Sunday, September 30, 2007

Elephant Kiss – Introduce: Red Cat Green Cat [JK Tapes]/Loopool – Spells [JK Tapes]

Alright, so here we have another installment of JK Tapes madness. This time both acts hail from Pacific Northwest outpost (and AuxOut HQ) Seattle, WA. The first is a short tape by arcade pop duo Elephant Kiss which I know next to nothing about and then a one-sided cassette from weird dude/palindroner Loopool a.k.a. Jean-Paul Garnier, who’s had many bizarre releases on Not Not Fun, Sycophanticide and others. I didn’t really know what to expect going in for either of these because I’d never heard EK before, and because Loopool seems to pretty much refuse to do anything similar to his past sonic explorations. The Elephant Kiss packaging was recognized as killer immediately though.
On the insert, Tiffany and Kyle command me “know us!!”, so I guess that’s as good a place as any to start. Kyle deals in drum machines, toys and keyboard, while Tiffany exclusively plays a gameboy. And they both take part in singing, doubling each other virtually all the time. You know that brilliant line in This is Spinal Tap when David St. Hubbins says “It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever.” Well that comes to mind a bit here. Not really a clever/stupid thing, but more like a catchy/annoying line. Because for cool tracks like “Rock and Roll Lazer Land Grocery Store” or “Float Away” there is “Super Magic Bicycles”. For the most part I’d say this tape falls on the catchy side, but it’s still walking a pretty fine line. Musically speaking, I’d say Elephant Kiss is pretty solid, there are a few keyboard lines and beepbeeps here and there that miss the mark, but it’s a jaunty spree of lo-fi electropop. What it really comes down to is the vocals. It’s not so much a problem that their voices are pretty tuneless, but the fact that their delivery is so flat. They sound totally bored and uninspired through most of the tape, and not even in an interesting manner. However, on the exquisite and woefully short “Float Away” their boredom instead sounds discouraged and depressingly inspired and the vocals are actually a strong addition to the sad/pretty melodies that make up rest of the track. The best track on the first side, “Rock and Roll Lazer Land Grocery Store”, is propelled by a buoyant, pulsing synth bass line and cool keyboard counterpoint melodies galore. It’s a groovy jam, worth many repeat plays, and the lyrics are about making a grocery list or something which I imagine some people would find to be entertaining. The final track and default epic is “Cat Lives”, while the elephant kissers say a bunch of nonsense about dance parties, rescue balloons and cat power (not Chan Marshall I don’t think), they move from catchy twinkling bee-boopy beats to catchy casio crunk beats and back again.
I feel as though I’ve been a bit too rough, because even the weaker tracks still have some redeemable elements and if you dig electropop type stuff you will probably be into this. I’d make the comparison of a jumpier, way lo-fi/less emo version of fellow northwesters The Blow. And what the hell, I’ll also throw a weird suggestion out there, maybe Elephant Kiss should hook up with an emcee; Seattle is full of them, they just need to find a forward thinking one. EK already knows how to make groovy trax, they just need someone who knows how to groove over them. They’d probably sound like a little like Food For Animals, but cute and disarming instead of rabid. Anyway, just a thought. This tape is worth picking up for its sweet costume though, pink hand made cloth slipcase with screen printed octopus artwork and sparkly flap/cape.
I think I’ve mentioned before that one thing I do not dig is musick based around creepy vocals, and, well, that’s kinda just what this Loopool tape is. However, I’m a professional and I’m going to do the best job describing it as I can, despite my predisposition. The first track “At Least One Thing in Common” is based around a pulsing synth loop and chattering electronic programming. Garnier also chatters away himself, spewing forth a steady stream-of-conscious/free-association/whatever bit of rambling speech about “learning processes”. The second track “Be Shamed” is pretty minimal and its near impossible to make out what Garnier is saying. “For You” has a bit more antagonistic vibe though. Lots of swishing waves of sound in the background, and pretty backing vocals by Alexandra Crockett, create a strange but compelling bit of sonic space. Garnier’s vocals are supersloshed and manipulated this time around which adds to the general weird, mysterious factor of the track. “Become God” glides along on bass swells and nothing more, and it’s actually one of the musically most compelling moments on the tape. Things get a little hazy after this. Closer, “I Want My Mother Back”, comes next, starkly different than the previous track. Between all the clanging and waves of fuzz cascading into each other, there is little space left open. It actually sounds really great in contrast to the mostly minimal atmosphere of the rest of the tape. Then it drops out leaving the bassline and a pitched down version of vocals from the previous track. Weird, man. The tape comes with watercolored labels on both sides despite its one-sidedness and also an oversize, folded up lyrics sheet that was spilling out of the case, so you have all the craziness/philosophy recorded in textual form too. These tapes are all sold out though, at source at least. Give this a shot, if yr interested.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Schofield/Jarvis – Near Field Hypnosis [FrstPrsn]/Slow Listener – Bruise Journal [FrstPrsn]/Xochipilli – Aircoquocces of the Arc Tones [FrstPrsn]

AuxOut is back from its extended hiatus, fiiinnnalllyy. I’m sure you enjoyed ogling at all the pretty ladies on that Kevin Shields CD cover for the past couple weeks though. Anyhow, I am back with half of the newest batch from UK’s First Person label (abbreviated in the review title due to Bloggers lame limit on the amount of characters in the title; yr holding be back Blogger!). First Person, in case you don’t know, is run by Andy Jarvis and he rolls exclusively with 3inch CD-rs in transparent acetate slipcases. The label is 45 releases deep and has put out stuff by Uton, Amber Lions, Ben Reynolds, Ashtray Navigations, Neil Campbell, Taiga Remains, Voice of the Seven Woods and the list goes on and on. These three however come from Jarvis himself in collaboration with John Schofield, overnight sensation Slow Listener, and yet another Florian Tositti project Xochipilli.
Starting with the lowest catalogue number is Near Field Hypnosis. I'm sorry to say that I know absolutely zero about either of these guys musical pasts. First of the three tracks here, “An Arc”, is full of hovering fuzzy motion. It moves at a slow place that would almost feel floaty if the sound wasn’t so dense. There is digital twinkling and occasionally piercing shards of feedback punching holes through the muck and pretty soon it segues into the next track “A Line”, continuing the geometric theme. A good portion of the track is a guitar fuzzed 2 tha maxx and loops of different sounds kind of orbiting around it. More loops are slowly added, including some nice ones towards the end which I think came from a keyboard and maybe tapping on some percussive item. The epic finale, “A Full Stop” swells gradually, as the prior track fades. This one is somewhat similar in style to “A Line” but ups the eeriness to a considerable degree with some not-quite-scraping metallic sounds circling the drowning dual guitars like vultures. At some point though, the guitars’ sludge steadily expands, almost masking the other sounds and seeping into all remaining sonic space to rad effect. I’m having trouble putting my finger on the Schofield/Jarvis “sound”, some of it sounds a little like tense “mood” music employed in some films and the last track had a bit of Earth/doom influence in it’s dynamics but a different kind of aesthetic. So I guess if yr into fuzzcrawls and other strange clatter, this disc is certainly worth checking out.
Next up is Bruise Journal by Slow Listener a.k.a. Robin Dickinson, one supplier of the Curor label. You may remember a while back, I fell head over heels for the Slow Listener JK tape, I think I called it “lovely zombie murk” or something to that effect. This one has bit different, rougher, less expansive sound to it, part of which I attribute to its digital format. There also appears to be less looping going on, but maybe I just can’t pick them all out. I might apply the term “roughnecking drone” here (which I totally stole from some place I can’t remember). Distorted drones are manipulated almost in a way like kneading dough (that pops into my mind for some reason) and gather intensity. Around a third of the way through everything coalesces into a sweet climactic thicket of overtones and with a blink of an eye it’s all gone, replaced by a single high pitched tone. Come on Robin, give me a minute to bask in the splendor before you move on to a new idea. Thanks :) The next part of the track moves pretty slowly (I guess that’s the operative word today) but has a much fuller aesthetic than the first part. It sounds really nice but I wish it got a bit more active. While, this one didn’t blow me away the way the tape did, it’s still a decent entry and I’m definitely looking forward to new SL stuff. Speaking of new SL stuff, he has a Tape Drift CD-r on the way, and his lauded Peasant Magik tape I missed out on is being reissued too. I'm looking forward to those and I advise you to do the same.
I remember downloading a rip of some self-released hyper-limited Xochipilli tape. I also remember it being pretty killer though I don’t remember why. No need to say I was looking forward to this, which I believe is Xochipilli’s first release on a label and second release overall. As I alluded to earlier, Xochipilli is Florian Tositti (Ghost Brames/Capricorn Wings, Heads of Pagan, The Reggaee etc.) and Antoine Clemot, and I think it may be my favorite of Tositti-related projects. Aircoquocces of the Arc Tones is split pretty cleanly into two tracks, the first “Aircoquocces” begins with a heavily autopanned vocal loop and is eventually augmented by rather unadulterated field recordings of wildlife and a strange percussive rustling. The track takes off when a buoyant acoustic guitar begins strumming stridently. Pretty soon the guitar takes a backseat to some French sing/chanting and homing beacon type sounds. The thing that I like about the piece is that even through each element comes through very clearly, each element clouds the other a little bit. Despite working with so many jagged edges, Tositti and Clemot are able to fit everything together pretty damn well. Meanwhile, the guitar comes back for a bit along with some spacey oscillatorwork. The track ends at its most bizarre with some sampled vocal is thrown into the restless cacophony. Other than the vocals get a bit too breathy for my tastes, the track is pretty great. Though, the real jam here is “Cyuti” (perhaps pronounced like 'cutie'?). It’s a bit murkier than its predecessor, where the strange noises are wrapped in a coarse blanket of drone. There is a muffled bass drum type sound that sounds like a really heavy heartbeat. The pace quickens and other layers of slightly irregular rhythm emerge and the track actually gets really movin'. I’m confused too because neither guy is credited to percussion, so I guess they must be field recordings or something. The thick droniness is really excellent too, subtle, but also lightly melodic and there is a slow but constant shifting of sounds rather than a static drone... Then at the end you hear a sheep ‘baah’ing and the animals come back chattering. Uh, it’s weird man. But totally sweet too. I didn’t even realize it but I was taken on a journey through the fuzzy marsh to some French farm I’ll never go to otherwise. And I thought I was just gonna be jammin’ some tunes...
So anyhow, really diggin’ on that Xochipilli one, hope that unit stays active and puts out some more tapes. The Schofield/Jarvis and Slow Listener entries were nice enough too. As mentioned, the CD-rs come in clear slipcases with the artwork/info printed right on them. I digging the Slow Listener educational coloring book style artwork the most of this bunch. As far as I know, all are still available at the label, along with the other half of the batch (Ys Trys, Ghost of the Octopus and Culver). And if yr in the UK, you get free shipping so check em out.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Kevin Shields – The Death of Patience [Deathbomb Arc/EMR/Entropic Tarot]/Foot Village – Fuck the Future [Deathbomb Arc/ExBx Tapes/NGWTT/olFactory]

Now that the awesome folks over at Animal Psi have beaten me to the punch (I was not expecting such a sneaky Labor Day weekend update), I am here to REALLY give you no excuse not to pick Kevin Shields’ newest, The Death of Patience. It’s a first rate scorcher to be sure. Also joining Kevin is the good people of Foot Village, whose Fuck the Future CD came out last year and compiles various out of print releases. They both come courtesy of super nice/apparently a tad bit crazy Brian Miller, purveyor of Deathbomb Arc and the oh-so-rad Cassette Gods site. So now that I’ve bludgeoned you with a million names, I’ll let miss Kevin Shields bludgeon me into sweet sonic submission and then let the Foot Village just straight up bludgeon me to a bloody, baffled pulp.
Kevin Shields, in my humble expert opinion, is one of the raddest names you could give a musical project. And hey, a rad name is half the battle, right? Well, no. But it does help sometimes. Eva Aguila doesn’t need any though, so all the points she gets for the name are bonus ones. Anyway, now that yr probably confused out of yr mind, it’s a perfect place to start talking about The Death of Patience. I’ve been listening to this thing a lot since receiving it, and this baby is HARSH. The album starts in classic bait and switch mode, with a few twee keyboard notes then promptly murders yr brain with roughly one and a half billion daggers of white noise. It’s dense and visceral and, just, wow. Aguila really knows how to build a track. It’s very well paced, well composed and becomes increasingly interesting as it moves along rather than vice versa. I’m not exactly sure what she’s using here but there is mondo amounts of feedback and it sounds like she’s manipulating it with delay pedals and probably a bunch of other things. Though even minus the musical merits, the track would be impressive for its pure force alone. “Nothing’s Never Ending” travels along steamrolling everything in site, until a start/stop static breakdown and then all of a sudden there is a totally lucid drum machine and keyboard duet. What the hell? Is this what she has been riffing on this whole time and we just couldn’t catch it through the fuzz? I don’t know. But she ain’t content to just let the duo serenely waltz off, she whips up another sonic windstorm before the tracks end. Maybe my favorite track on here, “Apparently” is quite though subtly rhythmic. Layers upon layers of jumpy, crackling sound. The track sounds like your house (or yr skull maybe) is being ripped apart. Walls are crumbling, electrical outlets are spewing a thousand sparks a minute, you used to be in yr cozy bed on the second floor but now yr in the basement crushed under piles of plaster and wrecked floorboards. Yr being swallowed up into the Earth as everything caves in around you. Abruptly yr shot back into real life as the track ends. Intense, to say the least. “Catholic Guilt” riffs on a sequenced synth loop, a pitchshifted almost rave-like kickdrum sound joins in before tape squeal breaks things momentarily. Then things get going like those rollercoaster cranks that pull you up the hill but, you know, run through hundreds of distortion pedals. The whole thing just builds and builds, occasionally giving you a moment to catch your breath. There are so many things going on in this poisonous fog, various rhythmic loops of stuttered screeches, pitch manipulations, undulating noise unguent at seemingly every possible frequency. It’s like taking a drop of pond water and examining it under a microscope, and seeing the endless amounts of life forms that reside there. The closer, “Bless You” (aww, how polite) is another favorite and centers itself around a percussive loop which plays out untouched for awhile at the beginning until Eva brings da noize hot and heavy. A few reviews and things I’ve read about Kevin Shields’ music makes reference to cold or icy things which doesn’t make sense to me. This is a fucking firestorm! Most of the heaviest moments on the record reside here. There are some thoroughly devastating sounds to be had here. Totally savage but totally under control. Moving with, around and sometimes just obliterating the beat. The last couple minutes segue into an infinitely echoing bit of ‘xylophone setting’ keyboardwork. Each of the five tracks was recorded in a different place but Brian Miller did an excellent job with the mastering, keeping a continuous consistent “sound” to the album (not to say Aguila had no part in that though). This thing really is intensity in 10/2 cities—sorry, I’ve got to meet my daily lame joke quota. Hototogisu have always been the titans of harsh, dense noise, in my mind. But it looks like Kevin Shields has made a place right up there along side them. My ears are on all things Aguila now.
In case you have yet to hear, the D.L. Hughley on Foot Village is drums, drums, drums and crazed singalongs too. There is at least one drum kit and then all sorts of other kinds of percussive tools. The other thing is that most tracks are named after a place i.e. “Brazil” and the Village is fond of shouting the title at the beginning of each track. Foot Village falls somewhere between interesting sonic experience for the listener and what was probably a really fun sonic experience for the players. What I like about the percussive only attack is that, although there is no melodic instrument or melody being purposely performed, occasional melodies randomly emerge from the barrage of tones. The other thing that I am quite thankful for actually is that Foot Village knows how to play drums and plays them well. Whenever I hear about an all drum band, I can’t help but think of Burning Man-style drum circles which I am not down with. Anyhow, the Foot Villagers do a great job with various kinds of dynamic arrangements and just no-nonsense, bodyrockin’/bodyslammin’ beats. Which is a good thing because the vocal side of things has probably wayyy too much nonsense. Sometimes their words are so bizarre it nearly works (“World Fantasry” with the now deceased Weirdo Begeirdo) and sometimes their vomiting is so grating that it nearly hurts (“Egypt”). I’m not sure how things would sound if the album was strictly drums only, but at this point in my life at least, not feeling the vocals too much. As far as comparisons, I’m kinda lost. The group that is most like them in theory is Big A little a and, they do a little but Foot Village is just way more out there and deranged. They don’t really have too much in common with Taiko or other kinds of drum music that I know of, though I am certainly no drum scholar. The best thing I got for you is the double drummer line-up of Ettrick. (Now there’s an idea, a Foot Village/Ettrick collabo would be off the hook) FV and the Ettrick drum squad share the same wild-eyed fury and penchant for busting heads (at least drumheads). The most fish-outta-water entry here is a Pete Swanson remix of “Antartica” (which in it’s original version is one of the strongest tracks anyhow). It’s got some minimal Yellow Swans-esque droning a la Descension Yellow Swans or Drift Yellow Swans with cut-up, effect drum crashes spliced in. An interesting re-imagining of the FV sound. All in all, I’d say lose the vocals (or least make them less of the focus) and I’m totally on board. Otherwise, I really dig the rawness and blockrockin’ beats as I mentioned before, and that, love it or hate it, Foot Village has carved out their own weird little niche in the world (or their fantasy of it anyway.)
Both CDs are professionally packaged/pressed in jewelcases and the whole nine. As you can see both come with their own brand of weird/sweet cover art too. Oh yeah, Fuck the Future comes with lyrics?!?

**due to restrictions on the amount of characters in the post title, I had to abbreviate three label names, so EMR = Experimental Music Research, ExBx Tapes = Excite Bike Tapes and NGWTT = Nothing Gets Worse Than This. My apologies to those labels.