Friday, August 31, 2007

Fantastic Magic – Witch Choir [Abandon Ship]/CJA/Smokehouse – Whiskey & Freedom [Abandon Ship]/Turner Cody – Buds of May [Digitalis]

What we have here is a trio of folkish releases (tri-folk-cta of releases?) that aren’t all that connected except by their vague (sometimes not so vague) folkiness. Well two of them came out on the same label but I’ll just ignore that connection for now. All are pretty great and add or develop a different dimension of “folk”—I used it a million times in the opening sentence, what’s one more gonna hurt.
Xzibit number A: Witch Choir by Fantastic Magic. Leave it to Nate Rulli over at Abandon Ship to be the man to hook me up with something I never knew existed and never knew I needed so badly. This tape flat out rules, murdering the competition with one fell swoop. These guys have an uncanny accuracy with words, this tape is fantastic, magical and sounds like the sweetest damn bunch of witches you ever heard. I’m reminded a bit of the Cherry Blossoms but where they jam (and jam unbelievably well) on zany hillbilly ground, Fantastic Magic have a lightly tripped out, free floating and totally bewitching vibe. And just like the Blossoms they are totally addicting. The tape runs through 10 tracks in 25 minutes so it’s not really worth singling specific ones cause they fly by so fast and, really how can you pick out highlights when the whole thing is a highlight. I’ll try though, at the end of the A-side there is a brilliant Morricone inspired spaghetti western breakdown, and throughout the rest of the tape you’ll hear dreamy forest lullabies (especially the album opener), lots of lo-fi lushness, dazzling, ear catching melody after melody after melody (and so on…) courtesy of voice, guitar, trumpet, and, um, everything else they play. I’m not fucking around here, you gotta hear this. I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve listened to it and its always new and great and with the melodic hooks continuously popping up in my mind and on my lips. I will say two things though; one, there is some pretty high pitched singing on here in spots which initially took a bit of getting used to, but it isn’t annoying or anything. The other is there is a free jam on the second side that goes on a bit too long but it’s still short anyway, so really not much to complain about actually. But no matter, go buy this before these guys are big stars and on Paw Tracks or something. Highly recommended. One of my favorite things all year. And it only costs 5 bucks postpaid! Small price to pay for an eternal smile on yr face. And word from Nate is that he hopes to have a Fantastic Magic LP out by the end of the year, so start drooling, I already have.
Next up, CJA/Smokehouse, which despite the slashing punctuation is in fact a 100% collabo. Don’t know Smokehouse at all but, I’ve heard a few things by CJA before. Anyhow, both guys sing, play guitar, organ and drums. Though it seems like they only do them at a time. Most tracks sound pretty minimal, like maybe voice with guitar accompaniment. This tape has a real nicely beat up lo-fi aesthetic, a tad warbly and fuzzy and warm. Opener “I Need Her” is a stand out cause the dude singing (CJA?) just sounds so tired and wrecked, slumped over a few beautifully simple guitar chords. Also “Vegemite Eggs on Toast” closes out the A-side with a lone guitar ringing out many a sweet, heart wrenching chord. Basically encompassing, in guitar chords, the misery of the dude who sang on the first track. No easy feat I must say. In between the two there is the incrementally more riotous “Let Her Go” which features some drumming in addition to guitar and vocals with a bit of an anguished, frustrated vibe. Maybe a sequel to “I Need Her”? There are also a couple almost interlude like tracks with organ and whatnot, which I guess add a bit of atmosphere but not that much else.
On the flipside, we’re met with a much more confident, bordering on bombastic strum on side opener “Sunshine Stream”. Things get unexpectedly noisy, and it’s actually rather cathartic even just for the guy (me) listening to it. That is something I’m really digging about this tape is the basic emotional connection it forges with the listener, in spite of (or maybe because of) such a limited palette. “In Bed” follows with a guitar/organ dirge, with the weird vibrating organ tone overtaking the much more mild mannered guitar progression. “Another Day, Another Beer” sees the voice that I think is CJA’s get back on the mic, this time with a much stronger guitar accompaniment which overpowers his vocal in some spots. There is a second guitar too, which is a welcome presence adding different aborted guitar solo-type deals that get occasionally spattered across the rest of the song. “A World Without Love” is another solo guitar instrumental, with a very angsty alternative vibe (didn’t I say that about a Buck Paco track too?). All in all a cool release, though the A-side is a bit spotty in places, there is more than enough good stuff to dive into here. Again, really dig the emotional presence that resonates in the majority of the tracks too.
Buds of May is the most traditionally “folk” of the three here. Turner Cody is a pretty prolific songwriter who has garnered rave reviews from Wooden Wand and Glenn Donaldson, who I heard know a thing or two about writing songs. As exhibited on excellent opener “Break for Boar”, (I’m all about the openers today) Cody shows his penchant for ambling about bouncy blues-inspired progressions and sings with a bit of swagger and confidence. Though he certainly knows how to sing, Cody definitely retains that everyman vibe in his voice that all the best vocalists have (Will Oldham, Bill Callahan, Bob Dylan etc.) “Lashes That Go Wide” reminds me of the more acoustic moments of Magnetic Fields. Cody gives a droll, dry delivery but manages to be incredibly tuneful as well. Tough to pull off, but he does so admirably. “Up Up High” has a catchy jaunt a la Pixies’ “Vamos” and some classic cowboy lead guitaring. Definitely a foot tapper. I always have a hard time writing about simple acoustic ditties such as these, but I really wish I was good at it because “The Casual Joke” is a killer. It’s one of those songs that just hits you and knocks you out. One of those, you hear for the first time and know it’s special and you’ll be damned if you don’t listen to it another hundred times. Everything comes together to absolute perfection. Cody’s voice winds through the lyrical lines wonderfully and the chord progression is a tearjerker. I feel like maybe the best thing I can about this album is there is nothing bad about it, nothing to criticize or nitpick. It’s just incredibly well written, well sung/performed, well paced (12 songs in a half hour). It’s just a bunch of great songs, with lyrics snaking around the chords united by the overarching melody. Also, I’m totally not doing justice to Cody’s lyrics in this review but I’ve never been a big fan of taking lyrics out of context and using them in reviews (though in a second, I’ll render that statement irrelevant, sorry) His lyrics are often very clever and always have an odd but fitting sort of structure and syntax. A unique voice to be sure. I will leave you, however, with a quote of Cody’s that I think sums him up pretty damn well: “An image is a prison, babe/and I ain’t got one”
Both Abandon Ship releases come packaged totally classy as usual, transparent color tapes and color inserts. Cheap too. Buds of May is Digitalis’s first release under the new Arts & Crafts guise, and it’s got a beautifully printed three-color arigato pack, very very nice and professionally pressed CD. Obviously, I’m in love with Fantastic Magic, but you can’t go wrong with any of these whatever way you go.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Goliath Bird Eater – Brahmans [Nurse Etiquette]

Hot off the heels of the doomy/baffling Mrtyu tape comes Bobb Bruno’s Goliath Bird Eater with 30 minutes of heavy, metal, heavy metal. Or maybe some other kind of metal or maybe not metal at all; I was never good with that whole metal classification system and figuring out which phylum Morbid Angel belongs in (does it matter?). Anyhow, I can tell you from experience this shit is H-E-A-V-Y. GBE, to my knowledge, haven’t released too many things so far. They had the Blood Venus CD and a split tape with Robedoor on Not Not Fun and some tracks on various compilations, but Brahmans is, I think, their only release so far this year (but a 12” on Trashskull is in the works). But enough discog gobblygook, let’s get to the music.
There is no demarcation on either side of the tape, so when I first listened to it I listened to the b-side first cause it was wound for some reason. I got it all straight now though. “Lanzarse” takes up Side-A. It takes a moment to get going, beginning with some synthiness and a spacey guitar figure before the bonecrushingness begins to set in. It sounds like an intergalactic trudge through hell. There is a constant propulsion to the track, but it doesn’t feel so much like it’s being pushed by the drums or guitar but instead like it’s being slowly pulled by a tractor beam or into a black hole. I’m not sure how Bobb achieved this effect, cause I haven't heard it anywhere before and it’s pretty spectacular at that. After that bit of heavy weightlessness, everything drops out to near silence, only to let another phoenix rise from the ashes. The track builds somewhat unstably, which again is an odd effect, until it reaches an actually really pretty arpeggio while a weird tape loop lurks in the shadows. The side ends somewhat abruptly, but whatcha gon’ do? It’s an awesome, awesome side nonetheless.
While the first side was Bobb solo, he’s joined by Corey Fogel on drums for the title track on the back side. This one begins slow with rustling, distorted loops circling round and round. The repetitive distorto-drones is offset by some relaxed drum solo-type moves. Then things start coming together until they take off completely. The sound goes from murky to sharp pretty much instantly when things start picking up, a really nice production touch. There is kind of an ebb and flow that results where the duo forge ahead into the feedback dirge and, subsequently, plunge back into the wall of noise only to reemerge again. Part of me wishes they would just throw caution to the wind and riff my brain to dust, but I can respect the restraint exhibited. Sustain is much more menacing than pounding rhythms sometimes, at least in my experience.
So, overall Brahmans is quite a tape, both sides are great but I really like “Lanzarse”’s cosmic but still batholithic aesthetic and that it pretty much takes you on a journey through space and time. Nurse Etiquette put this tape out, and did a classy job. Glossy j-card and all. I’m sad to say I don’t know the label but I’ll keep an eye out from now on. Brahmans was released in addition of 66, and according the Nurse Etiquette website every single thing they have is sold out, which unfortunately includes Brahmans too.
I think a few distros might still have copies, though, so I’d run a quick google search before you weep.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Reggaee – Balthar [Tipped Bowler Tapes]/Mrtyu – Ritual Terra Continuii [Tipped Bowler Tapes]

This is a Tipped Bowler Tapes double feature. Tipped Bowler is a mysterious label that I think is based in Texas. That’s all I could really find out and I’m not even sure if that is correct. There is no website or myspace so I sent an email to the contact address inquiring about info for this review and haven’t gotten a response, so far at least. Terribly mysterious, I must say. Though, terribly great as well. TBT 001 is this tape by the Reggaee A.K.A Frenchman Florian Tositti A.K.A. one of the dudes in the, just reviewed, Ghost Brâmes. The Reggaee had a cd-r on Ruralfaune last year and other than that the only other releases I’ve heard about from the project have been self-released, including the pretty sweet Catolistal tape earlier this year. Anywho, this one is called Balthar and it’s got some crazy lizard/balloon popping action crawling all over it. If you pop in the yellow/green sprayed tape your ears are met with a windy loop and various rattling percussives. Moments later, a twinkling keyboard and drunken vocal moans enter the fray. All the loops grind gently against each other, while the addition of more melodic vocal layers and what sounds like some frantic hand percussion comes in for a little while. It’s relatively low in the mix so I can’t be too sure of what is it is exactly but it adds a bit of kinetic impetus to the proceedings. The part I dig the most is the end. Where the rattling and other bells and whistles (which I sort of mean literally) drop out and your left in a puddle of unobstructed, delay pedal drenched vocal loops. But you probably figured out that I love my vocal loops by now.
Flip the tape over to the yellow side, and yr hit with “Balthar 2”. Luminous, droning keyboard and distorted percussive sounds, both human made and mechanically perpetrated, abound, creating a wall of cosmic sound. There is some weird tinkling business going on, that I can’t tell if its chimes or dropping coins into a cymbal or what. The mechanical loops help keep the whole thing buoyant with their constant hypnotic push until the whole thing breaks down into scratchy electronic scramblings. Side A kinda feels like a warm up, prepping you for the more focused heavy floating (confusing, I know) that is to come on the flip. I always knew yellow was my favorite color. This tape is cool but a bit too short for my tastes (though most tapes are), I hope to hear a longer, more fleshed out release by the Reggaee in the future cause it looks to me like Tositti has great things brewing in that brain of his.
TBT 002 comes courtesy of the Pacific Ocean. Mrtyu is led by Anthony Milton (purveyor of the Pseudoarcana imprint and about a billion other musical ventures it seems) and what I assume is a crew of fellow New Zealanders. They had a release on Campbell Kneale’s Battlecruiser label a while back, and if I remember correctly, the idea behind the label is to have various drone/noise/psychedelic dudes make doom/black metal records, which sounds like a great idea to me. Anyhow, Ritual Terra Continuii is the group’s first tape, as far as I know, and pretty much everything about it is first rate. From the tongue in cheek but totally awesome liner notes/poem/font/cover to the tongue in cheek but totally awesome sounds encapsulated within.
The title track, which takes up the blood flecked side A, was “recorded to cassette at Peel Forest in March 2007 during blood ceremonies composed by The Unnamed One and orchestrated by Mrtyu fellowship” so, um, how could you not love it? It’s total metal bewilderment. And whadya know? The sounds on the track are too. Against feedback, human mutterings, rattling of silverware or something, various incidental noises and even some kind of music boxish type thing, there emerges an indecipherable megaphone speech. Then comes the fuzz. Some dude starts riffing a lethargic bassline alongside the Mrtyu fellowship’s cacophony. The bass gathers steam and starts warranting severe slo-mo headbang moves from myself and probably any other sensible person who hears it. Besides some clinking percussion and interjections from the master of blood ceremonies, the bass is just taking over and ruling hard. Then the people in attendance all of a sudden start cheering and shouting and going crazy and probably jamming just hard as I am. Encouraged by the hollers of “WOOOOOOH” the bass slinger starts going nuts with all sorts of heavy improv’d swamp riffage—probably burning holes through his fingertips. The whole thing is just bizarre but oh so sweeeet! I love tapes and all but what I really need is a Mrtyu live DVD, so I can experience this madness with my own peepers. Better yet, a Mrtyu world tour so I can be bathed in sacrificial blood from the front row. Get on that The Unnamed One.
The B-side, “The Marriage of Birth and Death”, was recorded during an initiation rite for Brothers X7 and X8, and leads me to wonder how I could become a Brother X# cause I’d be really good at it I bet. The track starts out with some manipulated feedback and then heavy chugging bass frequencies come out the gate, fuzzed off their collective ass. The bass just goes to it for a while with relentless , off the cuff riffing. Then, of all things, a flute comes in. The bass/flute duel goes on for a little while, and, well, to be frank the flute never stood a chance. Somewhere down the line there is some speaking/howling (probably the initiation rites) that is buried underneath the sludge. And then, oh man, there is a so rad bass breakdown and the flute comes back with a vengeance. The track descends the endless spiral in all its detuned glory until some poor soul howls his brains out and we’re met with the dreaded end click. Please excuse the play-by-plays but I know no other way to really go about describing the tape.
Alright, so Tipped Bowler is only two tapes in so far but they are seriously swinging like the pros already. Great, great music and excellent packaging. My Mrtyu tape case won't even close it's crammed so full, how awesome is that? (answer: very.) Each tape comes nicely sprayed with a two-tone color job, a professionally printed cardstock J-card, and two inserts—each tape comes with a fold out paper titled “The Adventures of Ambrose Jones” which is two columns of stream of conscious ruminations following Ambrose Jones, I guess. It looks like it may be something that comes with every future release as well. I am looking forward to hearing/seeing more from this label, hopefully whoever the head tipped bowler is, he/she will relax the shroud of mystery just a bit.
I have no idea whether these are sold out at source or not. Balthar is an edition of 68 and Ritual Terra Continuii is an edition of 120 (so you should be able to snag a copy, and yr a fool if you don’t). I advise either sending an email to TBT at tippedbowlertapes[at]gmail[dot]com to try and order or hit up the distros, try here. Good luck.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ghost Brâmes – Eagle Arpegi [Foxglove]/Justin Shay – Vocalizations [Foxglove]

These two releases come from the megalithic latest batch from Tulsa’s ultra rad Foxglove label. The first is from French duo Ghost Brâmes (sometimes of the Cerfs or Cerf’s Magickal) which is comprised of Florian Tositti (a.k.a. The Reggaee) and Jacob Garett. The guys had a couple of nice releases last year on Ruralfaune and 267 Lattajjaa, but this is the first for the double oh seven. Justin Shay is a dude from L.A. apparently, and other than that I’m totally unfamiliar with him. I think he’s been making music for a little while though I’m unaware of any other releases he may have.
Eagle Arpegi, is a single 39 minute ditty. It’s also a single 39 minute ditty of the best kind, one that is constantly, though logically, moving forward. The two guys are busy at work through the whole track, with looped keyboard drone, percussive clatter, muted guitar plucks, occasional bits of toy flute, choirboy voices (or maybe a bowed something?), rattling and chiming, and a few things that I can’t really identify or verbally approximate. I’m assuming because of its length, the track was probably recorded live which is quite impressive, and it was probably improvised too which is even more impressive. I’ve never really noticed it until now but these guys occupy a similar sonic space as the (VxPxC) dudes, especially around the 24 minute mark. The drone becomes a bit more subdued and some really great guitar/wooden flute interplay unfolds. It’s a beautiful stretch of time, the guitar is all jittery but pensive, jammin’ on a repetitive melody. The flute is an MVP contender, with some really wistful but insistent wind blowing through the track—emerging just long enough to make its point and then dropping back into the ether. Scattered but rhythmic percussion, electronic twinkling and rumbling, and slurred vocal groans augment the existing sonics splendidly; taking the track into slightly more shadowy, blurred territory. This thing is not only a sonic mindfeast but a journey too! The track slowly dwindles after the crest, smeared by guitar feedback and synthery. Awesome. I admit, I’m often wary of 40 minute tracks but this one really hits the mark. Recommended, and if you’re into 40 minute tracks than I’d rate this essential.
I was intrigued by Vocalizations, because I really love voice in music from Sacred Harp Singing and traditional Native American music to The Skaters and Robedoor etc. According to Foxglove, this thing is composed “entirely from vocals and effects”, my ears don’t believe it though. It’s definitely mostly vocals but no one can be that good at imitating keyed and stringed instruments. But anyway that is beside the point. The album is kinda hit or miss, though most tracks are hits. The first two don’t really grab me, the first is kind of glitchy and the second is beatboxing and a couple looped vocal melodies which just gets grating after three minutes. After that though, things start falling into place. A couple breathy vocal loops and occasional beats of mouth percussion and (effected?) chimes make up the third track. At 10 minutes, it runs a bit long but creates a nicely accumulating fog from a very limited palette. Next, the fourth track begins with, what sounds like a banjo to my ears and vocals slowly creep in. Amounting to a vibe maybe a little like The Books but more rural sounding and less electronic, like someone playing along to slow motion Sacred Harp records. Elsewhere on the record are a handful of tracks that I really like a lot. The fifth track is somber in mood but a totally glistening choir of voice loops. Really meditative and calming, like an ancient medicine man curing a guy with a lousy case of influenza. That simile is totally not mystical enough to be an accurate descriptor, but unfortunately it’s all I’ve got right now. Track (lucky number) 7 does a great job with the vocal-loops-but-not-drone aesthetic. There are a bunch of ascending and descending melodies all cycling continuously. What’s great about this track is that each time the loops cycle, they line up differently yet they are always able to lock into place and sound beautiful for a few seconds before repositioning again. Then 3/4s of the way in, the sound cuts out and your jolted out of your delightful haze, only to hear Justin do it all over again and create another beautiful, brief vocal tapestry for the final minute. Really splendid stuff. Two shorter tracks (8 and 10) are wonderful as well. In track 8, Shay’s vocal waver almost resembles a piano to me, which adds an interesting dynamic to the praise swells that emanate through the track. Track 10 is similar but with all the voices in a tangle rather than in unison. There is a minimal, precisely metered percussive loop for a bit that works really well, almost like being accompanied by a metronome (which is usually lame, I know, but it’s really cool here). There are some other great moments on the disc as well, but I’ll let you discover those for yourself.
Both releases are packaged in a plastic slip with paper/cardboard covers and an insert. The insert from Vocalizations is full color and actually pretty neat. Both are still available from Foxglove last time I checked, along with a bunch other stuff from greats like Antique Brothers, Apple Snails, Orphan Fairytale and more. Considering that Foxglove is on the verge of retirement [insert sad face emoticon], I suggest you grab some cd-rs while you still can.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Buck Paco – I’ve Wasted My Breath [Abandon Ship]/The Futurians – Zenit [Abandon Ship]

So it’s been a little while since I reviewed a 3” cd-r, I’ve got these two ones from Abandon Ship that came out a little while back though, last time I checked, still had a few copies available. First one comes from Buck Paco whom I know zero about and the other from highly regarded New Zealanders, The Futurians, who have been putting out stuff for a while yet I’ve only heard 2 releases of theirs or something. So this pair was real educational for me.
According to the info on the Abandon Ship site, this Buck Paco five song three incher is the result of recording over 100 songs (harsh man, how would you like a less than 5% survival rate?) and ostensibly is a very good survey of their material. I’ve not heard the 100+ songs, so I can’t attest to that, but I’ve Wasted My Breath is a nice 3” in its own right. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, “Buck Paco” kinda sounds countryish to me so I guess I was expecting a rootsy acoustic vibe. I was pretty much wrongo but that ain’t a bad thing certainly. “48 Hours and No White Elephants” kicks the whole shebang off with blues riffing repeated for effect while another guy hangs loose with the amp buzz. Occasional rattle and clang percolate the mix as well. At 7 minutes the track runs a bit long, though the final minutes unleash a nicely unhinged shrapnel attack which is quickly sucked up into the stratosphere. “Don’t Tell Me” continues the lo-fi garage blues riffage but in a more conventional format. Vocals and fuzz guitar solos trade off verses for a brief 2.5 minutes. The blues riff motif continues on the lyricless but most ballady of the bunch, “I’m Not Sure What It Meant, But I Know I Meant It”. There is a cello in there somewhere that emerges towards the end. It’s a decent track but doesn’t change much through it’s nearly 6 minute runtime. “Reciprocate” is a short, angsty stomper with grinding guitars and pounding percussion (oh, alliteration. You are my best friend) complete with fuzzed out vocal anguish. The best is saved for last with “Lonely Man’s Walk”. It features a rather simple bit of guitar/drums jammin’ but with samples/manipulations supplied by a dude named Wayne Ford (which also sounds countryish to me, hmm…). The sample fuckery provides a good foil for the minimal guitar exchange going on. It fills out the space a bit more and adds a touch of spontaneity. I dig it.
I heard some things that this Futurians release was going to be a change-up from their typical noise-punk muck and mire. And indeed it is. Zenit sounds something like a Fricara Pacchu/Excepter collabo, crossed with, I don’t know, the Futurians? The opener, “Genetic Futurian” actually doesn’t sound that out of place with other Futurians material. It’s got all sorts of whirring and buzzing synth frequencies and a guitar and sort of drums (it’s drum loop I think cause the speed gets messed around a bit). It’s got that distinct shambling lumber/stomp though. The next track “Black Gull” I’m not feeling too much though, it’s got a cool lo-end synth loop circling but it’s also got borderline annoying r2d2isms which I don’t generally mind but the track never really changes at all so it wears out its welcome after a while. “Laika” is one big weird juxtaposition. Piano, automated rhythms, a cool 80’s synth arpeggio, oscillator squiggles, distorted beat box attempts. Very, very strange and definitely the cooler/better for it. There’s a nice little outro on the beast too. The other half of the disc’s runtime is spent with “Nuclear Future”. The Futurians finally get flat out techno on it too. It’s kind of a pastiche of a bunch of different electronic rhythms and vocal sample cut-ups. The quality varies a bit from beat to beat (some are better than others) but the final minute and a half is definitely the raddest, and it’s very rad at that.
Nate at Abandon Ship did a great job packaging these guys. The classiest looking 3inchers I’ve ever seen. Both come in jewel cases, with high quality cd labels and the Buck Paco one comes with a 3 panel fold out with tracklist, personnel info, and a quote from Buck Oswald Paco et al. Both feature great cover images too, as you can see, the cool sonic equipment + punk jammer collage on the Futurians and the Buck Paco one’s hilarious, hopefully autobiographical, visual translation of the title. There is a double 3” coming up by Crow Feathers too, can’t wait to see how he does that one up.
As mentioned earlier, there are still copies available direct from the label—by the way, Nate has recently slashed prices on everything so I’d recommend checking the site out, many cool things. Both of these releases were pretty neat, definitely some really great moments though a few inconsistent ones as well. Both are worth checking out though, especially if you have any interest in the artists or their respective approaches to music making.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Slow Listener – Slow Listener [JK Tapes]/Non-Horse/Horse Head – Horse Split [JK Tapes]

Alright, so I’m excited to talk about these puppies cause they are my first puff of the recently formed and totally rad JK Tapes label run by Peter M. outta Chicago. Also, it’s my first slow listening of Slow Listener who is a combo from the UK who I have been hearing many good things about. Furthermore, it’s the second release I’ve heard from supposed sonic shapeshifters Non-Horse and Horse Head. And they are both tapes! So as you can see I have many things to be excited about.
First of all, I must make it known that this Slow Listener tape is wayyy too short. Now that’s outta the way... This thing flat out slays (Slay Listener is more like it, ha?). Twenty-three minutes of lovely zombie murk. I’m not sure what Slow Listener does to get their sounds or if it’s one guy or twenty but there are definitely plenty of loops going on, that I am sure of. Side-A starts with a keyboard-y type loop circling until it is united with a lightly whirring low frequency nudge. There are some tape-esque manipulations going on towards the end and the last minute sees a shift where a loud bright tone comes in (I’m assuming that it isn’t a new track but there isn’t any accompanying info so I can’t be too sure). Side-A is pretty subtle throughout, not minimal though. It’s slow gentle churn heads straight for your pleasure zone. These guy(s?) actually sound a little reminiscent of The Skaters to my ears. They are physically doing things way different than The Skaters operate, but they achieve that same kind of warm, fuzzy euphoria nonetheless.
The B-side rules too, and maybe a little harder even. There is a tad more open space and it’s got a real nice subtle beat that comes in and out every 12 seconds or so. It’s based around another keyboard loop with total murky shimmer (is that an oxymoron?). There is also someone working feedback swells, maybe guitar or pedal based, that snake around the original loops, rising, enveloping and lovingly cannibalizing them until, like the first side, there is a change up at the very last minute. Slow Listener likes to keep you on yr toes I guess. Again, I cannot stress this enough, straight to the pleasure zone. My fingers are crossed for a new Slow Listener 5 cassette boxset to drop from the heavens and into my hot little hands. Heh, a boy can dream right? Yes he can and will, this tape is already helping him with that.

Both of the “Horse” releases (Haraam, Circle of Flame and The Defeatist) I’d heard prior didn’t leave a huge mark on me, but certainly left me intrigued to hear more. So finally, I have followed my intrigue and, indeed, heard more. The result? Two thumbs up, one for each side. Non-horse’s contribution is a single 13-14 minute live recording called “Feggic Shoam”; with a title like that, I think it’s pretty obvious that you have no idea what you’re going to get. It starts out a little touch and go, echoing blips and cut-ups jumping around wildly. Not too long after, the track begins to find its legs and cohere. I like the second half of the track more I’d say, mainly cause it’s got this great sample/loop of an acoustic guitar that a bunch of sounds are built on top of. There is some new age droning going on, scratchy electronic sounds, a choir submerged in reverb, a pitch-shifted two note guitar loop, something akin to a harmonium, a really wobbly cheese synth/trumpet duet and even what sounds like a referee’s whistle. Pretty nutty sonics if you ask me. And totally live too, which is sweet. I’m still not entirely sure what G. Lucas Crane does to make his sounds, other than he uses tapes. I’m not sure if he records tapes himself to use or if he’s just really into cassettes and collects and samples them. Either way, he’s definitely the only guy doing whatever it is that he does.
Meanwhile on the other side, Horse Head back the tape with five tracks of weirdo boogie slop/romp/stomp. Originally, upon initial listen I picked Non-horse as the winner of the Horse match-up but I’m not so sure any more. The HH charm has been growing on me with each successive listen. It sounds like they’re operating in a trio format(?) Loping drums, jammin’ laze bass and a dirty axe. And vocals, with only the slightest hint of derangement. Each track has it’s own title and all that—well, to be honest, one is untitled—but I like the way they all lock into kind of one long five part track. Favorite parts are when the rhythm section gets groovin’ and speeds up/slows down at will, anytime the guitar takes a “solo”, and trying to figure out what the unintelligible vocals/lyrics are all about. I’m not that great with comparisons but this has a bit of that early 90’s slacker thing going on, as well as kind of a Wipers vibe but carefree and in love with life. Like if Wipers woke up on the right side of the bed every morning. So the Horse Split has what every self-respecting split release has going for it, two radically great sides that make you want to just flip back and forth without listening to anything else. Maybe next time around we’ll get a Non-Horse Head collabo tape, that’d really up the ante.
So, JK Tapes man. Two seriously great entries this early in its life, make it one to keep an eye on. Plus, Peter is super hardworking, dropping batches of twelve at a time, and keeping the prices insanely low (generally $3-6 postpaid!). Most of the catalog is sold out already I think (including that wicked Slow Listener tape which was gone in a flash) but I’d check around distros for copies of stuff. The Horse Split is still in action straight from the label but its ltd. to 100 so hurry if you want one. There are a bunch of other great looking things there too, like the JK double cassette comp and a Tan Dollars tape (a Horse Head side project of sorts) and so on. So anyway, seriously watch out for this one man wrecking crew/label cause he’s probably got a lot more up his sleeve that he’s not telling us about. I’ve got a batch of 3 JK cd-rs to still talk about as well.
By the way, the Slow Listener tape is packaged rather minimally but the A-side is sealed with wax which is cool. The Horse Split is packaged in one of those mini-Disney type cases with an insert with a drawing of a diamond, coins and a pipe and sprayed orange tapes with neat labels. Check ‘em out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Family Underground – Chill at Will: August West Coast Tour 2007 [Into the Lunar Night]

I’m not exactly sure what to call this cause there is a title on the CD-r, a title on the insert and a title that comes up when you put it in a computer and they’re all a bit different so I improvised and made a little mashup of the three. Anyhow, I saw Family Underground up in Seattle the other night (damn Portland and it’s penchant for cool but 21+ venues), it was a great show and they were all really nice people. I picked up this little baby at the merch table the minute I showed up because a) Family Underground are awesome 2) It’s a limited edition tour CD-r that I would probably never see again and lastly, cause it’s generally kinda tough to get a hold of stuff on FU’s Into the Lunar Night label and now I’ll have at least one release to my name before I die. Oh yeah, the other reason is Salt of the Sun totally ruled so I wanted to hear more of their recent output. So now that I needlessly justified giving 5 bucks to a bunch of really talented and deserving people, I’ll start the review.
Chill at Will (which is what I’ll call the record from now on, just cause I like it the best of the titles) has two 27 minute live recordings. “Live Copenhagen May 2007” goes first and the family wastes no time getting going. They set off blazing black astral jet streams through the night air. FU appear to be using the unique three-pronged attack I observed the other night. Nicolas is pushing heavy e-bowed guitar drones through a jungle of pedals, Sara is whipping up a cloud of drones/noise of her own with a suitcase full of electric gadgets and last, but certainly not least, Jesper is jammin’ on guitar with propulsive stabbing action which acts more like percussion adrift in the fierce sea of hum rather than the usual guitar sustain that’s typically at home in drone music. I know, using guitar as a rhythmic instrument in a drone band?! These guys are constant innovators. Elsewhere in the track, there is some insane psychedelic bend/slide action that stretches out for a portion of time before a new rougher noise storm starts raining down on the track’s dense menagerie of loops and feedback. Awesome.
Moving chronologically, we come to “Live Bruxelles June 2007” which begins rather quietly. A chorused drone (I’m going for the record, most “drone”s in a single review) and a short loop of what sounds like an isolated car revving up. Soon after, a thick bit of grey gauze wraps itself all over the proceedings, and the tension is jacked up into the, impossible to perceive, 1000% range. Even a really loud incidental/accidental bottle clinking can’t kill the mood. They creep like death, slowly unfolding their sorcery and you’re helplessly under its spell, the Family comes for your souls on this one. I can’t imagine what the audience was like experiencing this live—probably mesmerized, jaws dropped, that sort of thing. Amidst vocal murk, there almost shrieking trills of feedback (I think) but it’s pretty rad cause it almost sounds a choral sample or something like that. There is also an-old-computer-modem-pitched-three-octaves-up type sound that comes in for a little bit later and surprisingly (at least to me) it works pretty well with the heavy low-end frequency population. The last five minutes are pretty great too cause the band begins, ever so slightly, to bend the frame and dismantle it into a beautiful scrap heap. This is up there with some of the best Family Underground stuff, as well as their contemporaries’ best stuff too.
As far as I know, this is tour only which is a bummer for those who couldn’t/can’t make it out to one of their shows. So if you’re going to one of their rad upcoming gigs in L.A. with wretched yetis, Robedoor, or another one of their dates; do yourself a favor and snag yourself a copy the moment you arrive. If you went to one of their previous shows and didn’t pick it up (what’s wrong with you?!) or the Family cats didn’t come through your town, then I suggest you start writing every label you can think of and ask real nicely for a reissue. It’d make a great tape.

Go here for the remaining tour dates

Friday, August 10, 2007

Burnt Hills – Cloud Nine [Tape Drift]

So here’s the deal, Burnt Hills is a collective hailing from upstate New York who get together each week to jam out 100% improvised madness and host/play shows in a basement. On this recording, there are nine people—though apparently it ranges from four to fourteen—four of which spend time behind a drum kit, seven who spend time wailing on axes of destruction and Mike K., the lone bass slinger. (I realize that doesn’t add up to nine and sort of defies natural law, but, you see, that’s just what these guys do!) This a line-up so tremendously loony, so perversely awesome, so crushingly splendiferous, it makes be wonder why it took the human race so long to devise it. Thank the heavens that the brave souls that pilot the S.S. Burnt Hills push the record button every once in a while, so those outside the one mile blast radius can still hear the ruckus, even if it’s only in our headphones.
Anyhow, this record is called Cloud Nine, out on the recently formed Tape Drift label. The first of seven untitled tracks (from what I can tell, this is all one long piece divided up seven ways) opens with a few seconds of aimless jamming kinda like playing three Lambsbread records at the same time, but then, unlike most Lambsbread stuff, the jam starts going somewhere and it’s all the more awesome for it. This thing seriously sounds like a train. It is like a bunch of people got together and listened to a field recording of a train and covered it with instruments. It’s relentless, heaving, rumbling from afar and if you pay attention there is lots of buzzing and feedback and shred-offs. There is a real depth to the recording, which is probably because there are nine fucking people playing guitar!
The dudes playing drums must be American Gladiators cause they just keep on rollin’, keeping the band in a perpetual state of motion without taking so much as a breather. In my experience I’ve found that drumming can make or break a noise rock record, and here with four people playing, stakes is high. The drummers play really well with each other, all locking into the collective groove and don’t try to do too much or show off. They ain’t no robots though, they change up patterns often enough, throwing in little tom tom flourishes or cymbal work. The third track is an excellent example of the wicked drumming—as is the final, drums only track. The guitar drops back a bit, sustaining some and allowing the percussion folks to do their thing.
The next couple tracks see the guitarists getting a little more wild and unhinged (and even Mike K. slams a riff in there) and the drummers holding down the polyrhythmic fort. It is really easy to get lost in this recording and that’s without it being hazy or dreamy in the slightest. First, you get baptized in the cacophony and then zone out to the groove.
Burnt Hills navigate noise rock wreckage with ease and, more importantly, a beat. It’s hard to believe with as many people jammin’ as there are, that the whole thing stays coherent and in tune. There is definitely something special being brewed down in that basement of theirs. I do wish the guitars were a bit louder in the mix but that’s a small grumble.
So that rounds out the first three Tape Drift cd-rs. What I liked is that each release is pretty different and neat in its own little way. Like Century Plants and (VxPxC), Burnt Hills has a bunch of releases lined up, including ones on overseas heavy hitters QBICO, Ruralfaune and Ruby Red. So pick up Cloud Nine and warn Europe, cause Burnt Hills will probably leave it more ravaged than World War Two.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

(VxPxC) - Lizard in the Spring [Tape Drift]

Los Angeles’s (VxPxC) have been blowin’ up hardcore this year, with releases on Abandon Ship, Foxglove, Digitalis, Dead Sea Liner, Leaf Trail, Phantom Limb, Buried Valley, Burial Mound Tapes and now, Tape Drift. (dig that sly bury/tape transistion?) They’ve been getting great press, selling out releases left and right and doin’ that (VxPxC) thing that they do so well. Now I haven’t met them or nothing but it seems like such acclaim couldn’t be bestowed upon a better bunch of guys. Tim, Grant and Justin supposedly get together every week and play music just cause they dig it so much, which gets them gold stars in my book—not to mention, explaining the impossibly steady stream of releases coming from the (VxPxC) tent.
After throwing on Lizard in the Spring some sweet sounds creep into yr ears immediately. The opening track, “Heated Temples” sets the bar high with a Sleeping Babies-esque bout of hovering keyboard drone, otherworldly female (or male falsetto?) vocals, sporadic percussion and a twinkling glockenspiel and harmonica outro. Wistful and wonderful. “Sidewalk Melter” continues with vibes and delay-effected guitar duetting while a second guitar wrangles some lurking feedback. At some point, percussion and seemingly inebriated vocals enter and the whole thang gets groovin’ while guitar and harmonica slide in and out. A brief ten second organ outro ends the affair most lovingly. It’s only two tracks in and it’s already contender for best (VxPxC) yet. “Summergirls” rounds out the heat theme titled trilogy. It features an off kilter arrangement of viol(a/in), organ and a squirty sounding synth or oscillator. Though initially strange, it actually works really well, the violin/organ make an excellent drone duo. That only lasts for about three minutes though. The track changes up and gets really foggy and dense, with the occasional clip of guitar or harmonica or vocal or keys sliding out in front. “Summergirls” actually reminds me quite a bit of GHQ, though less solemn and, maybe a bit more playful. “Scurrying Stones” is the weirdest song on here thus far. For a while it gets kung fu on yr ass with weird percussing and gonging, and then it gets weirder when it gets kinda poppy. Two guitars start rocking a rhythm/lead relationship backed by a skittering percussion loop. Harmonica continues it’s supporting role throughout the record and riffs over the guitar simmer. The inevitable epic banger comes next and it’s called “Praying for the Regurgitation”, and it sounds like the classic revelation/epiphany scene music from a 90’s movie where the guy/girl realizes he/she loves the guy/girl—only spread out for 13 psychedelic minutes. It seems to be mostly a glistening keyboard/guitar festivity, which sounds good to my ears. The guys show themselves to be masters of improv here, sustaining the same sparkling idea/sound while stretching it into different places at the same time. A few tape manipulations conclude the track and it slides into the closer “In Day’s Light”, which goes about pulling an ascending float to the heavens in only 3 minutes. Quite a feat, if you ask me.
This is woozy music, woozy I tell ya, the whole album is one big woozefest and I’m lovin’ it. (VxPxC) has a wonderful knack for sounding groggy but actually being totally on their game. I’m not sure what it is or how they do it, but they sure get it done with style. My poor attempt at metaphor goes as such, Lizard in the Spring is a friendly old man suffering from dementia, telling you dirty jokes and singing made-up hymns in ear with the pure, selfless intention of bringing a smile to your face. Does that help? Probably not. I guess yr just gonna have to listen for yourself.
Now, I haven’t heard all of this year’s (VxPxC) releases but I have heard a few, and I think that Lizard in the Spring is my pick so far. That could very well change over the next couple months when the guys drop another thousand releases; for now though, I am content to bask in its glory (like a lizard in the spring?)
Still available direct from the label, but I’d move quick because it's limited to 100 and (VxPxC) brand merchandise has been selling out increasingly quickly as of late.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Century Plants – Sound System Sound [Tape Drift]

This is the first installment of a week of Tape Drift reviews or what I’ve taken to calling: “Tape Drift reviews week”. Tape Drift is a new label out of upstate New York, and it has recently released its first batch of releases. In order of catalogue number, there is the subject of this review, Lizard in the Spring by (VxPxC), and Cloud Nine by Burnt Hills. Despite the label name, all three releases are CD-rs (I guess ‘CD-r Drift’ doesn’t have the same ring to it… bad joke, I know. Don’t rub it in.) and they are classily(? What is the adverb there?) packaged CD-rs at that. Each comes in a square slimline snapcase with a full color wraparound cover, release info and a paper doodad (band logo or info) of some sort pasted on the inside of the case. So anyway, they all look real nice but they ain’t nothin’ without the sounds, right? Luckily for the whole world the sounds within are pretty rad as well.
Sound System Sound is the debut release by Century Plants, who is a guitar duo of Eric Hardiman (dude who runs the label) and Ray Hare (dude who plays guitar in Century Plants). It runs through two tracks in about an hour’s time. The first, “Glass”, begins with some tremwah-ed guitar strums and shards of feedback and stays rather minimal for about half the tracks time. Then things start comin’ together, and real nicely too. Distorted drones and plenty of feedback debris start blasting out of the speakers and ride the xpressway to yr skull. There is a particularly harsh onslaught coming from one of the axemasters that erupts and pushes the whole thing over the top as if there weren’t enough heaving frequencies already zapping yr braincells. I also really dig that in the final minutes of this mayhem one of the dudes stops raging and starts jamming a little pretty arpeggio until the end. A nice little curve ball, before the whole thing grinds to a halt in a colossal feedback swell. So yeah, my mind is blown and the damn CD isn’t even halfway over.
The last track “Glue” opens with a rhythmic drone (kinda like banging on yr guitar while it’s feeding back) and continues the rhythmicness of the situation by one dude playing notes in pseudo-patterns and the other chap doing some feedback levitation and other magic tricks. They flirt with bludgeoning you but always leave just enough breathing room to ensure yr survival. The track builds to a slight but noisy crescendo and then retreats backs to a fizzy guitar drone lull, refueling for the next attack. Again they flirt with ripping your head off and with high pitched guitar shrapnel punching holes in the sonic fabric and before long instantaneously disappearing, only to reappear again to shred some more. I generally don’t read too much into titles, but “Glass” and “Glue” fit their respective audio counterparts pretty well. “Glass” is much more fractured and clattering while “Glue” retains a similar idea throughout the track, though it is stretched and manipulated, and absorbs all the incidental noise that arises into its mass.
I’m a sucker for guitar duos and the C-Plants (it’s gonna catch on, just you wait) are definitely a nice addition to the canon, not only cause they’re good but because I haven't really heard anyone else do it quite like they do. I’m reminded a bit of Gabriel Mindel Saloman’s guitarwork and there are a few times that Hototogisu comes to mind but Century Plants are much more elastic in nature; rather than building layers upon layers of dense noise, there is a refreshing looseness to their music where no one sound sticks around for long or at least not in the same way. The C-Plant style is a constant tug-o-war between construction and collapse, and what happens when two people refuse to commit to either. I will say, though, that the tracks are both a bit long and take a while to get to where they're going but that is kind of the nature of improvised sound, so, it’s not really a criticism, just a note.
Century Plants just saw their second release Fingers come out on Phantom Limb, and I have, on very good authority, that it sounds way different than this release so I’m hooked. Rumor is they got plenty more comin’ on Abandon Ship, MYMWLY, Cut Hands and Peasant Magik. Awww, our little tykes are growin’ up so fast, it just seemed like an hour ago I started listening to their debut release—though considering they thank Guy Picciotto in the liner notes, I’d venture to say they already made the big time. So Tape Drift is one for one so far, with some heavy hitters on deck, based on the strength of this one you may wanna slide on over to their site already. And considering each release is limited to twin editions of 50 (which is a like a single edition of 100, I’m guessing?), make it snappy.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Quetzolcoatl – Up and Down Dream Valley Thruway [American Grizzly]/Quetzolcoatl – Living [Leaf Trail]

It’s that time again. Which in case you don’t know exactly which “time” I am talking about (cause apparently there’s a lot of them); it is, of course, time for me to rave about more newish Quetzolcoatl releases. This time its two cd-rs, one from Missouri’s quite cool American Grizzly label and the other from Tim Hurley’s (a.k.a. Quetzolcoatl) new Leaf Trail label in Ireland. Both look and sound resplendent as I’ve come to expect from this project.
Up and Down Dream Valley Thruway is probably the most varied Quetzolcoatl album I’ve heard to date and also one of the best. “River is a Killer Brother” features the rare occurrence of a backbeat, minimal and slightly irregular, but a backbeat nonetheless. The track has a real nice contrast of ethereal vocals and a chaotic jumble of different rhythmic loops and sounds. When this idea of combining disparate elements is tried sometimes the result is disjointed or ill-fitted; not here though, the track feels cohesive even with it’s slightly fractured rhythm. “Links Awakening” kicks out the hypno-dreaminess with mounds of vocals heaped upon a gently flowing keyboard loop. It’s a very lush and full sounding track and an excellent addition to Quetzolcoatl’s burgeoning back catalog of hypnotizers. More dreaminess comes with “Golden Sun”. The track is pretty simple there is a shimmering background loop underneath a vocal refrain so pretty you can’t even zone out to it. “Totem Mountain” is less blissful but no less magnificent. A melancholy choir of vocal loops drifts through until a clanging percussive loop begins grinding away and a heavy drone begins swelling all around everything meeting with brief tribal drumming. It all blurs into the sound emanating from a faraway spirit ritual just out of sight. The title track is the most aggressive I’ve heard the Quetzolcoatl project get. It still has the signature heavily reverbed sound but there are faster, rougher loops circulating and a lot more distortion and feedback coursing through its veins. It’s not harsh but it is certainly blasted, or maybe blasting is a better descriptor. Either way, it’s a nine minute rocket ride up and down dream valley thruway. “Bloody Paw Prints” is the epic closer and is the murkiest cut on the album. It’s a pretty good mind zoner, if a little bit long. The vocals aren’t laid on as thickly and the grumbling field recordings come through a bit more, making it a little woozy almost. It’s nice, slight change-up to end the album on. I’m really impressed with the balance between sonic variation and consistency here; despite tweaking the approach each time out, the album still pretty much feels like one fantastic whole. The foldout artwork comes with a few hints as to how Tim makes his sounds. Vocals, keyboards, a floor tom and field recordings from Australia and Hong Kong are listed as instruments so there’s a piece of the puzzle. I still don’t how he is able to pull those elements into a thing of such beauty, but I'm better off not knowing and just listening I’m sure.
Though the various approaches in Up and Down Dream Valley Thruway cohered well, Living moves much more like a single whole to my ears. There are 10 tracks that fly by in a 59 minute blisstrip. This isn’t to say that each track sounds the same or anything like that—Living also features new approaches, such as the most lucid piano I’ve ever heard on a Quetzolcoatl record—but the recording feels like a complete body and you barely notice one track changing from another. It’s harder to pick out specific favorite moments because they blur together so well (and pretty much every moment is just as incredible as the last). The first two tracks are both 6-7 minutes in length and work really well in tandem. The first track peacefully basks in rays of heavenly light, calming and euphoric. THis serenity gives way to the ecstatic on the second track, vibrant sounds abound, filling your mind, and it features some of Tim’s best vocal work yet. It’s really magnificent, it goes beyond even singing, he’s communicating, not through words or language but through pure feeling. Emotion is just pouring out of him. I don’t know, I’m not doing a very good job explaining it. That’s not surprising really, cause I’m not even sure if Tim Hurley himself could adequately describe it through mere words, which is why it’s music in the first place and not words. Don’t you just dig circular logic? Moving on. The sixth track is another highlight. Beginning with somewhat sparse splashes of piano and gradually, a lovely sea of sound runs into it, filling in all the crevices with gently flowing voice and pools of ethereal piano mist. The following track continues with a wash of piano and spiraling vocal loops and is concluded with what sounds to my ears like the track being manipulated with a wah pedal. Making the pair a perfect one, two punch; though it’s the softest, most mind-expanding punch you’ll ever receive. This thing is a free flowing tapestry (did I say that in my last Quetzolcoatl review?). Its title suits it perfectly, the music on this disc is vital and completely alive.
Each release features neat manipulated nature photography artwork by Tim himself. Also, Living’s hand painted (water colored?) cd-r comes in an oversized (I’d say about 6x6) plastic slipcase, which I really like a lot cause the artwork is bigger, and an insert. I am not sure if this is how all Leaf Trail releases are done or just this one in particular, but I like it. Both releases are excellent, I really like Dream Valley cause it shows the different sides of the project and Living sounds to me almost like a continuance of the brilliant Vast Eternity Bridges tape, so if you dig that or missed it grab this one. Bad news is Up and Down Dream Valley Thruway has been long sold out but there may be a few copies lounging at a distro somewhere, or maybe Tim might even have a copy. If you can grab it though, do it. Highly recommended. However, yr still in luck with Living. There are still copies readily available from Leaf Trail and various distros. With upcoming releases by Ghost Brames, Ixchel and a double album by Bonecloud (I can’t stop talking about it!) Leaf Trail is looking like it’s gonna to be a force to be reckoned with. I recommend getting in on the ground floor.