Sunday, April 19, 2009

Super Fun 3" Round-up

I had a tiny stack of my favorite kind of CD-r and I decided to lump them all together for a super fun round-up...
Bearses – The Prettiest Girl I Ever Saw [Hymns]
Not sure if this band’s name is pronounced like “bare-zees” or “bee-arses” but that’s beside the point. This 3incher, from Florida label Hymns, is a crumpled up mass of static spread across five tracks. There are samples of stuff buried deep down but they’re mangled beyond recognition by incredibly thick, saturated distortion and pitch shifting. Near the send of the first track a bit of carribean dance/pop stuff (maybe?) is barely audible through the muck leading into flashes of slowed radio DJ babble, heavily rhythmic crunching distortion and garbled vocal tones in the second piece. It’s nice having bands like Bearses to remind us just how much a fuck-ton of fuzz can morph one sound into something entirely different——namely magnanimously crusty squalls. The third track brings up the curtain a bit letting shards of distortion interact with the source material (a slowed down, rambling folk tune) instead of smothering it. It’s a well-placed melodic break in the middle of the record. The fourth track is interesting as well. There’s plenty of distortion but bits and pieces of gongs, bells and ethnic percussion poke through at certain intervals. The fifth track uses a lot hi-pitched freakouts amongst sloshed zombie slurs——a nice little kick in the teeth to remember them by.
For people, like me, who keep the radio dial placed equidistantly between stations or for fans of listening to records at the wrong speed played through twelve Metal Zones.
Arklight – Nolo Contendre [Ruralfaune]
A nice companion piece to that last CD-r is this Arklight 3”. Two tracks making up 24 total minutes of relentlessly chugging, bludgeoning noise. This is my first introduction to non-song-based Arklight and it’s pretty damn good. The title-track builds and builds on a pummeling loop/drum machine, while specks of static stagger in and out. They play around with the tempo a bit and offset the bass pulse with brief, searing jets of feedback. The track just keeps slumming, being tweaked here and there but mainly just riding the domineering beat. With about four minutes to go friendlier instruments are introduced——mellow, dirty guitar and live drums——and the track unwinds. “Rakkasans” starts up with a speedy, nearly techno drum machine. This track isn’t quite as noisy as its predecessor but it dishes out its fair share of feedback blurring the drum machine into a seizuring piece of equipment. Human shouts are coming from somewhere but they’re almost sensed more than they are actually heard through the putrid, filthy layers of fuzz. Traces of live drums are evident but they’re drowned in the bog like everything else. Straight up mildewed fury.
Single Indian Tear – The Black Category [No Label]
Moving into the easier-on-the-ears stuff, Single Indian Tear (the name ostensibly referring to the crying Indian/litter monitor from the PSA) are an Iowa City based duo and this 11 minute track is heavy on the synths. Not dreamy synths either, they seem to work with a bit more of a Kraftwerk mindset of loving their machines for the machine sounds they make rather than trying to disguise them as the ocean or the heavens. A variety of synth-tones are employed here from squelchy, filtered bass and tinkling belltones to static-y pulses and ray gun sounds. The track hits a nice stride around four minutes in where it settles into its skin and slowly cycles through the array of sounds at its disposal. There’s a three note motif that starts the track out and it returns in the second half but surrounded by creepy, “cat meow” sounds. Weird, dude. The last minute is a toy piano melody plinking across inter-galactic deep space synth and radio waves.
Sean McCann – Background Sound Two [No Label]
This 3” is another long, lovely piece by San Francisco’s Mr. McCann. I know his stuff is always lovely but this thing is one of the lovelier ones. This would be meditative if it wasn’t so immediately, palpably beautiful and in a strange way, saddening. There’s a wonderful mournful quality to the sounds here. A pretty melody twinkles, emanating from a far corner of the stereosphere as you just kinda drift along in a synthy sea. Not too much to say about this other than I’m enjoying the ride. McCann shifts incredibly subtly between ideas keeping the piece entirely engaging over its 22 minutes. I like how the melody at the beginning drifts away but makes a sly, unexpected comeback in the last couple minutes.
But why am I telling you this? This thing was given out with orders from McCann’s label Roll Over Rover and is all gone. Furthermore, it was limited to an utterly ridiculous 22 copies. That almost makes me angry there’s so few of these around. This piece deserves a reissue as a side of a split LP or tape or something like that. Hopefully some good soul reads this and takes it upon him or her self to do just that. It’s too goddam good to drift into obscurity.
KRGA – Thousands [Debacle]
The theme of this double 3” is the first disc concentrates on predominately acoustic arrangements while the second disc brings on the electronic elements. The first track “Thousand Armed” is rather nice with plenty of layers of acoustic guitar and hand percussion and then bits of flute and pump organ flowing by underneath. It doesn’t establish too much atmosphere but it’s really melodious and easy on the ears. “Thousand Headed” is more brooding with a lot reverb and an effected acoustic guitar and patches of vocals and other sounds stitched in. The first disc’s final track, “Thousand Hearted,” exceeds the combined length of the previous tracks. It’s a real nicely unfolding piece with a couple of dueling guitars over chiming bells and a reed organ that quietly leads the track. That reed organ is the real key here cause it glues all the clanging, jangly percussion, random bits of whistling melodies and other sounds with the acoustic guitar digressions making a real beautiful, dynamic and effortlessly flowing track. My favorite piece here.
The second disc opens with its longest track “Thousand Beaked” which after a minute of oscillator doohickery steadies itself and glides along with burbling tones. You can see some similarity between this disc and the first. Both feature multiple layers of sounds and use ever changing clusters of notes on top of sustained tones. The piece shifts often throughout its 11 minutes, hitting upon some nice, even pretty spots, but it doesn’t quite have the invisible guiding hand leading it coherently, seamlessly on its course as in “Thousand Hearted.” The second half is a quite a pleasantly buzzing bed of synths. “Thousand Eyed” is also a bed of buzzing synths but not one you’d want to sleep in, and the buzzing is more akin to angry wasps. “Thousand Horned” has some pseudo-bowed sounds and a pairing of slippery, blipping melodies. A digital fog fans out and overtakes the piece by its end.
3” CD-rs get the shaft a lot of times when it comes to packaging, but the Thousands packaging is clean and classy with two printed CD-rs mounted on the inside of double-sided cardstock that folds closed like a book.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Slasher Risk – Shoe Mania [Abandon Ship]

I stupidly never got around to reviewing the last awesome Slasher Risk tape on Abandon Ship and I ain’t gonna make that mistake twice. This particular tape is a live recording from the Eye and Ear music festival earlier in the year. Slasher Risk’s set was recorded on one night and Nate Rulli (Abandon Ship's captain) went home and pulled an all-nighter, dubbing and prepping 95 copies for release the next day. Which is pretty intense, though not near as intense as the audio document itself.
To put it plainly, Shoe Mania fucking slays.
Not many groups can start their sets with something like four minutes of a drum machine and Martha Stewart (WTF?) and still be awesome but apparently Slasher Risk is among the chosen few. Once the duo gets rocking, they get rocking. Heavy dual guitar mangling with zero time to catch your breath. I like the crowd on this cause at various points they start cheering Andy and Sara like they’re at a soccer game or something. Each epic guitar god gesture is met with a “wooo! eeeahhh!” Slasher Risk has an interesting style of dual guitarism cause they don’t drone or get psychedelic; they're noisy but not in an abstract “noise guitarist” sense. They just want to fucking rock. Really, this is rock music but minus the obedience to convention. This is what people should think of when they think of rock music. Slasher Risk was probably sent from up on high, to save this generation from Guitar Hero and its mall-bred Led Zeppelin t-shirts.
Anyway, we are getting way the hell off-topic. Someone takes the drum kit and takes the set to the next level. Just in case you didn’t get the message with the two guitars, the guitar/drums combo pounds your eardrums to a pulp. This is a difficult tape to write about cause I just end up wanting to say “This part rules!” and “This other part rules too!” so I’ll just sum it by saying there so many parts of this tape that just rule! At any given moment in the second half of the first side they’re riding a serious crest of fuzz until a bit of a breakdown at the end with lots of screeching feedback.
The program continues onto Side B, and actually the side works really well as a self-contained track. Coming out of the breakdown, the duo spread a thick fog of fuzz and then frantically lay into their instruments. Somebody takes the drums again and gets rollicking resulting in the aural equivalent of a shot of adrenaline. It seems like this stuff has to be improvised but it’s hard to believe.
What stands out to me here is that Slasher Risk somehow can swagger through massive feedback attacks. It’s hard to describe exactly but they destroy with style. Things slow down some when a drum machine enters the fray before they gradually grind to a halt. I tried convincing Andy to tour the west coast, not sure there’s any plan yet but my fingers are crossed that I can feel these sonics in person. This tape will be filling the need for the time being.
Still in print, check it out! …And also a Happy Easter to all!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Gigantic DNT Cassette Round-up

I heard through the grapevine that DNT is dropping some new sounds real soon which reminded me I needed to get my ass in gear and finally talk about all the rad work Tynan’s been doing with my favorite format.
Yuko Chino/Sasqrotch - Split
I’d heard Yuko Chino was a Sasqrotch member’s bedroom black metal project, but I still hadn’t much idea of what I was getting into when I first popped in the tape. The first track, an intro called “...of the Valley of the Wind,” emerges and it’s an unholy Frankenstein monster of two parts Rosemary Baby soundtrack and one part hip hop mixtape. It is creepy and amazing, achieving exactly what intros are designed to do——it gets me psyched hear the rest of the tape. The 1-2 punch is completed with “Dawn of the Black Hearts” the best track of the side. Here black metal is mixed with the best elements of electronic music. There are multiple layers of heavily distorted guitars and vocals, a cavernous, loping drum sample and then almost twinkling synths that glide along underneath the muck and secretly provide the true impetus of the track. A really great song and the guitars’ return after a long breakdown seals the deal. “We Believe in Nothing” really reminds me of another song but I still haven’t been able to place it. Oh well. This piece is a lethargic duet between detuned guitar and synth with hyperdistorted vocals making their presence known as well. It is a really lonely piece, especially when following the strut of “Dawn of the Black Hearts.” The concern exhibited in the title “Tell Me Where it Hurts” is purely feigned because this track is the longest and blackest of the bunch. A slow motion roller coaster through black metal hell, one of the ones you wait hours in line for and get off wanting ride it again. The synth was dropped (and vocals mostly too) so it is straight-up guitar sludge and feedback slinging with stark drum accompaniment. It’s all based on a simple but addictive cleaner-toned arpeggio. There’s a lot more tracks of guitar here than I thought originally which is why it sounds so damn massive. “Ea, Lord of the Outros” is just that. A chugging guitar/drum machine slow fade. This is the only tape of the bunch still in print so I suggest you grab it, if only for the Yuko Chino side.
Which leads me to Sasqrotch’s side-long live track “Genre-rhea.” There’s a really long build up, but when a saxophone pops in, it instantly puts a smile on my face. It plays a great borderline mournful melody against the tectonic bass shifts. And before long it gets into free jellybone mode and then the whole group settles on a course for swirling shitstorm. The other Sasqrotch releases I’ve heard were in heavy rock-trio mode, their line-up for half the track is guitar/bass/sax which is an exciting line-up in my eyes. Drums make their entrance by way cymbal rolls and crashes. With about ten minutes to go, the boys get into sludge and shout pattern. They get a nice groove going but the first half with the sax still wins my heart. Speaking of sax…
Uneven Universe - Nightcrawler Walls
This tape took a bit of time to connect with, but once I did I was hooked. It looks really pretty, with a fantastic super-pro art job but the sounds inside seemed at first maybe a bit too sparse for me. But a lesson to listeners everywhere: if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. The tape is a bog of dingy loops, a bit of sax and a bit of silence but it's constantly dismantling itself rather than going the usual route and building upon itself--which could be why it took sometime to grow on me. This was my first time hearing the project (though I've been looking forward to hearing it for a little while) so I needed a little more time to wrap my head around it but now whenever I do return to it with a fresh set of ears I enjoy it and appreciate it more than the last. It's nice because the sax playing is pretty melodic so the tape doesn't strand the listener in a cavern of dissonance. I can't tell if sax is the only sound source here or not but maybe it's being manipulated to create the watery pitter patter, strange animal growls and dilapidated house creaks at work here in the loops that sound too organic to be coming from purely electronics. I do think that some writer with more talent than I should adapt this tape into an existential short story or something. A man trapped in a cramped, dank room with a small flickering light dangling overhead, continually blowing his lungs out on a rusted saxophone for no one but himself. Nightcrawler Walls, man, creepy shit. Uneven Universe has made an impression on me though, I’m gonna be seeking further knowledge.
The Pope - Do You Wanna Boogie?
I wrote a review of this somewhere already but it got lost or deleted or something so I’m gonna keep this blurb short and to the point, which is just what these 11 minutes call for. The Pope is dead unfortunately but their memory will live on in this swansong. The bass and drums duo run through four songs in about 5 minutes on the first side. With hissing fuzz and riotous riffs, this thing was destined to be a tape cause it sounds so utterly blown out and awesome. From “Micheal J. Whiteguy” to “City Pride is Justified” the first side is non-stop fun. “12 ‘O Clock Boogie” takes up about half the length of the first side, at two and a half minutes, featuring a towering breakdown where skulls are crushed in the name of having a good time. “Grandma’s Mountain Boogie” takes the second side. Beginning slowly in epic fashion, it isn’t until halfway through they set the tape ablaze before slowing down again and finally pounding home the last thirty seconds. Here’s to a reunion tour in 2010.
Various Artists - Mash Mansum
I love cassette compilations, at least when they’re as good as this one. I like that Tynan kept things to 7 artists in 8 tracks, it keeps things from getting too overwhelming for the listener trying to keep straight who he or she is listening to. Anyway, the first side kicks off in wonderful Jesus Lizard-meets-Led Zeppelin fashion with “Waiting for the Bus” by Hunting Lodge. I don’t know anything about this band but I wish I did cause this track rules. Nearly 7 minutes of unhinged yelps, growls and warbles backed up by a furious wall of guitar, drums and synthesizer. This all results in an amazing throwback to 70’s blues rock riffing——and I don’t even like 70’s rock. This song is total fire, I want more. Moving on to two short tracks by Neck Hold, both are driven by drums and vocals, with guitar augmenting the arrangement of “Oh God; You Devil” and saxophone making a great appearance on “Sibling Rivalry.” Both tracks are a little slight but a lot of fun and whoever’s on the sax really knows how to mangle it. The only criticism I have of this tape as a whole doesn’t involve the music but when we get to the Shearing Pinx track (billed here as Shearing Pinks for some reason) there is a huge volume drop off. I’m not sure why cause these are pro-dubbed tapes and all but you gotta crank it up to hear the Pinx. Anyway, “Trusting the Forest” finds the Vancouver crew in the most raw free jazz form as I’ve ever heard them. Not among their best stuff, but a nice enough track. The Sticks start off the next side with a short track called “Aerobic Fuck,” a steeped in reverb garage-y surf thing which never seems to stick in my mind (no pun intended) but it’s nice enough to listen to on the way to next track. Gay Beast, proprietors of last year’s awesome Disrobics LP, contribute an also awesome track “Exploding Knee” which manages to fit a bunch of jagged sections together seamlessly into one gnarly piece of start/stop riffing. The band just straight up rules. Probably my favorite track comes from Deaf! Deaf!, another group which I know nothing about. “Loss of Appetite” is a fantastic sax-driven romp. It’s so urgent and catchy and at barely over a minute its real easy to just keep rewinding and listening again. Twin Crystals are the final entry into Mash Mansum and they offer up “Live in Olympia.” It’s \weird because this track sounds kinda like a band I was in in high school but, you know, actually good. Groovy drums and synth driven stuff. The track is actually two songs taken from the live setting featuring crowd noise and whatnot in the middle. The second which I gather is called “We Are Trinity” is more synth/drums with nonsensical shouting really reminding me of my days of doing that. Sorry to get silly and autobiographical but I love this Twin Crystals track and it gets me through its unintentional nostalgia inducing ways. Overall great tape, I like listening to it as a whole which can’t often be said about comps, so props to Tynan for curating it so well and also Danimal of Gay Beast for doing the awesome fold-out artwork.
Mudboy/Ducktails - Summer of Saucers
Hot off the heels of the utterly phenomenal and essential Mudmux Vol. 1 7inch on DNT (pick it up if you don’t have it yet) the part man/part machine from Providence contributes this side-long creeper. Eerie synth sounds spread across the side and some come across as deceptively human or maybe animal. The disgruntled machines find a surprisingly sweet melodic center. Between all the automated step-tones and gizmos and whatever other pseudo-mechanical jargon I can make-up, there’s an underlying softness and tenderness here. Mudboy’s ability to pull that off always seems to be the aspect I really appreciate and respond to in his music.
One of the bummers of the “split” is that can inadvertently put the two sides up against each other. This Mudboy side is really great but I mostly catch myself listening to Ducktails side cause of how much I like that one. Luckily I got this whole reviewing process to reflect on things and really realize how great all this stuff is.
End of digression. This Ducktails side is maybe the best thing the dude has done. A lonesome synthesizer drifting along by itself is met by an echoing, plinking keyboard. This sets a number of layers of synths into motion and it’s just plainly, fucking beautiful. I don’t how this guy does it but he taps into this wonderful melodic center that all the sounds seem to orbit; it’s like a magnetic field of melody where all the sounds occupying the track simply fall into their right place. Fucking beautiful but I already said that. That’s only the first half too, a mellow guitar/drum machine duet kicks in bringing up the signature tropical Ducktails magic. That one is brief but another elongated one comes on next featuring a mutinous drum machine before it slides into a lovely acoustic guitar passage. Utterly brilliant side. Killer art by George Myers as well.
Super Minerals - The Piss
While everyone is discussing the greatness of Clusters and Multitudes, I’m gonna take you back a year to The Piss, which still might be my favorite thing put out by the super mineral squad of Phil French and William Giacchi. The duo crammed 13 or 14 pieces into 30 minutes and they all meld together wonderfully. The single aspect that I love so much about this tape is it sounds like it was recorded in a dried out, moldy air pocket beneath the California desert somewhere. It’s an experience for those listening carefully. Among my favorite moments on the first side, the mechanical thrum of opener “Viral Cycles,” fiery tribally pulsating distortion and harmonica muck, the wooden flutes singing around dying embers, that they named a track “Firebomb the Zombie Army” and the bizarre werewolf/jungle/slasher movie sounds of the side A closer whose title is illegibly identified on the insert. On the flip side, there’s plenty more crusty distortion. “Descended Swarm of the Undead” is a temporary respite from the putrid bleakness, with a ritual performance turned into flickering drone by the sheer amount of fuzz its being pushed through. I hope “Futurelife” isn’t a legit look into the coming days cause it creeps the hell out of me. “Failed City Escape” is a sparse grinding of guitar strings and “Slaughter & Loss” and “Bloody Pandemic” make up a weird mechanic/percussive/static mildew between their combined 1:30. The title track closes the tape and rightly so, it encapsulates the strangled atmosphere, seething diodes and uncanny crumbling of sound of the 27 minutes that came before it. I hope I get to see these guys perform their excavation in the live environment before I die.
Plankton Wat – Alchemy of Darkness
Plankton Wat moniker is Dewey Mahood of Portland psych-rockers Eternal Tapestry. This tape is Mahood with a multi-track recorder, a guitar and a wah-wah pedal. Full disclosure, I don’t usually go for this kinda thing but this tape rips. Mahood is almost like a one-man GHQ. He piles layers and layers of guitar on top of each other sometimes they end up with a darker edged vibe like the fantastic opener “Of Darkness and Shadows” and sometimes the tape veers into slightly brighter territory as in “Transformation of Magical Properties” which flows into a pretty acoustic guitar piece. “Rituals” is a relatively sparse acoustic piece and it’s really great. It teeters on near dissonance throughout the whole track so there’s a lot more tension than one can usually pull out of an acoustic guitar. The second side is split in half between “Spiritual Invocation” and “Conscious Mind.” The former features a number arpeggios, some reversed, all laid on top each other. It’s sound in perpetual motion, creating an image of a landscape’s decay in fast motion or granules of sand being sucked away. The latter is more like the last light of dusk before evaporating into complete darkness. A long, slow fade of burbling notes to silence.
It looks like there is a scant few copies of this tape still available from the label so email if you’re interested and also stick around for the upcoming Plankton Wat LP on DNT.
Bobb Bruno – Clown’s Castle
I’m sure this has been said plenty of times before but this Bobb Bruno tape occupies a space in between that Arbor tape from a while back and his work under the Goliath Bird Eater name. “Snail’s Pace,” the first side, is soft and synthy for quite a while. A rattling electric kit ups the rhythmic quotient before the song hits the main drag. Bruno employs the steady beat he’s used on numerous Pocahaunted tracks and lays on the synths real thick. A real nice melody ekes out of the flanger jet fumes before the melody goes solo briefly creating a picturesque moment newly augmented by modulated guitar. Bruno creates a surprisingly lovely audio tapestry jetting across the sky. There’s a subtle bass part near the end that I totally love as well and everything comes to a close with a music box-like sequenced synthesizer. The title track fills the second side and where side A was mildy airy, side B brings the guitars on quite heavily. Exchanging two detuned chords back and forth builds tension for a while, letting a hi-pitched, mildly theremin-esque synth insurrection heighten it even more. A third of the way in Bruno kickstarts a loping drum pattern with an outrageously awesome slo-mo drum fill. The track doesn’t change a whole lot but just slides along increasing momentum little by little. That is until everything fades and the guitar is replaced by a fragile keyboard melody. There’s a little bit of glockenspiel in there too, which as many times as I’ve heard this, is always unexpected. It’s a shockingly tender finale and I don’t think he could have ended it any better than he has.
Pipeline Alpha – Darking Lights of Mazil
This Pipeline Alpha project is apparently from Germany and keeps an exceedingly low profile. The sound of this tape is hard to pinpoint exactly, it’s an odd strand of synth-heavy drone. This stuff keeps relatively active though; “Nagelfar in an Icier Lull” projects a weird, untraceable sample amongst a sea of frenetic, popping synth bubbles introducing a rather stoic melody against the grain later. “Seth in Deserts” opens up with a weird voice saying English(?) incomprehensibly through a thick accent. This gives way to a rather pretty raft of keyboards that manages to be buoyant and chilling at the same time. Electro-hand drum sounds pop up pushing the track into noisier regions. Perhaps most interesting is it ends on a sound sample of heavy sketching/pencil shading at the end. A very weird, cool track. The last piece of the first side is “Anubis Cures Aschmodal” and it’s immediately more confrontational than its predecessors. It’s darker and noisier and a bit more stagnant until a loopy oscillator and a stringed folk instrument of some sort liven it up in its second half. There’s neat bit of tape collage-y stuff too. Two tracks fill out the second side, the first being “Zusa” which begins with an unintelligible spoken loop. A saxophone-ish but most likely synthetic tone leads the crepuscular piece peppered by whirs and squelches of synthesizer. “Zusa” ends up being a pretty easy traveling, streamlined drone piece. “Dark City” features more breathy speech at the outset along with shaken, dull metallic noises and a bass undercurrent. Trudging along in total ominous-ness until more flashy synths pop up in the last minutes. A dark and strangely alien drone tape.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Chaostic Magic – Phantasmagoria [Debacle]/Forrest Friends – Forrest Friends [Debacle]

Sam from Seattle-based Debacle Records gave me a stack of CD-rs when I met him at the amazing Ear Venom reunion show awhile back and these two emerged quickly from the pack as some of my favorites.
Chaostic Magic is a duo of Corey J Brewer on guitar and Eric Ostrowski on violin (Ostrowski also played in the dual violin project/onslaught NOGGIN.) I’ve recently realized how much violin rules in an experimental context. I’ve been having a love affair with the Blue Shift tape on Breaking World and this CD-r is a dexterous firebreather. “Morning Nightmare” is rather friendly at first (keep in mind that is very relative.) Both sets of strings scrape and saw and skronk. Ostroski pulls tones out his violin reminiscent of a jittery oscillator, which is a feat in itself and it sounds so cool! The guitar moves through periods of fairly clean-toned but highly metallic mangled arpeggios and heavy metalfuzz assaults that might be classified as riffs if they weren’t so loopy and deranged. At certain points the two men imitate each other’s playing on their respective instruments which creates a kind of funhouse mirror effect. Near the end, there’s a calmer period where, I wouldn’t call it pretty but, sustained tones from both instruments complement each other nicely. One of this CD-rs biggest strengths is each track improves on the one before it. “Brains on Fire” is the default epic clocking in at the combined length of the other two tracks and it slays. Though kicking off brashly (and continuing on brashly) the track provides a few moments to catch your breath. One passage in particular sounds like it may be solely Brewer’s work (which if true would be damn impressive) there are guitar harmonics sustaining with a very lo-pitched, crazed bit of glissando that’s almost like when you play with a synth’s pitch wheel. This piece is a total monster through and through——too many great moments to mention. These guys play entirely free form in every way so there doesn’t seem to be any preset agreement on rhythm or harmony. The only thing Brewer and Ostrowski match up on is intensity. And you’d think a half hour mess of audioviolent guitar/violin improv might get a bit trying, these guys have incredible pacing and are able to continually entice the listener to follow while somehow avoiding the standard way to do so, that is providing brief periods of consonance amidst the maelstrom for the listener to latch onto.
The devasted finale, “Brown Cloud/Magic Dragon” begins more sparsely than the previous tracks. There somehow seems to be a bit more space in the mix. The reason for this may be that Brewer’s playing is more percussive here with lots of banging and rattling along with the blistering string strangling. Ostrowski, on the other hand, just takes to wailing. He allows his notes to sustain longer and I really like the results. Nimble tonal shifts are still a main feature of his playing but they sound great applied to a more consistently radiating bed of sound. This is at least true until he dives of the path into a knotted undergrowth of frenetic plucks. When Brewer and Ostrowski each embark on their final finger-breaking freak out in the last minute, it is a supremely satisfying experience.
After hearing this CD-r Chaostic Magic has shot to the number one spot of local acts I still need to see. Once I’m back in Seattle, Chaostic Magic, be prepared to have me gawking at you during all your shows.
The next CD-r, a self-titled one by Forrest Friends, is a half hour of weird whateverness. The Friends are a duo of Garrison (who runs the nonsensically titled Motor & Famine distro) and someone named Chad (who I’ve never met.) The first thing I remember hearing about this act was when I met Garrison at a show, he told me they went to play a noisefest in Spokane, WA (weeeeird, right?) and for their set they played “smooth jazz, Chuck Mangione shit.” The image of a bunch of pissed off eastern Washington noise dudes standing around watching someone play soft jazz makes me laugh my ass off, but thankfully, this CD-r is far from Chuck Mangione shit. The first track is a bunch of whimpering coos and garbled speech with sparse echoing percussion, slide whistle, toy piano and occasionally splinters of picked acoustic guitar. Out of the blue, everything comes together quite nicely, lead by a catchy melody on the slide whistle. The only track with a title, “Disco Cloud,” is my favorite of the bunch with an Asian-inspired guitar part doubled by vocals, rambling percussion and then outta nowhere a couple of synths pop up and the whole thing drifts off on a sick groove. The appearance of “disco” in the title is not ironic at all, this thing shakes and moves in the weirdest way. Really brilliant piece, and I'm pretty sure had disco actually been this creative and rad, Americans of all stripes would have united in it, said “no” to Reagan and kept the 1980s from being such a shithole. The next track summons a tribal rhythm and employs mellow wordless vocals. Though, it’s a repetitive thumb piano figure that anchors the whole thing. The subsequent track drops the tribalism for a minimal synth dance track. Based off a looped clicking pattern (occasionally augmented by drums,) more keyboards, voice and cymbal rolls drift in and out until it all gets piled on top of each other in last minutes. The fifth track is a bit lacking in comparison to the others but eventually hits upon a rather enjoyable, smoothly lurching groove. The final track is a good deal longer than the others and starts with a minute long pulsing synth intro stitched in before a huffing accordion pops up against the usual junk. This one has a more organic vibe to it, rhythm is still very important and ever present but it upshifts and downshifts whereas the other tracks find a groove and ride it til the end. Acoustic guitar is one of the main elements here and also maybe a piano or hammered dulcimer or something to that effect. There’s some electric burbling but the track is mostly occupied by organ/accordion and a heavily reverbed bell. At least until the 8 minute mark when another solo synth piece takes over a-twinkling. Overall, it’s a really fun listen and a different take on junk store shamanism.
Both CD-rs are still in print. They are available as part of volume 2 of the Emerald City Debacle, a subscription series focused around Seattle-area artists, as well as individually. Check ‘em out and give my city some love.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Horse Boys – Horse Boys [OSR Tapes]/Super Minerals – Clusters [Stunned]

The piano is an underused instrument in today’s underground. In the past, it was the choice noise maker for John Cage and Henry Cowell and others but as far as contemporary experimental music goes, Tim Hurley (Quetzolcoatl, Bonecloud) uses it a fair amount but I’m having trouble thinking of too many others. It’s a shame, cause the piano can make some amazing sounds, though they are expensive and a pain in the ass to tour with which may explain their rarity. Anyway, there’s actually a reason for the rumination. The subjects of this review are killer and totally different tapes created almost solely from pianos.
Horse Boys is a dude named Zach Phillips cranking out 39 lo-fi, neo-ragtime pieces in 40 minutes. And not to give away the end of review… it fucking rules! This is one of the best things I’ve heard all year. The pieces are sometimes tense and almost percussive like “What is Waking Up Like Sometimes” or “Who is Jeering at Me” and sometimes they’re incredibly sweet like the 17 second “What is the Adult World Like” and the layered, vibrant and borderline-frantic “What is Cartoons Like”. And sometimes, Phillips unleashes a seriously monstrous, tidal groove as in “What is Always Angry Like” where an amazingly catchy, groovy bass line is repeated and varied while Phillips just goes to town with fantastic, bluesy improvisations. An absolutely brilliant piece. On the second side after a series of dissonant false starts, “What is Discipline Like” launches into a mellow, Blues Control-ish drum machine/piano saunter. “What is a Bad Circle Like” explores a tape collage approach to piano playing and “What is Intimacy Like” glides along on lilting, jazzy improvisation. The 20 seconds of “Home” are lovingly melodious and followed up immediately by the agitated “What is Going to Church Like” which only provides a brief respite from the fearless flurry of notes near the end. “Lack of Resolution of Sequel of Sick Woods” is a magnificent score for an unwritten chase scene. Pulsing, complex and brimming with intrigue and suspense. “Investigation Gala for the Missing Years” turns up near the end and it feels well-placed. It’s full of good cheer and a triumphant “we’ll be seeing each other again soon” vibe. The finale “What is a Good Circle Like” continues this sensation but duets with a sawing violin until the tape’s close. There's so much more great stuff but I'll leave that to you to discover.
My favorite track of the whole tape comes early on the first side. “What are Ants Like” features a very dissonant, high end arpeggio for a good 40 seconds before introducing a fucking fantastic bass undertow. The bass part resembles Carter Burwell’s recent and brilliant score in Burn After Reading if you are familiar with that. This guy really has virtuoso chops and more impressively, he knows how to employ them extremely well. The piece is furious and a little unsettling but so complexly and perplexingly melodic at the same time. It feels like at any moment the composition could lose control, spin out and burst into flames. That or the boombox this was recorded on might. This is the most caustic and primal thing I’ve ever heard come out of a piano. Just before its conclusion there’s a shift to half-time revealing a dramatic, damn near florid outro. This tape is infinitely listenable and the end of every piece leaves you itching to hear the next.Really, really fantastic and obviously highly recommended; this thing is so damn unique and wonderful its worth tracking down at any cost.
I was thinking recently about how fittingly named Stunned records is. It seems like every time they put out new tapes, it’s always great surprise: killer music by artists of all stripes that I’ve never heard of (see the recent Albero Rovesciato tape for ultimate proof.) So what happens when Stunned puts out a tape by someone I have heard of? Total surprise again. Super Minerals (a duo of William Giacchi and Mr. Stunned himself, Phil French) have explored everywhere in the world of wet and dry drone, so naturally I expected more of the same. What I got instead was an astonishing cassette of moody piano emanations. The bulk of the first side is a thicket of tangled piano hits. I can’t quite tell if there’s multi-tracking going on or if there are just two pianos going at it——which would actually be pretty rad. The piece is based around a single cluster of notes, of which endless variations are supplied. Giacchi and French create a nice aura here though it gets to be a bit on the long side, the piece is pretty unchanging throughout its twenty minutes. The final 3 minutes of the side hold a strange clattering piece which adds some bells to the mix and heavily treats the piano (I’m guessing its still piano.) There’s a subtle sustained tone that holds the piece and all criss-crossed percussively employed notes together. Around halfway though the piece, it settles into an oddly propelled rhythm, conjuring up a vague resemblance to Cantonese opera. A really neat piece.
The flip side is broken into four parts. The first piece opens with billowing clouds of piano run through a million delay pedals. Chimes provide a constant, soft rattle. Melodies are slowly unfolded emerging through the mistiness of the piano compound. Drone music is, in a way, just focusing on overtones which Super Minerals does here. By piling hundreds of notes on top of each other a real thick sea of sound is achieved, letting all the notes cross-pollinate and sound awesome. The next piece dials down the drone a bit, focusing slightly more on the waves and rolls of sound coming straight from the piano itself rather than on layering. Giacchi and French summon some sheer beauty here, strikingly elegant and fully formed. They do an excellent job molding pretty melodies and intricate textures with and within all the notes. The third piece might be my favorite; beginning with a creaking, spacey timbre anchored by mild but thunderous low-end which gives way to an utterly lovely and much too brief chiming melody with a palpably tactile quality. Like some long lost recording recently unearthed. The final piece has less of a lush texture like the first two on the side but features swelling hills and ravines of sound. I’m wondering where/how this was recorded because I’m hearing some birdsongs buried way down in the mix. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t recorded in an aviary so I’m gonna guess it’s just overtones or something like that but its interesting nonetheless. Clusters is a great little tape and showcases Super Minerals stretching themselves in an impressive manner.
Horse Boys is still available as far as I can tell. OSR Tapes is a really strange but great label (more reviews of their works to come) so good luck navigating their website. The Horse Boys myspace offers to give you the tape if you ask about it so that may be the preferred route. Ltd. to 100.
As far as the Super Minerals goes, it wouldn’t be a Stunned release if it was in stock. However, 111 were made so that’s an added chance of picking a copy up at a distro.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Label Makers: Roll Over Rover

For the next installment in this barely functioning "interview series" with people who run labels, Stewart Adams, Sean McCann and Dave McPeters talk about their recently founded, bay area-based Roll Over Rover label.
I sent them some questions a bit ago and this video response is what they gave me so enjoy the confusion and potential hilarity.
FYI they made up their own questions for about 25-30% (or like 80%) of the interview.

Part 1

Part 2