Saturday, November 29, 2008

Trapped in the Closet: Volume 1

This is the first of a "feature" I'll be doing--and stupidly calling "Trapped in the Closet". The basic idea is that over the year and a half I've been doing this, I have been sent so much great music, way more than I ever could have expected when I started, actually still pretty amazed people ever sent anything. Anyway, I play something from every package I receive on the show at some point but finding time to review everything is trickier. I started cleaning out the closet and looking through stuff I got but never actually reviewed. My apologies to all the labels/artists that sent stuff that I haven't gotten to. Hopefully, doing these periodically will help make up for it.
Diamond Lemonade – Diamond Lemonade [JK Tapes]
I’ll start things off nice and easy with this Diamond Lemonade cassette that came out on JK Tapes earlier in the year before the label closed its doors and rose from the ashes, phoenix-style, as the quarterback/space obsessed Young Tapes. Diamond Lemonade is Ulf Schütte, who knows a thing or two about labels with his Tape Tektoniks imprint. The sound source here, I’m guessing, is just bells or chimes but they are chopped, screwed and looped creating a constant flutter of frequencies. Things don’t change too much but the track zips off rather quickly, never outliving its welcome. The second piece is longer, and sounds similar but is much heavier on the murk factor. Tones rise and fall and flit around. There aren’t really “melodies”, per se, but through repetition and the overlapping, all the layers create weird little rhythms and pseudo-melodies, all concluding with vintage radio blips. Cool stuff, wish there was more here, though I remember seeing a Diamond Lemonade tape on Bread & Animals so I’ve got a hunch we’ll be hearing more from this project. Same jams on both sides.
Arklight – Welcome to the NHK Wasteland [Little Fury Things]
I was curious about this crew since I saw the name popping up across a bunch of very different kinds of labels. This disc showed up from NY label Little Fury Things and this disc is a mess in a good way. The title track evokes earlier Smog type stuff with sleepy monotone vocals and fuzzy guitar, and then lo and behold, a sample of “Bathysphere”, my favorite Smog song, kicks in. At first, I thought I somehow had two songs playing at once but nope. That track encapsulates the general sound of this CDr, if you can make the argument that the CDr has a “general sound.” “Store Lights” continues this blurry but propulsive style of bedroom rock. As far as I know this is a group, but sometimes it seems like just one dude sketching out any idea for a song that enters his mind. Maybe it is at times, or maybe everyone is just so connected it creates that vibe. Arklight, even in rock mode, walks a weird line between hooky chord changes and skronkiness, and finds it totally natural to switch to playing funk guitar riffs mid-song. “Cycle” switches up the style with heavy auto panning, filtered vocals and it’s driven by a drum machine-like beat and this weird sample/loop of electronic screeching. It all wraps up with 30 seconds of beautiful reversed guitar strums. “Wind Me in Grime” sets blues rock licks against a slow but pummeling drum machine (or is it live drumming?) and various effected sounds (one of which sounds like someone hammering). “Field of Motion” returns to that Wild Love-era Smog style but way more fractured/weird than Bill Callahan dared to get on that record. “Stolen Revolutions (Night Shuffles)” introduces a legitimately grooving drum pattern over which, various guitars and vocals float over. The potential is fully realized with the next track “Micro Mesh”, in which Arklight boldly wears its Miami Sound Machine influence on its sleeve. “Micro Mesh” is the best song on the record hands down and according to my girlfriend, “this song is awesome!” I’m inclined to agree. There’s a heavy Latin vibe here but that’s crossed with sitar runs and drones. The piece is propelled atop this short loop of electric piano, while acoustic guitar, delayed violin and vocal shouts are all introduced at different points. It’s a magical song. “Spit on a Queen” wanders along against twinkling keyboards until drum beats and organ loops come in, and maybe I’m psyching myself out but I think I’m hearing a U2 sample somewhere (a la “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”). I think my mind’s probably playing tricks. “The Plague Years” is the resident folk ballad here but it’s still got a heavy drum beat and creepy recorded-in-a-cave backing vocals. “Death has No Imperfections” is the counterpart to “Micro Mesh”; it’s totally grooving, busy as a city and brings back the sitar too. Welcome to the NHK Wasteland has 15 songs and not all of them stick but there’s plenty of good stuff here to make the album worthwhile. And I do like that the record feels like this guy’s/these guys’ brain put on a piece plastic. Still in print.
6majik9 – Ritualisimo Putrido [Music Your Mind Will Love You]
Of the handful of 6majik9 releases I’ve heard through the years this is the one that has best fulfilled the group’s potential. They seem to push things just to the precipice of totally falling apart. All sounds, percussive/melodic/amelodic, are scattered everywhere but each track, for the most part, feels entirely focused. The album is well paced, keeping everything moving along at a decent clip, letting the sounds stream by you and leaving it up to your ears catch them all. My favorite, the album opener, “No Sense Being” compresses the mindset of the album into two minutes and forty five seconds. A hollering saxophone and stumbling percussion lead to a deliberate beat that guitar feedback, sax and other instruments are molded around. “A Beauty That Needs of Blots” creates and maintains a subtle groove mainly due to two dueling acoustic guitars along with flickers of percussion and keys. “Outsider Basement” works with an entirely electronic palette (I think), resembling an even more sloshed, instrumental Excepter. There’s a heavy synthbass that nudges the track along for me. Various blips from keyboards and drum machines skate along on top of that bass pulse. At least until somebody hits the “waltz” setting on their rhythm programmer and the band slowly coheres around the beat. “To the Inverse One” is eerie. Featuring a slow hand drum pattern, a great sax part and organ and other creepy swells. A solid disc of rambling, Australian gangly jangle and packaged in the trademark, tactile MYMWLY style. Still in print.
Cursillistas – Wasp Stings the Last Bitter Flavor [Digitalis]
This is a beautiful little disc of folky drone. “Drone (Groan)” opens with a minute or so of drones/groans before authoritative tribal-ish drumming takes over. Totally suspenseful; the track then segues into a pretty track of layered guitar and I think maybe a wooden flute somewhere wayyy in the background with “Caves Carved in Golden Light.” There’s a touch of wordless singing before segueing into the next track, “Larks on a String”. The tracks creeps along for nine minutes with eerie clanks, faraway whistling, a minimal guitar diddy, looped percussion and spaced vocals. It’s a bit like a lovechild between the scores of a horror movie and a spaghetti western; taking its tonal direction and ghostly presence from the horror movie but with an interesting, somewhat sparse arrangement not dissimilar to ones in Italo-westerns. With less than a minute to go, there is a drastic shift to a lonely acoustic guitar strumming, leading to “Treestain”. The guitar continues before being joined by others, spare percussion and eventually a main vocal. Again, sounds wordless to me but maybe it’s another language or something, I’m certainly not the one to ask. The song builds to a rather lush, brooding cave-addled crescendo. “Moccasin Tramp” increases the tempo just enough for foot tapping to ensue, vocals and acoustic guitar are ever present there’s also a synth providing a simple melody. It seems a synth might not work with the organic sound of the album, but surprisingly it does and is rightly soft and unobtrusive. This segues into “Happened in the Sun/Moccasin Stamp”, creating the second suite of the album. This track reminds me a bit of that Panda Bear record from last year, lots of looped layers of percussion and vocals moving pretty quickly. Not really a straight Beach Boys vibe though, more like just what was going on earlier in the album but with the “catchy” switch engaged (not a slag to the rest of the album so we’re clear). Around halfway through the 10 minute track length, the drumming slows down continuously and the vocal layers come through a little clearer along with some quickly strummed accompaniment, leaving the track floating like a cloud. Beginning with the tinkling of a bell, “Show Them Love” finishes off the album in fine style. It develops very slowly; making it the mellowest point on the album. Backwards guitar (I’m guessing) is introduced to the usual cast of characters operating with a very simple, deliberate melody. Very pretty multi-tracked vocals show up at the end singing words this time, though all I can make out is “show them love”. I really appreciate the care that was taken in constructing this release as an “album” as it is sequenced very naturally and logically, and it’s cool that the two halves of the albums work as suites as well. Still available from Digitalis and definitely worth your time.
Andy Futreal – Orphelia Wanders [Harha-Askel]
This is a CD-r of pretty acoustic picking released on the Finnish Harha-Askel label. This is a nice intimate album. It’s really great to relax and take it in. “Laterite Road” appears very early on and is one of my favorites. Futreal has a wonderfully gutsy style of playing. Sometimes when I hear solo acoustic guitar stuff it comes across as too smooth or even sounding, but Futreal isn’t afraid to use the guitar’s overtones and its odd, incidental sounds. That isn’t to say he can’t pull off plush, florid playing as he does on the title track. “Christmas04” has a magnificent melodic refrain which is altered ever so slightly each time it appears. “Frontporch” is a recording of just that, wind gently on chimes (on a porch I’m assuming). “Over Across and Down” has a tenser vibe, while “Minus5postbenadrylslide” is a tranquil, lighthearted slide guitar romp. “Occasional Rain” has a great, slightly musty feel. It’s a rather simple melody but played so expressively by Futreal that it’s quite gorgeous. “Chickenwing” is another standout. I’m pretty sure there’s multi-tracked guitar here, and if there isn’t then I’m very impressed. The track moves between fuller, strummed passages and sparse, brittle breakdowns—all of it beautiful. “Timezone II” surprisingly reaches for some heavier low notes and a noticeably “rock” vibe, but Futreal even skews that. Most tracks on the album fit into the 1-3.5 minute spectrum but Futreal unfolds “In the Failing Light” little by little over 12 minutes and pulls an amazing trick where he’ll slowly let his listener drift away before reeling him back in with an unassuming refrain; and he pulls this trick throughout the piece. Oh yeah, apparently these pieces are all improvised, which makes the playing all the more amazing. At 56 minutes, I think the album is a little long but there’s a lot of great material here and Futreal certainly has an interesting voice in the solo acoustic guitar sphere, and if you have any interest in that sort of thing you should definitely check him out. CD-r still in print at Harha-Askel as I write this.


Cassette Gods said...

i love that diamond lemonade tape.

peter friel said...

hah, yeah, dude does great stuff. + did you get my email man? would be rad if we could talk about it.