Thursday, October 30, 2008

Little Women – Teeth [Gilgongo]/Family Underground – Helium Rug [DNT]

These are a pair of one-sided LPs released by two of my favorite labels as of late.
Little Women is a Brooklyn quartet, composed of a drummer, guitarist, and two saxophonists (one alto and one tenor). From that descriptor, I would certainly get the impression they are a jazz-dominated affair, and jazz certainly makes an appearance on the record, but there’s a lot other styles that come to play here as well. I’ve rarely heard so much music crammed into 20 minutes. I don’t mean that quantitatively, like 30 songs in twenty minutes or something, but the sheer complexity and range the band exhibits over the course of this 20 minute take is fucking mind boggling.
Upon entry, I am immediately hurled into zany skronk shredding, after about 30 seconds in, until a great authoritative, marching melody materializes which lasts for, say, another 30 seconds. This leads to a sad, beautiful but brief bit of lilting sax before the guitar/drums jump back in and start blasting away. The duo of saxophones begin playing a great melody line, vaguely in unison before spiraling off in different directions. Sorry for the play by play, but man, they have so many ideas they run through at a breakneck pace, it’s the only way I can really keep up. There’s a brief bout of silence before the saxophones creep their way back in. I really like the use of doubling the saxophonists employ because it dually focuses their presence while also creating an intriguing volatility to the sounds they make. Things freak out for a while, until the guys settle on a groove. There’s a really great rubber band sax line that works well against the spy movie-inspired guitar melody. Things begin to break apart a little until another great guitar riff moves in, staying to salvage the bit of coherence experienced a minute before. The drums catch on and the drummer just fuckin’ tears shit up. His solo is incredible in how he manages to propel the track (along with the guitar) and remain impeccable rhythmically while going absolutely nuts. After a sax solo the drum/guitar part returns, everything is fused and the whole crew forms like Voltron. I’m half-expecting the stylus to spark and my whole apartment to go up in flames. The very last bit is bizarre with a bunch of weird vocalizations—I don’t know if they got possessed by demon spirits or moved to Finland mid-track or what but a strange beast overtakes the band until the end groove.
This thing is a tour de force. In my saltier moods I can be a bit critical of the one-sided LP format, because if you’re gonna buy or put out a one-sided LP, that side had better fucking slay and a lot them don’t. However, this one does! This is the one that all the amateur one-sided LPs out there looking to make it big need to model themselves on. I don’t even know if my brain could take another side to this monster. There’s so much great stuff to absorb just in these brief twenty minutes and the record continues to excite me more each time I play it.
Meanwhile, I hadn’t heard anything for a little while from Copenhagen’s Family Underground, certainly one my favorite drone acts ever, so it was good to see what these three have been up to. The first sound that jumps out of Helium Rug is a very metallic flickering of frequencies. I don’t know it for a fact but this sounds like live-style Family Underground—heavy vibrations and a non-drum but percussive presence (usually a guitar). I really like the percussive element here, there’s a looped pattern of hollow-sounding noises as well as a slashing metallic clanging which sounds to me like what a home-made hi-hat would sound like. After a minute or two the layers and layers of drones lock in with the groove and further, vocal-sounding layers are added. At some point the record hits a locked groove in middle, though I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not.
I’ve always liked that the Family use varying sound sources—guitars, pedals, vocals, other—and pull out very analogous, complementing sounds that all combine in a sweltering feast of noise. Most of their recent stuff I’m recalling had a pretty dense, round low-end tunneling quality but this piece has a bright tonal quality with a lot of rough edges. It’s like a garage drone band or something. Towards the end a pulsing bit of electronics pushes things along nicely and the piece has a rather modest but significant conclusion. This record is worth checking out if only for the documentation of this phase of their sound. They still sound undoubtedly “Family Underground” but this represents a contrast to the vibe of a lot of their other works in my opinion.
Helium Rug came out in an edition 299 and is sold out at source but I’m sure you could still scrounge up a copy somewhere with a little bit of effort. The art is great, and fitting for Family Underground, the cover is a screen printed clusterfuck of lines and the back has minimal info stamped in smeared metallic gold ink. Also the non-playable side of the LP is spray painted with neon crop circles or something. Teeth is still readily available from Gilgongo and definitely comes recommended. Mick Barr does the art which, oddly, fits the record really well. It comes with a sizable insert as well.

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