Thursday, May 28, 2009

Blood on Tape – Language & Movement [Reverb Worship]

Newish disc from Texan drone crew Blood on Tape on UK label Reverb Worship. They put out their debut tape last year which was a pretty damn good first set of drones and this is their second release——a 24 minute piece.
A sparse beginning of silence and birds leads into good ol’ electric drones slowly curling their tentacles around the emptiness. I think I may have written this before but Blood on Tape stretches a little into a lot without it wearing thin. Only a handful of elements are operating at a given time but they create a very full sound, one of the keys being that there are always well-positioned pieces of melody springing up at different moments. This piece has a fair amount of percussion as well, I think coming solely from cymbals. The combination of swelling, cavernous drones and the crashing cymbals actually creates some really epic moments with one cymbal almost sounding like a gong. There is a rather thunderous finale of sorts that leads into a new section of two guitars. The two guitars work around a melodic arpeggio, very gradually morphing into new melodies. Things just get more and more lush until a bass guitar (maybe?) starts stomping heavily underneath it all, turning a meditation into a procession, making the piece into a simultaneously relaxing and harrowing journey.
Another solid outing by these guys and it looks like they've got a few new things on the horizon as well. A lot of people have been moving closer and closer to new age territory so it is nice to see some people still manipulating pure ephemeral auras.
Limited to 47 copies and still in print.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Locrian – Drenched Lands [At War With False Noise/Small Doses]

Killer new full length by the new future of Chicago now that Obama has moved out. Lucky for you all, it is pro-pressed so it’s still in print as I write this which happens about 12% of the time.
Every new thing I hear from Locrian is consistent with the greatness of their past stuff but the duo’s work is also getting tighter and more seamless. Refined isn’t the right word but now that they’ve burrowed out their hole in the earth they’re smoothing out all the rough edges. Don’t get me wrong, they are still dishing out planet-sized sonic offerings but they’ve become even more dense and massive.
Anyhow, let’s actually talk about the music. “Obsolete Elegy in Effluvia and Dross” is more like an intro than a full piece, but it deserves to be a bit longer. Based around a two-chord progression and ever so gradual, disembodied vocals it’s a pretty hypnotic piece. A beautiful keyboard part only furthers this at the end then we’re instantly transported to the alternate universe of “Ghost Repeater” which is real hypnotic as well but not in a pretty way. Putting it bluntly, “Ghost Repeater” is the jam. It’s ten minutes long, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the hit single of the bunch. A bass throb runs the course of the piece and a long two-note synth part with menace to spare, casts a shadow of unease over everything. It’s like casting a shadow over the biggest, blackest fuckin’ cloud you’ve ever seen. It can be none more black. The track really knots up your stomach and puts you into a strange submissive state, like this thing is freaking the shit out of you but you are totally under its spell. Some sort of sonic Stockhausen syndrome or something. When feedback-ridden guitars show up, the monster’s momentum only increases. You gotta hear this track, totally essential to your life. Anyway, “Ghost Repeater” is the peak but the other stuff’s all quality too. “Barrne Temple Obscured by Contaminated Fogs” whatever the hell that is, features an effective, chemically unbalanced organ bit along with pervasive noise and anguished screaming, which never really has the effect on me it’s supposed to. I like the second half a bit more cause it dials down the screaming a bit so it melds more with the mess of organ notes and guitar parts. “Epicedium” is downright serene with mellow, auto-panned organ and clean guitar arpeggios which occasionally nudge the piece in more dissonant directions. It continues this way for nearly half the track until a two ton fuzzbomb is dropped. Despite the heavy barrage of distortion the piece stays pretty put picks up a newfound sense of urgency, due especially to some fantastic melodies played by an echoing, clean-toned guitar which gets to go solo at the end for a moment. A great, melodically complex work. A tolling bell opens up closer “Obsolete Elegy in Last Concrete.” Searing guitar feedback and sustained organ join it as is Locrian’s custom. The guitar takes about this staggered, juddering bass riff and everything gets real metal. Other tracks of guitar swell around it and I think some more organ is added as well. In the final minutes the duo returns to the chords of the first track making for a beautifully transcendent, rising-from-the-ashes vibe. Quite elegiac just as the title suggests and a damn fine way to end it all.
Its nice cause Locrian’s recent, sold-out LP Greyfield Shrines is on here in full as a totally bitchin' bonus track so it’s a total twofer. The CD is done up nice in one of those pro-printed arigato packs I think they’re called and the CD is all black with an embossed “Locrian”/pentagon on it. Comes with a nice insert/booklet too. One of the better records of year so far.
On a related note, Locrian’s putting on a noise/black metal festival with some others in Chicago called Matchitehew Assembly. Locrian, Bone Awl (yes!), Sword Heaven, Burial Hex and many others are playing so it looks sweet. It happens in a few weeks so check it out if you’re in the area. Info here

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Maths Balance Volumes – Tried to Make a Call [Bum Tapes]/Rahdunes – Drink and Drive or Smoke and Fly [Bum Tapes]

I took full advantage of my temporary UK residence to check out Bum Tapes, a label I’d been eyeing for a little while but shied away from as I do too often from foreign labels cause of exchange rates/shipping costs... because I'm a cheap bastard. Over here though, these things are dirt cheap, 3 pounds post paid in the UK. That’s less than five bucks! Anyway, I recommend all you Americans out there to take advantage of the fallen exchange rates while you can. Anyhow, this is part 1 of my Bum Tapes report.
It seems with every Maths Balance Volumes release I hear, I’m more and more convinced they’re one of the best bands operating today. The magic concoction they brew (however it is done) is equal parts pop genius and sloshed basement crawl. The weirdest stuff is put on the first side of this tape, which I guess is called “Tried to Make a Call” though the second side isn’t mentioned. The first piece is a stumbling rag of sauntering carnival organ, a pair of slowed down mumbling voices and found percussion. It sounds like a wreck, and is in a way, but the group’s talent lies in making the most bizarre combos of sounds utterly catchy, if lethargic as well. The second piece is no less abstract but brings a heavy groove. It’s almost like a thrift store Black Dice (in their “dance” phase) but MBV uncover something much more strange and indescribable than Black Dice have or ever will. Based around a looped bass tone, a bunch of unidentified sounds are assembled around in unexpected but well thought out ways.
The B-side is basically a lo-fi pop song and it rules! It's mostly just an unfailingly catchy chord progression and indecipherable muttered vocals. Those elements form the skeleton of the song. Augmenting it is a lovely but subtle keyboard that pops up at the end of each verse. There’s also an amplified metallic something that provides a vague but oh so important percussive element and a bit of growling percussive banging comes in near the end. Even at ten minutes, this thing seems pretty damn essential. Probably the best argument for a cassingle I’ve ever heard, though it wasn’t marketed as such. One of those I always flip over as soon as it ends.
My buddy Adam told me about how good Rahdunes are a while back and, silly me, I’m just now taking his advice, and oh how right he is. The accurately titled first side “Sounds” is a pulsing masterpiece of drone. Despite heavy, throbbing synthesizer pulsations there’s a leisurely feel, like riding a train where you glide along but still feel the machinery grinding beneath you. The texture complements the vibe quite well, lush but synthetic——and with too much gravity to be considered new age.
The flipside is just as good. Two tracks are listed (“Acid Meter” and “Eruption Factor”) but it sounds like one seamless piece to my ears. Maybe I’m reading it wrong and its “Acid Meter Eruption Factor”? Aww, well, I’ll let that be a mystery for the ages. Guest drums, supplied by Nick St. Mary, turn the piece into a rollicking drone rock affair of thunderous proportions. One of the heaviest hazes I’ve ever been caught in. The drums drop out leaving thick, steaming frequencies to rise. Subdued drums return until the smoky vibes evaporate. Excellent tape.
Both tapes are still available but way too limited with nice artwork as well. Rahdunes is an edition of 40 and the Maths Balance Volumes tape is limited to 50. Can’t go wrong picking up either so I suggest you get both.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Juan Matos Capote – Jabal [Circuit Torçat]

Jabal is the debut release from Circuit Torçat, a new label out of Barcelona. This tape is quite good, if a bit too short.
The first piece “Goat Scape” begins with a strong but not harsh hi-pitched sine tone, which is modulated by other frequencies. Though there are brief flashes of melody, the track mostly focuses on textures brought about by combining various frequencies. By the end there’s a loop of a vocal-esque melody through I can’t tell if its from a human source or not. The title track also starts off with a loop of a manipulated sine tone. There’s another loop, reminiscent of turning a tape recorder on and off, that provides a percussive base as sustained, harmonized sine waves take over and the side ends.
The other side contains two pieces as well. “Tide” features sine tones also but over a shuddering bed of lower pitches. Over that base, various other fragments of other sounds are structured. They are probably all of electronic origin but some sound quite percussive causing the piece to scrape along capably. The finale, and my favorite, “Star Dust” reminds me a bit of the lo-fi new age thing going on now a la Dolphins into the Future. Despite a rough patch of distortion in between, the beginning is mellow waves of synthesizer and later brings out a pieced together, seasick melody before getting noisy again with oscillators and metal objects.
Capote’s work isn’t exactly minimal but that influence is present. He focuses on constructing pieces from small fragments of sound. Though the two work from very different source material, Capote’s work might possibly sound like an isolated strand of Tomutonttu’s sound clutter. Sound placed into odd but clearly defined structures. A real pleasant jam.
Edition of 50 and packaged very cleanly, check it out.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ugly Husbands – The Faith of the Family [Roll Over Rover]/Warm Climate – Edible Homes [Stunned]

I like it when people start crossing the line between “song-based” music and experimental stuff, especially when I get to hear it on tape. Being the ever blessed soul that I am, I have two very different but very good tapes that fit that description.
First of all, this Ugly Husbands tape comes in a book. I know that has been done before, but a tape-in-book has never made it to my hands before so I’m fucking impressed. Lucky for me the music is pretty sweet so it won’t just be a novelty item to show friends. UH is a project of Stewart Adams, one of the heads of Roll Over Rover along with Sean McCann and Dave McPeters. Through its 16 tracks The Faith of the Family flirts with lo-fi folk/pop as well as weird sound collage and warm drone stuff, and is often at its best when its synthesizing the two. “Pee-chee” is a couple of acoustic guitars plucked and strummed against radiating keyboard or organ and a bit of feedback. “The Daily Record of C.J. Whitman” by contrast is an uptempo number with lyrics, slashing electric guitar, live drums and a little steel guitar as well. “Mr. Tower’s Dead Trophy” returns to the fingerpicked acoustic guitar and lap steel, adding voice and a few UFO synth parts making their way in. “Spotswood Rice” is a minute long interlude of static and keyboard loops leading into “Off-Hand with Alwyn” the longest song at 9 minutes and one of the best as well. It works with the same palette as the songs before it, but Adams’s vocals are more surefooted and it features a lovely melody (well that’s pretty symptomatic of the tape as a whole.) The song stretches along so effortlessly that I hardly notice it’s a good deal longer than the total of the 4 songs that came before it. Definitely shows strength of songwriting. “Red Hot Hot Doggies” features lonesome vocals adrift in toy keyboard, organ and a recording of something of ski ball arcade or something like that before fading into a movie sample I can’t identify. “Zipper” features more weirdness, this time a cartoon spring noise (boing!) and a vaguely organ grinder/carnival-esque vibe overall. “Radiola” has train whistles, a creepy dude saying “Hey mysterious traveler” and then a really cool tapefucked piece of music. With “The Graves at Counselors” Adams moves back towards the song-like realm with spacey keyboard, echoing guitar and maybe some piano? It all blends to a nice, pulsing mush. “Lay Your Hands on Me” recalls the earlier songs somewhat but is a tad more strung out and has a good dose of fuzz applied/smeared across its face. “The Blob” is more sound collage leading into “The Great County Fair” and “Starved by Ulysses” which is the best back to back match-up on here. The former reminds me some of the Golden Hours tape that came out Not Not Fun forever ago, a cheap, warbly organ and vocal duet with a certain stiltedness that really adds to the flavor. A well-place accordion near the end really sells the track. “Starved by Ulysses” is a pretty great song as well, perhaps the best of the tape. It has a fantastic lilt and the elements all achieve a pretty perfect unity including a great distorted accordion outro. The guitar in “Sleepwalker” drifts over a field recording of croaking frogs and the title track closes the album. Adams ditches the guitar for multiple layers of warbling organ and it’s a real nice shift bringing the tape to a lovely endpoint. I really love that this thing was recorded to 4-track cause it imbues the album with such a presence of warmth and blissfulness. At times the songs can sound a bit same-y, but it’s pretty damn good for a debut, and in a way the similarity of a lot of the songs creates a unified effect more like a drone tape. Worth checking out.
Warm Climate is a project by LA-based Seth Kasselman. The first song “Lost Teeth/Organ Donor” is the one I keep spinning and it’s a good one to put up front cause it breaks down any expectations right away. The tape kicks off with straight ahead Bowie worship with a twisted, plaintive glam ballad before sliding into an unsettling keyboard interlude that seriously reminds me of the piece of music from the scene where Cillian Murphy goes nuts and starts killing people in 28 Days Later. That little keyboard part is my favorite detail of the tape, I wish it wasn’t so fleeting but there’s no time cause Kasselman jumps right into a sixties rave-up jam with go-go ghost dancers and all. Downright brilliant track. This leads to the “Organ Donor” portion I guess cause there’s a whole cavernous mess of pipe organ that surprisingly really grinds on you as well as being a bit soothing. A great looped melody emerges and it’s a fantastic sight to behold until Kasselman starts fiddling with the radio dial as it spews bits of speech and static. “Cave In” has a bunch of jangling whatsits and it almost feels like someone accidentally dubbed in a world music tape for minute. Weird sorts of drones creep in and it might be groovy if it weren’t so damn creepy. Free drumming, seasick groans and more pipe organ appear out of nowhere and the track turns into a haunted pirate ship/jazz club. “Edible Homes and Gardens/Synth Pads for Homeless” brings back vocals but this time it’s over a distorted drum machine and hollow, sustained vibraphone tones. The second part of the track switches gears dramatically into a soft lull of acoustic guitar, puttering synth beboopery before laying on the synth strings along with spliced samples. A drum machine lurches forth steeped in incredibly saturated fuzz and the tape takes on a Portishead/Burial type feel. The anguished samples (distressed people saying things spliced beyond recognition) are a nice contrast to the prettiness of the keyboards. “Devine Souffle & The Southern Approach” starts with vocals singing over drums for nearly a minute before the “full band” comes in. It’s a great midtempo track, and it reminds me a little bit of early/mid 90s British stuff like a more chilled out Manic Street Preachers, maybe? “Motion Picks Glaze” by contrast is an acoustic guitar led ballad with slowly spinning warble in the background. “Gross Polluter” finishes off the tape with a more maximalist approach some vaguely tribal drums and singing, fragments of horns and vocals. An epileptic clarinet gets things going before everything drops out leaving some strange garbled tape sounds. Clarinet returns in fiery free jazz form joined by rumbling free percussion. I’m glad Warm Climate, along with crews like Wasteland Jazz Unit and Helhesten, is sharing the clarinet’s violent side with the world cause it’s a damn cool instrument and doesn’t get a lot of credit. The record drifts on manipulated chimes to its close. I can’t think of anyone else doing stuff like this and doing a good job of it. Glam revivalism has a tendency to kinda blow but Kasselman takes the influence and makes it his own, covering staggering amounts of terrain with his songwriting. A ride worth taking over and over.
The Ugly Husbands tape is down to the last copies of an edition of 50 and Warm Climate is sadly but expectedly sold out at Stunned, though its an edition of 120 so check around at distros, one is bound to turn up. By the way, this is just another instance to add to the list of Stunned Records introducing me to a brilliant artist I had no idea existed. I feel like sending them a thank you note every time I hear one of their tapes.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Ophibre/Hunted Creatures – Split [Oph Sound]/Hunted Creatures – The Failure of Human Instincts [Dynamo!]

Benjamin Rossignol a.k.a. Ophibre sent the most recent release from his Oph Sound label, a split between himself and Ryan Emmett’s Hunted Creatures project.
Ophibre takes the first side with a single piece “A Harem of Moths.” It’s a great piece of electric drone working with relatively low pitches, and shifting and structuring the sounds very subtly. Definitely a piece of music for headphones. I’m not sure what Ophibre uses as a sound source but I’d venture a guess it’s a synth and/or guitar, and there’s lots of layers of it/them. The texture created is very full and strong, and higher frequencies are added as it looms along. It’s not really a melodic piece but there is a lot of effort taken to make the piece harmonically consistent, resulting in a gently, searing drone. This isn't harsh in the least but there’s a churning force and sharpness to it. A nice one to zone out to.
The Ophibre side is good but the Hunted Creatures side is phenomenal. With a breathy bass pulse, higher frequencies are manipulated and despite a melodic undercurrent, the piece is prone to violent outbursts of grisly feedback. Some instrument sounding like a cross between a bass drum and a guitar takes over with a thudding procession. Less ominous drones emanate thereafter resulting in a spacey, distorted flight. A looped keyboard melody and glistening feedback are used to great effect. Emmett exhibits a masterful conjuror’s hand, showing a sturdy sense of control over his sound, fitting lots of little pieces into a coherent fabric… and all this is done live. The second piece, "Himalaya of Skull,” is a bit more compressed, combining a number of the territories traversed in the previous live set. Buried keyboard melodies, swaths of noise, choral feedback, manipulated loops all brought together by overall sense of direction. For some odd reason the piece really sounds like trudging along through a forest of howling steampipes before stumbling down a rocky cliff. I don’t know, I gotta call it like I hear it. I’m so happy this side made it to cassette too cause it really brings out the warmth and aliveness of Emmett’s work here.
I also have a Hunted Creatures disc out on Ryan Emmett’s own Dynamo! imprint. As the record’s title might imply, it falls a touch on the bleaker side. “The Achievement of Nothing” observes crickets chirping for a fair amount of time. The first couple times I listened I just thought it was a field recording then I realized its actually a loop that Emmett manipulates very slightly at times and goes on to form a rhythmic basis for the piece before the feedback and fractured vocal loops kick in. “Accomplishment and Sentiment” features a distorted guitar loud and clear and barely audible little sounds collaged around it. A reversed guitar provides a nice counter-melody in the last minute. “Residual Man” sounds like it could be a live recording. The atmosphere is dingy and clanking which is offset by a mild but quite melodic loop that dies out after a minute. Things get more tumultuous until it’s all literally swallowed up by some white light sine tone. Distortion and a guitar/synth pad loop creep back in gradually to finish it off though. “Incapable of Flight” is one of stand-outs for sure. It is noticeably thicker and weightier than the previous tracks. There’s a loop of a guitar or keyboard or something buried under two tons of distortion. It feels massive and stony, and you can detect things going on underneath but can’t make them out completely. One of those times to relax and get steamrolled. A melody emerges near the end leaving a bit sweeter taste in the mouth. “Sleeping Under the Deadweight” is the most violent of the bunch, and after a rocky start, it begins blowin’ up a gale of harsh feedback. This baptism by fire leaves you primed for the finale, the magnificently titled “Mercy at the Hand of the Lord.” With a heavy bass drum and something sounding like a hybrid between a guitar and piano, the piece marches mournfully, sparsely forth. The track is the most emotionally affecting by far, and shows a really solid grasp on Emmett’s craft. There are only three elements here: a bass drum, the unidentified melodic instrument and silence. And with that limited palette, and a fairly repetitive structure, Emmett creates something at once lethargic, monolithic and beautiful. A really impressive finale.
I’d say the tape might be the preferred, and I think more recent, example of Emmett’s work to seek out (and you get to check Ophibre then too) but there are still a number of great examples in the CD-r as well. The tape comes packaged rather elaborately with textured, white cardboard—which release info is printed on—wrapped around a case with wraparound see-through paper cover with geometric print and then tape labels with an even cooler print. Top marks go to Ben for his Oph design skills. The CD-r comes in a black digipak. Both releases are still available as far as I can tell.