by, two songs at a time”. And if that isn’t clear enough, see: “smoke mad weed/pet my dog/and play with the tape machines”. The melodious warble of the outro absolutely sparkles, full of yearning. And I don’t think I’m feeling this way just because my old neighborhood gets mentioned. (I miss you, LA.) The instrumental “God’s Management” fills out the b-side, a curious mélange of jostling roots rock-grunge-jam band-post rock moves. 

When was the last time you heard a punk single about asbestos? The last I have is this here 7” Asbestos Fiber in a Sunbeam featuring, not one, but two sides about asbestos. Shanahan includes his asbestos certification from the State of New York on the insert so you know he’s not a fuckin’ poser. “Asbestos Fiber in a Sunbeam” is a garage-punk ripper, roaring high, tight and wild. Shanahan’s voice is drowned out by the band but he sticks in the line “I don’t put my boots on for free”. He may be a working stiff but he ain’t no sucker. Side B “Sad Labor” is bifurcated with a rev’d up, rocked out bit of despair (“Can’t stand the midwest/Covered with asbestos/This is your roll/Get in the hole/Grow up and die like a man, boy/This is your roll/Get in the hole”) coming first. The second half is a melancholic extended outro featuring a guitar figure reminiscent of the intro on “In the Mouth a Desert” and field recordings of some industrial operation happening, or maybe just a lot of aerosol being discharged. “Anxiety Tools” is my pick of these tunes, but you can’t go wrong with these guys. 


James Fella & Gabriella Isaac - CCTK Music [Gilgongo]
 
CCTK Music, a new collaborative LP by Gilgongo head James Fella and Gabriella Isaac, is firmly situated along with the likes of Scuba Death, Embarker and Diagram: A in the Is my stereo broken?! Fuck! genre of music. In fact, the pointed placement of “music” in the album title drives home the point that 30 minutes of harsh static, corrosive klang and ungrounded electrical wiring is music if we say it is.
 
This thick, face melting slab comes sheathed in a none-more-red jacket because… wait for it… this record lives IN THE RED. 2000’s guitar duo Hototogisu and their bottomless thirst for wreaking havoc/caving my head in came to mind at first blush so that will give you a real good idea of the kind of euphoric punishment in store. Unlike Hototogisu, there are no guitars used here. The accompanying blown out photo shows Issac sitting in front of a MacBook and Fella behind a pair of turntables, so unless Issac is hunkering down to finish her dissertation and Fella is moonlighting as a DJ at Tempe’s hottest night spot, we can assume that’s how they kicked up this godawful racket. Actually, we don’t have to assume because behind that photo it says “cymbal, tape, kalimba, computer”. But that’s just the beginning. Side A titled “Reference Lacquer” is a recording of the duo manipulating each other’s material in real time. This is what gives it that livewire feel. From ear splitting crackle to ear tickling rattle, the performance flows in an organic motion. Capable of turning on a dime but wise enough to settle in where appropriate. The flip side titled “Lacquer Ensemble” expands the concept exponentially. The duo cut six stereo reference lacquers of the recording on the first side and then performed again using those six lacquers as their instruments. Whatever singed eyebrows you have left after dropping the needle on the first side, say goodbye. Fella and Isaac unleash an ungodly fucking firestorm and it is truly glorious. Dynamic but utterly savage. The wretched wail of a skyscraper collapsing in on itself. This is what love sounds like. Recommended
 

Gabby Fluke-Mogul | Jacob Felix Heule | Kanoko Nishi-Smith - Non Dweller [Humbler]
 
Any longtime reader of these pages knows that percussionist Jacob Felix Heule has big fans at AuxOut HQ and Non Dweller, released on his Humbler label, finds Heule operating with a new configuration. Joining Heule on Non Dweller is violinist Gabby Fluke-Mogul as well as Kanoko Nishi-Smith (who collaborated with Heule on the 2020’s excellent Brittle Feebling). The trio wrangle together violin, koto and bass drum for an hour of minimalist squirm und drang. Split evenly into two untitled pieces, these are some extended dives into the gorgeous, unsettling sensations that can be wrought from friction and resonance. The insistent whine of Fluke-Mogul’s violin. Heule’s groaning drum. The tap-tap-tap of Nishi-Smith’s koto sounding like rattling bones. This is some heavy haunted house shit. A ghost lurks in the shadows. Or at least that’s my guess as to the meaning of the titular non dweller. By turns fierce and cunning, the trio exhibits ultimate restraint, at times brushing up against the cusp of total freak out, never overplaying their hand. And, alternately, sometimes retreating into near and even total silence. For fans of things that go bump in the night. 


Hidden Rifles - Across the Neighborhoods [Total Life Society] 
Total Life Society sent over a hulking stack of Scarcity of Tanks records which I’m still digesting for publication but they also sent along the sole CD by Hidden Rifles―ah, now that’s a discography appropriately sized for a part-time, part-time music writer. Much like Scarcity of Tanks, Hidden Rifles is centered around Matthew Wascovich’s vocals and, on Across the Neighborhoods, he’s accompanied by guitarist Mark Shippy (a fav from his US Maple days), drummer Jim Sykes (Parts & Labor) and guitarist Norman Westburg who’s also spent time in Scarcity of Tanks. Oh yeah, there’s also a bass player by the name of Mike Watt. 

Hidden Rifles immediately leap off the starting line with the two minute blast of “Thrawnly Lot”. Dual post-Sonic Youth guitar wig outs whirl and crash while the rhythm section lets it rip. It’s brief and brash and stands apart from the album to follow (about half of the remaining songs eclipse the 5 minute mark or get mighty close). “Paranoid Unsaid” simmers and slinks along lead by Wascovich’s raspy speak-sing with an elastic sense of time before waves of noise eventually cascade into one another. The way that jazz is spliced into Hidden Rifles’ DNA makes ‘em hard to pin down, I mean the title track features a walking bassline after all. I keep coming back to the first MX-80 Sound LP but there’s something else going on here. The anything-goes attitude of The Styrenes? Can’t place it, which is the point. Hidden Rifles are on their own racetrack. They can grind to a halt with nothing but Wascovich’s voice and guitar scrape percolating through the silence and snap back to double time in an instant―the chops are on full display. 

The band really taps into something special on “Essential Swearing” twisting and turning at full speed, seamlessly covering about an album’s worth of dynamic changes in three and a half minutes while masquerading as a catchy tune. Really impressive stuff. On the other hand, “Mutant Numerals” fights the urge to flat out rock, gathering tension as it deconstructs and rebuilds its swaggering strut over and over. “Cranial Escrow” and “Obviate Effort” have a bit of the jazz-funk-punk churn that once oozed out the doors of Dischord while “Subway” gets unexpectedly hypnotic. “Wherever” stands apart, seeming to presage Wascovich’s Vicious Fence project, with a lively bounce and more traditional take on rock & roll. Hey, turns out they're pretty good at that too. 

Not sure if this is a one-off or if plans exist for a second Hidden Rifles album, but I hope they do. This bunch of guys have all made a ton of records in their lives but that hasn’t dulled their desire to discover something new and crack it wide open. 


Seth Kasselman - UV Catamaran [UR Sounds] 
Seth Kasselman is responsible for the avant-glam Simon Finn acid-nightmare of Warm Climate, some of the best outsider pop this side of Y2K. Those Warm Climate cassettes (and LP!) were an adventure and this new one under Kasselman’s own name is too. Sadly the pop element has dropped away with the Warm Climate moniker but quality has not suffered. UV Catamaran finds Kasselman in full-on soundscape mode. Kasselman’s penchant to drift off into other sound worlds in between pop hooks was a big factor in attracting me to Warm Climate so it's fascinating to hear him go full-hog here. There’s a lot of water flowing throughout UV Catamaran with Kasselman going so far as to record some of this material underwater using hydrophone microphones. I’ve never gone scuba diving but I’ve watched those movies made by scuba divers and I’ll be damned if this doesn’t sound exactly like what I imagine scuba diving to be (including some horrifying I-think-I’m-gonna-die hyperventilating on “Long Time Machines”). I’m drifting somewhere unfamiliar. I feel calm but I’m not relaxed. Wondrous moments pass by my ears, I’m captivated by their beauty, then remember I’m 200 feet from air, vulnerable, and shaken from the infatuation of my surroundings. I hear voices in my head. Unintelligible whispers. Intrusive thoughts. Sounds I can touch. Sounds I can feel. Describing the nuts and bolts of the sonics here does a disservice to the overall work. Kasselman truly takes you on a journey. No bullshit. This is a schooner I want to sail away on. Recommended 

p.s. Perfect “serious art” pairing with the brilliant meditation on the Hand of Food 12” 


Los Lichis - Small Mole & The Flavor Jewel Trio [Ever/Never]
 
Taking a quick scan over the Ever/Never discography, I don’t think the label has ever gone so “hippie” before. Those crazy bastards in the Big Apple have gotten up to plenty of shenanigans over the years but peace and love, man has never been the calling card. And if you take a look at this album cover, Los Lichis don’t exactly come off as the peace lovin’ types either (just wait 'til you see the whacked out A/B labels). So to my surprise, the first time I dropped the needle on Small Mole & The Flavor Jewel Trio, I hear open tuned guitars, hand drums and chanted vowels. Not so surprising, however, considering who's releasing the record, is that this is real good stuff. 

Reminding me of my younger years when folk-raga revivalists like GHQ or Good Stuff House were all the rage, Los Lichis hail from Monterrey, Mexico and they have their own raga Mexicana take. There are five pieces on the 12” and they all wander and drift into each other, seemingly emerging from the ether. Los Lichis can simmer and smoke with the best of them but my favorite aspect is that they subtly inject a sense of mischief in the otherwise solemn vocation of being a hippie-drone band. Wild-eyed yips dapple the hypnotic, tangled strings of “Electroterrifying the Neighborhood” and the heavy meditation of “Roosters and Loggerhead Turtles are My Best Friends” culminates in a loud burp. This mentality comes to the fore on the buoyant psychedelia of “Charly Morkecho’s Fucking Filthy Pig Skin Needs a Daily Bunch of Body Cream” which would definitely be on the soundtrack at a cool line dancing bar. If there was a cool line dancing bar. It’s a rollicking good time. The perfectly placed finale “Kesos & Kosas Las Mas Horrorosas” marks a fantastic comedown and that track will be playing at the other bar you head to post-line dancing after you’ve been blasted by your fourth rum+tequila cocktail and need a place to unwind. 

The trio recently scored a short film at Sundance, so watch out, Hollywood might come sniffin’ around and try to corrupt ‘em. You know, sand off those strange, lovable edges. Make sure you’re able to look back without regret and say you knew Los Lichis when they were still sub-underground. 


Meadow Argus - II [no label] 
Gather round kids, I have a story to tell you. Long, long ago, back at the turn of the century, a young chap by the name of Tynan Krakoff formed an underground record label Doris Nordic Tribute (named for his grandmother if I recall), better known as the acronymized DNT. DNT stood as one of the finest underground labels of its era running the gamut from neo-No Wave, placid psychedelia, chilling drone and noise, cassettes, CDrs, records of sounds from around the world. (You can read about many DNT releases HERE)

Krakoff retired the label a while back (because goddammit, he deserved a break!) but has since reemerged with his Meadow Argus project. Distorted, processed home videos/field recordings nestle into abstract trickling rhythms (reminding me of his dub work as Tad) and even more heavily processed guitar or keyboards. The cassette is at its best when it's fully adrift, seeming like it’s receding back into your brain even though it never originated there in the first place. There’s a distinctly lo-fi flavor―I may be fooled but I bet Tynan is huffing that pure, uncut ferric oxide baby. II has the vibe of the pre-DAW/Plugin’d era. When it was weirdos alone in their basements, surrounded by old tape recorders, hypnotized by their decaying sounds rather than broadcasting live to Youtube. In an age where you can find out how anything is made in an instant, Meadow Argus harbors mysteries pleasingly unexplained.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

ROCKTOBER 2021

Had an eventful Summer with the family and me relocating to Portland, OR. After a bit of a delay, the stereo is set up and the reviews are in...

Cured Pink - Current Climate [Ever/Never] 
If you recall, the early 2000s brought us the post-punk (ugh, hate that term) revival where—twenty years hence—everything from ‘79 to ‘82 was new again and many of the most popular indie bands of the day had some sort of roots in Joy Division or Gang of Four. Even though the most popular bands often weren’t all that good, they were still head and shoulders above what passed for “indie rock” a decade later. After listening to Current Climate, the fourth (and final?) Cured Pink record, I’m becoming irrationally confident that—twenty years hence—we’re heading for a post-punk revival revival. Cured Pink are too good to be popular, but if someone’s dropping the kind of grooves that are packed into this CD released by NYC’s Ever/Never, there’s bound to be some other lot of shitheads peddling the bland, watered down versions to greater acclaim and notoriety. 

The opening seconds are intriguing, slipping out like the impeccably coiffed offspring of early Simple Minds and the first Menomena album. There’s some PIL and Pop Group in the mix (though the lacerating histrionics of those crews have been quite tempered). This Heat stands out most as a historical guidepost, and not even because Cured Pink necessarily sound so much like them, but both groups are “band synthesizers” meaning that they pull a wide range of sounds, textures, rhythms and combine them unobtrusively, molded in a new form. The chilly bliss of “Sunshine”, a pint of Mutant Disco strut (“The Surveyor”) and shards of early Art of Noise-ish sampledelica and coy Flying Lizards-style strangeness all just make sense together, as smooth as peanut butter or shaving cream. “Another Urban Fox” brings heavy, spartan jazz-dub vibes, sounding like De Facto drained of its Latin influence to the point that they don’t actually sound like De Facto, I’m just experiencing a spiritual resonance between the two. 

I’ve spent more time name-dropping than describing the sounds, and this is actually a pretty lame review (even for me) but I keep listening to Current Climate and it keeps sending me spiraling off into inadvertent nostalgic meditations where I’m reminded that while everything new is actually old, everything old is always new. Make of that what you will as you listen along. 

Hatchery - Obscured by Foliage [Music for People] 
You may remember the skronkaphonic outfit Tiger Hatchery (or maybe you don’t), but this tigerless Hatchery is an entirely unrelated skronkaphonic outfit. It’s one of the many brainchildren of LDS-level musical procreator Max Nordile (Preening, Violence Creeps, Nothing Band and countless others) and if you’ve heard a single thing Max has done before you’ll recognize the uncoordinated, flailing limbs. Hatchery stands apart from Nordile’s “rock and roll” bands. More of an insomniac jazz vibe. Obscured by Foliage is possibly the work of an ensemble but I get the sense that this is Nordile hunched over the Tascam in the wee hours overdubbing detuned guitar, organ tones, sax wail, rattling bells, tom thumps... is that a cowbell? If you’re still listening to spraypainted Graveyards CD-rs in 2021 this creep jass is for you. 

Maximum Ernst - Perfect Mixer/Matchless Pair [Ever/Never] 
I believe I already rolled out the YS comparison when I reviewed Maximum Ernst’s debut 12” but if the shoe still fits... The lead off track “Open Table” on Perfect Mixer/Matchless Pair, the latest from these NYC skuzz skunks, takes me back to the early days of D. Yellow Swans action. Basking in noise, flirting with songcraft, with a weaponized drum machine and thumping bass loop thrusting your head in the toilet bowl. Multiple layers of drum machines figure prominently throughout the cassette, whether the shuffling hip hop groove of “Vanity Mirror Universe”, the entrancing stereo-panned klang of “Suspended Sentence” or the gallop-to-pummel trajectory of “Richard Motor Hits The Wall” which ends in strange, forbidden experiments being performed on an unsuspecting guitar. I can’t go before mentioning the 42-second bizarro interlude “DFCS” which Men’s Recovery Project must have forgotten to stick on their last 7”. All the fucked up children of the world, you know where to go. 

Morvern - Not What I Heard [ŠOP] 
Morvern is a Slovenian songwriter who, to my great pleasure, is often channeling the lo-fi pop of the late 80s/early 90s (there’s a song called “Balance Yr Heart” so this won’t come as a surprise). “Unspoken Words” is ‘the cut’ of the tape (so much so that I stuck it on a guest playlist). Really great angsty hooks volleying between thin production rambling along on a sputtering drum machine and a thick chorus of fuzz guitars. “Our Little Tribe” harbors the faintest echoes of Frank Black’s post-Pixies solo ballads. I love Frank Black so I don’t dole that comparison out willy nilly. Not What I Heard tends to sound best at quicker tempos like on the springy, c86-ish “Jesus Saves”. The slower tunes are a little more of a mixed bag, enjoying the psych slowburn of “Time” and Air-influenced “Kaleidoscope” but not vibing as much with the beachier offerings (“Lost Sun Gods” and “Eyes on Me”). But hey, never been a big fan of the beach so there you have it. Fun tape with some great tunes, check it out especially if you're a dunderhead like me when it comes to the Slovenian scene. 

Mustat Kalsarit - Yö [Cudighi] 
LA’s Cudighi Records has been killing it as of late having dropped a deeply affecting cassette of instrumentals by Dan Melchior, two quality “songwriter” albums from complete opposite ends of the spectrum by Psuedo Desnudo and Seth Thomas and this burner of a tape by Finland’s Mustat Kalsarit. If you had handed me in the form of a tattered LP with a photo of some longhairs with unkempt mustaches somewhere on the jacket, I’d have sworn it was an undiscovered private press gem with no more than 69 copies populating the globe. But it’s not! Incredibly, it was recorded somewhere in Finland during the 21st century. And you don’t have to lay down five benjamin franklins to snag a copy! The sweetest win of all. 

Absolutely gorgeous spitting fuzztone, the inimitable cadence of (often call & response) Finnish lyrics—naturally, incomprehensible to these provincial ears—well-grounded songwriting, dual guitar leads really stretching out those octave pedals, the record is a wonder. So simple but so rare. What’s the secret Mustat Kalsarit? You’ve practically solved the mystery of the universe here. 

It feels a bit strange picking out individual numbers because they’re all so good. ’s tapestry is woven seamlessly with lovely psychedelic drag-outs and raving mad Nuggets-esque rockers but the driving, bummed-out synth-lead hypnosis of “Elää Vaan” really stands apart. Top to bottom, this is a primo fucking album. I’m hooked. I’m going to have a hell of a time tracking down the Mustat Kalsarit Finnish-released back catalog but I’m committed. Time to talk to my wife about planning a long overdue trip to Finland. Recommended! 

Noise - Tenno [Moone] 
I got a lot of weird shit in my home music library and I’m damn proud of it, but I don’t have anything that sounds like this record Tenno by the appropriately christened Noise. The first time through, my honest reaction was “what the fuck was that?” a rare occurrence for these jaded ears. The recording sounds like crap but in a mysterious way that begged me to dive back in. After many more listens, do I understand this record? No. Can I explain this record? Hell no! But when it’s on the turntable it reshapes your living room or your basement or wherever your turntable happens to be. The light looks different. Your brain works differently. Is your brain working? You don’t actually know. Are you even alive right now? Come to think of it, you’re not sure. I was not hip to Tenno’s presence on this rock hurtling through space but apparently it’s Japanese, it’s from 1980 and lunatics pay hundreds of dollars to get their hands on a copy. Moone Records has come along and made this record available to the non-lunatic portion of the populace surely in need of its inimitable charms.  

Ignoring what all the youtube tutorials tell you about signal-to-noise ratio and taking their moniker to heart, Tenno sounds like the group set the mics up on the far end of the room and cranked up the preamp to make up the difference. The result is a sonic temple with horrid acoustics, but sub-standard aural architecture never stopped devoted believers before. I imagine a non-religious person might say Tenno is the closest thing they’ve had to a religious experience. Droning organ and voice, guitar (though I'm not sure I've ever picked it out) and occasional drumming create a vortex of maddening dissonance and unparalleled blistered beauty.

What is this record? The only loose reference point I can provide, dear reader, is the feeling of the two seconds of audio before the Lady in the Radiator opens her mouth to sing “In Heaven”, but an entire album. And come on, if you’re not the least bit tickled to find out what that experience is like for yourself, are you even alive right now? 

Max Nordile - Walk Thru Parts 1 & 2 [Music for People] 
More unlistenable than the Hatchery tape and this is in no way a criticism. It’s actually a compliment! Obsession with tactile sounds is featured prominently and I share that obsession. The world hasn’t caught up with me and Max but that’s okay. You can keep your Taylor Swift and your Ramones, World. Max and I are more than content being riveted by amplified chafing and incidental signal interference. The first side is kind of a stunner, a lovingly sculpted something of walkie talkie static, squeaks, scratches and rumbles. Broken cable buzz looped into the dance hit of the summer. This thing is going straight to #1 on Radio Free Radio! The second side is a bit ho hum compared to the highwire act of the first but I’m still feeling it. The only thing that pisses me off about Walk Thru Parts 1 & 2 is the unacceptable amount of dead air on each of the sides after the music concludes. Get some shorter tapes Max! 

Psuedo Desnudo - First Man from the Second Millennium [Cudighi] 
I dug the bright primary color scheme of this tape immediately though it offers no clue to the sounds inside. I was pleasantly surprised to find that First Man from the Second Millennium is a distinctly oddball album of lo-fi pop. My ears were met with “Do as Kings” and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it (other than I love it). I thought of This Kind of Punishment but I don’t recall them ever doing sauntering numbers with bongo drums. It’s a wonderful song and one that occupies a completely unique space in the music compendium of my brain. 

Psuedo Desnudo covers a lot of terrain elsewhere: the garage-funk gibberish of “Dalu Zoo Hondales”, the twee brass romp “Eros’ Hex” (flashes of Architecture in Helsinki), deadpanning a UK accent (???) on “Loveless Peking Heat”. The zippy title track features a big beautiful earworm of a chorus. All organ stabs and seasick guitar, sounding like Tronics on acid. The claustrophobic jingling and synthy unease on “Dog Bark, Not Find” reveal that Psuedo Desnudo should have been opening for Tuxedomoon in 70s San Francisco. Now where did I set down my time machine? 

I get why the aliens on the cover are worshiping Psuedo Desnudo and its special blend of curious idiosyncrasy and rigorously tested pop intuition; there is nothing more thrilling than discovering a new and true outsider gem. Look no further. 

Seth Thomas - The Songs of Seth Thomas [Cudighi] 
If there is such a thing as a morning record, The Songs of Seth Thomas is a morning record. I can’t imagine this tenderness aggravating even the most debilitating hangovers. There’s a drawing of a man asleep nestled with a cuddly kitty cat on the cover, so Seth’s not pulling the wool over anyone's eyes here. Or is he? Sounding very much like a guy wearing a turtleneck sweater in the early 70s, these songs were recorded in Portland (OR), Egypt, Palestine and Germany and I’ve already got a back story brewing in my head. Thomas is a spy (you see, a name as commonplace as “Seth Thomas” must be an alias) and he’s just blowing off steam from his stressful dayjob taking refuge in gently plucking his guitar and not raising his voice above a whisper.

Belaboring this silly digression, the songs themselves are often quotidian ruminations, surely the work of a highly perceptive, isolated individual skulking in the shadows of life. My favorite aspect of the record is the arrangements, which are fan-fucking-tastic. I’m a sucker for chamber- anything but this is some high-quality shit. Produced and arranged by Jon David Russell, there’s a near endless list of delicately employed instruments: harpsichord, celeste, sousaphone, flugelhorn, and so it goes. Russell’s work in concert with Thomas is essential, with the arrangements feeling like they are in constant conversation with Thomas’s voice, sometimes listening, sometimes responding. The instrumentation forms a perfect pairing for Thomas’s pleasing but sleepy vocals. Haven’t heard a flat out lovelier record in 2021 than this one.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

June 2021

Here is the long delayed second batch of reviews of 2021. I've had a bunch of personal stuff going on this year that has vacuumed up what little free time I had coming into the year so its been tough getting done the amount of writing I want to, let alone getting anything done on a regular monthly schedule. I still have a bunch more great stuff to write about so stay tuned. I'm hoping the second half of the year will allow for more time to dedicate to writing.


Eyes and Flys - New Way to Get It [no label]
 
Eyes and Flys, Buffalo’s best band nowadays (at least in the purview of this coastal elite), dropped a new single earlier in the year and not only does it continue their strong showing, it might be their most complete and best single to date. 

This 7” finds the Flys doubling down on their punk energy [times] pop touch [divided by] sub-par fidelity (the sweet sounding kind) formula they’ve been experimenting with. I think they’re getting somewhere. The titular “New Way to Get it” is one of their finest songs yet. Acoustic strums and peppy handclaps are nestled into the band’s slashing energy with Pat Shanahan’s raspy shout made even more sandpapery with plenty of gain on the mic. The song functions as the band’s modus operandi in my mind. In a world where everyone seems to be lost in the 21st century spotified wilderness (and incessantly complaining about it), Eyes and Flys have returned to the ways of the DIY forbearers making home-made 7” singles of (seemingly) home-recorded tunes with all rough edges kept intact as valuable, essential qualities. New way to get it, indeed. 

“Free to Go” is squeezed onto side A, with measured amounts of jangle sprinkled into its fast ‘n chunky riff formula. The B-side is a Nerves cover, “Many Roads to Follow”, which features some Spector-y bombast at bargain basement costs. 

Three songs, all good and all unified in their aesthetic. Eyes and Flys have tried a few different things in their previous singles but I think they may be honing a “sound” now. I’m excited to hear what the next one’s like. 

Monokultur - Ormens Väg [Ever/Never] 
More high quality shit from the Big Apple’s most highly respected cultural center, Ever/Never Records. Ormens Väg is the Swedish duo Monokultur’s second LP for the label and if the caliber of this record is anything to go on, I hope they snapped the act up to a six-album deal. Monokultur have the rare ability to seem really strange to the straight-laced crowd and deliciously poppy to a weirdo like me. From track to track they aren’t even weird in the same way, nor do they deliver hooks in the same way. 

I have a hard time pinning down Monokultur which is the most exciting/aggravating thing to encounter as someone tasked with writing about music. The duo manages to show many sides of themselves while maintaining a seamless atmosphere through the album. “Demokrati” has me asking “are they the 39 Clocks of the new millennium?” “Pennen I Handen” recalls the bleary-eyed folk-pop of Ignatz. At times I’m getting a kind of somnolent Comet Gain vibe (like on “Bär Deras Saker”). If David Lynch ever plans on making another Twin Peak he oughta book Monokultur for a month-long residency at the Roadhouse. I can already envision the molasses throb of “Decennium” and its 50s rock & roll meets synth spook stew playing over the end credits. Monokultur might be at their best on tracks like “För Sent” and “Människor Och Träd” which marry a strong grasp of melody with a detached, sometimes mumbling vocal. The songs seem to be blown along like a leaf in the wind, drifting but determined to find a home. 

I might be zeroing in on an analog for Monokultur and it’s Maths Balance Volumes (if they weren’t quite so damn weird). Both groups are similar in that they seem creatively restless, willing to try new things and break a few rules, but will never (or may be unable to) get away from whatever special recipe makes them sound like them. And, hey, if Monokultur turns out to be my new Maths Balance Volumes, they are indispensable. 

Mystic Inane - Natural Beauty [Cleta Patra/La Vida Es Un Mus] 
Just because 2020 was the year of terrible surprises, doesn’t mean it was bereft of kickass surprises. #1 on the list: new Mystic Inane!? I had long given up hope that arguably the best discography of the 2010s would grow any larger but it fuckin’ did. I don’t know if these were recordings from years ago when the band was active. I don’t know if the quartet reconvened for one last rodeo. And I really don’t care. I got more Mystic Inane, something I never thought possible. I’m playing with house money for the rest of my life. 

Natural Beauty tempo-wise is the most hardcore MI record as we don’t get any nasty “Deep Creep” trudges or unhinged frothing at the mouth a la “Eggs Onna Plate”. But that’s a-okay because we still get four great, speedy songs out of the deal. 

Lead by a sick riff and riotous snare rolls, it is impossible to not start a mosh pit on the disco floor when “Death of a Disco Spiv” is blaring. “Mystic Ignorance” (pronounced “muh-sssstic ehhhh-nunce”) might be the best of the bunch shifting between an angular riff and ringing chords lending bombast to MI’s workmanlike punk ethos. “Peckerwood Nero” is my daughter’s favorite, as she started singing along to the “ooh ooohs” at just 1.5 years old. Mystic Inane really knows how to connect with the children. 

Candice Metrailer is one of the finest guitarists of recent times and she kills it on this record as usual. Her lead at the end of “Mystic Ignorance” is so good and so brief it kills me. Her interplay with Nathan Cassiani’s work on bass is one of the things that has always made Mystic Inane special and this is no different on Natural Beauty

Mystic Inane was one of the best bands around during their brief tenure so (if you haven't already) buy all their records and enrich your life. 

Opposite Sex - High Drama [Spik n Span] 
Ah New Zealand, surely the greatest contributor to rock music on a per capita basis. Must be something about the culture there because they’ve cracked the code. Great bands have stayed together and stayed great making strong records one after the other, avoiding burnout and conflicting egos and whatever other reasons that cause bands to splinter. 

Well, here comes a member of the new guard, Opposite Sex (who have been around for at least a decade themselves―not exactly new), with a new record High Drama on a label named for one of the country’s greatest contributions to music of any era. I have Opposite Sex’s last record Hamlet (they got a thing for drama) and it has some great songs (noise rock excursion “She Said”, chamber ballad “Complicity” and the Snapper-y kraut-punk raveup “Regicide” to name a few). The LP found the band trying on several different hats and looking good in most of ‘em, but High Drama seems to strive for a more unified sound. There are no guest contributors or dramatic left turns into different genres and as a result the band sounds even more confident. I don’t even hear any overdubs, very much a band in a room vibe. Opposite Sex is clearly comfortable with their sound and who they are as a band.

High Drama opens on a ferocious note with “Shoots Me like a Knife”. With male-female vocals playing off each other, a rollicking rhythm section and mangled guitar, Opposite Sex sound like the B-52s if they were the types to beat your ass with a bicycle chain. Equal parts pep and savagery. This idea of taking two sides of a dichotomy and smashing them against each other carries on throughout High Drama. There are two main poles in NZ underground history, Flying Nun and Expressway, and while the band sits somewhere in between, they lean heavily toward Expressway’s oddball embrace of noise and distaste for convention (especially on a track like “Nico”). “Robotica” captures both sides with a an Aislers Set-sy evocation of 60s girl groups existing simultaneously with Live Skull-esque guitar grind. The drifting twang of “Breath in a Dish” vaguely calls to mind The Renderers, another NZ band that carved out its own little hole, not quite sounding like anyone else. 

“Combine Harvester” swerves all over like an intoxicated driver, bopping along in aggressive but bouncing fashion. The jauntiness brushes uneasily against a wah-wah’d feedback frenzy and bassist and singer Lucy Hunter's serene singing of the chorus “You were the love of my life / Now I don’t care if you fall / Into the long, long loving arms of the combine harvester”. Behind the mellifluous veneer, Hunter sounds pissed and hurt and pulls no punches. Discarding any sugarcoating whatsoever, Hunter gets as blunt as possible on the unfettered indictment of misogyny, “Dick on a Throne”, over a slinky bass line and freelancing guitar recalling one of my favorite Birthday Party tunes “Yard”. 

High Drama’s centerpiece, however, is clearly the nine minute “Owls Do Cry” which features Hunter’s best vocal work. Working from a coo to out and out rage and back again, her peculiar phrasing leads the loping, feedback dappled tour de force through its peaks and valleys before unleashing her voice at the summit to rip the song apart seam by seam. Closing on “Dinosaur” is a bold move since it stands well apart from the preceding album. Lead by male vocals, its loose, rambling nature belies the simmering tension that steadily builds with no release granted. The gambit pays off as High Drama leaves you with more questions than answers, eager to flip the record and start again.
 
Von Hayes - Wa La! [no label] 
Philadelphia’s Von Hayes first came to my attention with Moderate Rock, a fine CD of GBV-indebted pop perfectly suited for my car stereo. Wa La! is the two-piece’s follow up (naturally named after a quote in a letter from Tobin Sprout included on the jacket) and a massive step forward in my eyes (and ears). Top to bottom this is a great set of songs, not a runt in the litter, and there’s more variation and inspiration to the arrangements as well. 

 Wa La! is loaded to the hilt with earworms, I’ll only touch on a handful but rest assured they’re all present and accounted for on record. The album kicks off in perfect fashion with 65 unplugged seconds of “Topy” forging headlong into the martial snare rolls of home-brewed stadium rocker “I’m Tired”. Von Hayes know how to bookend as they send you off on the soaring “Message to the Sparkled Egg Star” so in love with rock & roll you’ll want to start your own garage band. Between those high points are a bunch more high points: the solemn, weary “No Title #11” takes its chances throwing a lonesome vocal on a bed of scraping violins and it pays off in spades, “Zamp” is smeared with Like Flies on Sherbert-ish idiot-savant guitar overdubs colliding into one another, “I Had No Idea it was Today” is a soulful mid-tempo number that’ll get under your skin like a depressed tick, “Decades in the Breaking” is a “California Dreaming” for a new generation, and some Strapping Fieldhands influence comes to the fore in the shambling psych-folk spectacular “Quarantine Dreams”. 

I’ve been listening to Wa La! for months now and its charms have yet to fade. This is one that’s gonna stick. I don’t make year end lists but if I did Wa La! is the kind of thing that would go on ‘em. Recommended!