Friday, March 27, 2009

Antique Brothers – Hot Shit [Really Coastal]/Antique Brothers – Sons of Winter [Abandon Ship]

A couple of fairly recent releases from LA’s Antique Brothers. The Hot Shit tape is from late last year while Sons of Winter came out early on in ’09. The former represents the jammier side of Antique Bros. with two side long tracks and the latter occupies the song-based realm.
SoCal’s Really Coastal label is one of the few tape labels dealing predominantly in song-based cassettes, thus, I was surprised to find a tape of two awesome live jams. “Hot Side” (I’ll get this out of the way, I really don’t get the whole Hot Shit/“Hot Side”/”Shit Side” naming thing, explain it to me if you can) begins with some free-plucks of banjo and a droning pump organ or something or other. Layers of mellow but still soaring electric guitar seep in. There’s a bit of super sparse percussion providing accents in a really effective way. It almost just sounds like incidental sounds of a hand hitting a guitar while playing. A steady hand drum pulse starts up and the track just swelllllllllls with sound. The overall vibe is super mellow and melodic but there’s some inconspicuously noisy guitar eruptions taking place a bit further back in the field sounds. I really like a portion with a clean, round-toned slide guitar mashed up against a few bits of squealing feedback. This tape is full of tasteful, well-put together contrasts. That this is a live track makes it all the more impressive because everyone playing shows a bit of restraint and makes every sound count. There’s some great percussion clatter reminiscent of that Albero Rovesciato tape I reviewed awhile back, where the percussionist(s) really starts cutting everything up and somehow maintains continuity with the track’s easygoing vibes through all the metallic clangs. After a passage of sustained guitar (there’s gotta be an ebow at work here somewhere I think) and chimes, a few jungle animal-esque shrieks and cries poke through just as the track fades from sight before a drum outro closes everything down for good. It’s a real effortless listen, and it at least sounds like an effortless jam with everyone grooving on the same frequency.
The shambling, smooth vibe of the first side is replaced with a bit more tension on “Shit Side.” For the first two minutes or so there’s a great organ/guitar match-up with an over-so-slight touch of dissonance putting an odd but pleasurable strain on the music. It’s really fantastically pulled off and that concept is built on and reworked throughout. The track doesn’t quite match the fluidity of the previous side and I think the drums are a little out of place in this less rhythm-intensive context but there are some excellently unsettling bits of cymbal noise and so forth. It really is the guitar that anchors the piece, which returns to a repeated arpeggio that calls back to early Godspeed You! Black Emperor stuff. About a third of the ways through, things cohere wonderfully, getting noisy and very un-soothing in a magnificent manner and unfortunately cuts out a bit too early for my taste. Not too worry though, it’s followed up by another noisy, but this time free jazz-ish, bleating before changing, yet again, to an almost pseudo tropical type passage. The piece floats along in dronier waters for awhile before another excellent guitar/organ bit——they are certainly the stars of the show here. Just when you think it’s all gonna be a quiet come down, the band gets free jazz on everyone’s ass for the last two minutes. A pretty great tape overall, sometimes long improv jams can get boring and this tape is anything but that. Worth checking out for sure.
The Sons of Winter CD-r is quite a bit different, though similarities are certainly evident. The differences being mainly: not made in a live environment and pretty much all the tracks are built around older acoustic guitar recordings if my memory serves. Opener “An Early Frost” features acoustic guitar plus layers of keyboards before distortion and drums are laid on pretty thick in the last bit. “The Woods” picks up where “Frost” left off, acoustic and dirty electric guitars and drums with scattered notes of harmonica. The drums seem a little unnecessary here because all the layers of guitars are so locked in rhythmically that drums end up resting on top so to speak rather than forming the core of the track. It’s quite a cool song nonetheless, augmented by some froggy, effected vocals creating an intended (I’m assuming) doom-folk vibe. “Smog Blankets” actually sounds quite a lot like its moniker. A pretty sprawling track of drones and dispersed guitar runs, percussive hits and synth noise. “LA December” is a pleasant, all-too-$hort track with a charming, loopy, almost seasick melody. “Fields of White Stretch Eternal” is probably my favorite here. All the elements congeal so beautifully; quickly paced acoustic playing, drums and a lovely bed of sounds of various sources. An unassumingly stunning piece and heavily reverbed vocals are an excellent touch near the end. “Father Winter” pushes acoustic guitar front and center and then fills every crevice of silence with sound until around halfway through they re-evoke the doom-folk vibes again. “Crowning” takes a minute to get where it’s going but ultimately amounts to a rather beautiful piece of guitar, banjo and piano with distortion and drums added in later, as the Bros. are fond of doing. “Climbing the Glacier” pits acoustic and electric guitars against each other and finale “March On, Dire Wolves” features some absolutely killer electric guitar leads.
These two releases are interesting companion pieces because you definitely hear trademarks of Antique Brothers’ style in both but they are the fruits of much different creative processes. I prefer Hot Shit if only because these guys are just so good live (and because tapes rule,) but I could see some going the other direction as well.
The CD-r has some neat/cute art (especially on the back side) and an insert while the tape is pro-dubbed and comes in the awful/awesome offwhite colored shells that I thought they stopped making in the 80’s. Both releases are still available last I checked, and the tape is in a sizable edition of 125 and the CD-r is 100.

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