Monday, August 17, 2009

Dubbio Nil – Seed, Fruit, Thorn [Hymns]

I was surprised when I first put on this recent 3” from the Hymns label, because it didn’t have the “Hymns sound” I have come to expect, gnarled sourced material chewed up and spit out by a couple hundred broken fuzzboxes and broken radios.
Instead, from the get go, this Dubbio Nil stuff is unwaveringly beautiful. Incredibly lush synth strings sounding like some kind of astral choir. I suggest cranking it up and letting the sound envelope you. The piece moves fluidly, subtly changing through this first section until a repetitive guitar figure replaces the synth pads briefly before it succumbs to the stranglehold of some reverbed, manipulated sounds. The fields of everlasting light and splendor at the start of the track are now forgotten in this dank cavern. The subsequent section balances those two ideas; the synth returns but there is an ominous feel. It sounds more resigned than reveled. Shards of static scratch along while the synth shrivels into a field recording of storm, which itself shrivels into silence.
It is quite a well made piece, it moves pretty effortlessly through all its changes though it’s the first section that I’m really smitten by. The 3” cd-r is packaged in the stark, signature Hymns art work and as a cool little bonus it comes with a seed and planting instructions. I got a Poncirus Trifoliata. Pretty sweet.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ultra Bonbon - Paradise Vol. 1 [Bonbon Bruises]/Ultra Bonbon - Paradise Vol. 3 [Bonbon Bruises]

A couple of quick tapes from the Bonbon Bruises crew up in Canada.
"Restoration" on the first side of the first tape is probably my favorite of the bunch so it's a good foot to start on. I'm not exactly sure what Ultra Bonbon employs beyond the nebulous "electronics" tag. This track is super jittery, vomiting up all sorts of half formed melodies. The sounds are distorted but not particularly harsh, allowing the melodic sensibilities to really come through. There's even a part towards the end that's a straightforward, unadorned melodic breakdown. The track stays energetic and engaging through its duration, thanks in part to the duo's unwillingness to let a sound sustain for more than a split second. The overall piece is a structure made of exceedingly small splinters making for a very "alive" track. The b-side features "Ancient Tree" which is quite a bit different. It's essentially a duet between some kind of synth/drum machine and what sounds like a keyboard set on "steel drum." It's a really odd configuration but against the odds it works. The melodic presence is important in keeping the track engaging as are small details such distorted eruptions that vanish as quickly as they appear.
On Vol. 3, "The Perfect Laws of Science" gets freaky with a malfunctioning oscillator and drum machine and alien vocals. Some sections flail around and some are incredibly pummeling but the piece in general is just wigging out at every possibility. The whole track is pretty nuts and made all the more confusing with the addition of subtitles "science is not better than the people who pursued after it" and "the laws of science are perfect but the application is not." Is this track meant to be an example of an imperfect application of the laws of science? I have no effin' clue. "Triumphal Fall" on the flip side seems more mild mannered at first before distorted synth swoops drop in. There's a bizarre oscillator melody that hums along against swelling synth notes for the majority of the track. Even though the whole thing is draped lightly in crusty distortion, it approaches being both pretty and hypnotic.
Ultra Bonbon is definitely one of the more interesting noise crews out there cause even with these two tapes, UB made four jams that are each pretty different from each other but when taken together, go to define a single sound. Each tape comes in a mini manila envelope with sweet art and an insert. Vol. 1 is gone but Vol. 3 is available and limited to 30.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

7inch Round-up

I've collected a few 7inches over the past few months and each of them is pretty wildly different so I figured I might as well collect them and show the crazy variety the underground has to offer.
Lesson Lesson Lessen Relearn/Russian Tsarlag - Split [West Palm Beotch]
West Palm Beach's West Palm Beotch records is run by one of the subjects of this split, Nelson Hallonquist aka Lesson Lesson Lessen Relearn. His side "Ultra Cultural Bummer" centers around a manipulated tape of two dudes talking about the transcendental effects of sports on the body via metaphysics. The babbling is surrounded by smoky synth and oscillator squeals and an incredibly effective (at being eerie) thumb piano. The piece has a vaguely dub feel to me, it doesn't have any of the genre markings of dub but it carries itself with a loose implied groove that I hear in the trippiest of dub. Hallonquist does a good job navigating the tape through the piece never allowing it to overshadow or distract from the cool sonic ripples undulating through the rest of track.
A lot of people have been really into Russian Tsarlag stuff but I heard a few tapes never really connected with them. However, I knew the day would come when I'd hear a RT jam I dig and "The Master's Speech" is it. I had trouble figuring whether to play it at 33 or 45 at first. It sounded great at both speeds but the vox just seemed too alien at 45 so I'm pretty sure its 33 just like the other side. Anyway, enough jibberjabber. This seems to be Russian Tsarlag at his most electric so far and its real good. Chunky guitar chords, hollow trashcan drums and sleepy vocals. The whole jam is steeped in lethargy and smeary lo-fi production values. The track trudges along for awhile before hitting the almost too slow to be catchy chorus. The fact that this sounds great at both speeds is a testament to the quality of the songwriting; play it at 33 if you're into Pink Reason or at 45 if you're into The Bugs. All and all this is a cool split and it comes on marbled mauve vinyl (awesome!)
The Spread Eagles - Don't Be A Drag [9-11 is a Joke]
The Spread Eagles are Kansas scuzzbags Fag Cop plus two other members and this is their 7inch. While Fag Cop goes for a sound scummier than any other (which I love them dearly for) The Spread Eagles is more of a garage rock party band and pretty much just as awesome. The title track gets things rolling with a fantastic central riff and tears through the track with backing vocals in tow barely pausing for a guitar solo. "Saga of the Year 3000" throws on a spacesuit and goes all sci-fi with an effects-drenched guitar lead and so much energy that they all must have been drunk on rocket fuel. "I Wanna Be My Man" is a throwback to a bunch of styles. For example, this could be one of the fiercest garage bands from the 60s or some early 90s band formed by Dead Kennedys junkies. Another killer riff, that rolls and grooves until it can't anymore and more excellent use of backing vocals too. "In the CIA" is super brittle and garagey as hell with bouncy drumming, unintelligibly howled vocals and a slamming guitar solo. If it sounds like you'll be into this you will be.
Grey Daturas - Barren Planet [Heathen Skulls]
I was lucky enough to catch Australian trio Grey Daturas twice while I was in London in the Spring and they fucking ruled. Twice. I think they're really in their element in the live setting but this 7inch does nicely to stave back hunger for some live Daturas action. Generally I'm a little wary of one-sided 7inches but "Barren Planet" is a monster. Heavy and grimy and just so fucking cool. They ride a great riff for the whole track and pull all kinds of wah'd guitar freak outs. There's so many great little melodic licks in the midst of all it that it flies by causing me to keep playing it over and over again. Though I'd have preferred more music, there's a cool etch of the Grey Daturas logo on the B-side.
Bhob Rainey/Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase - Split [Sedimental]
A split between two of Massachusetts's finest sonic nutjobs, Bhob Rainey of Nmperign and Chris Cooper of Buddies, Fat Worm of Error and his solo project Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase. Rainey's side ""Ain't it Grand" wastes no time fucking up the sonic spectrum. Angry, waspy tones freak and whir in an as indiscernible manner as possible. I'm not sure if a listener is meant to be able make any sense of this scrambled mess but its fun to listen to. The second half is calmer (that term is very relative) and intercuts a recording of a hobo harmonica player and train noise. "Journey to the Center of Something or Other" is among the craziest stuff I've heard from Cooper. At first it's a bit more abrasive than usual but he tosses in the occasional hint of melody making it a bit more palatable than Rainey's side. The song mellows out for a while sounding like machines imitating an orchestra before moving on to noisier pastures but still exhibiting a sense of composition. Nevertheless, it still leaves you with that "what the fuck did I just hear?" feeling. Jess Goddard (Schurt Kwitters/Fat Worm of Error) does the artwork.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Stunned Records Round-up

The formerly Long Beach-based/now Portland-based Stunned label has put out so many of my favorites this year (Warm Climate, Albero Rovesciato, Kabyzdoh Obtruhamchi, Super Minerals to name a few) and here's four more to add to the list.
Chapels - Last Night of the Earth
This is the first I've heard of Adam Richards's (House of Alchemy label) music and man was I impressed when I first put this on. Beginning with a short sonic whipping on "Inhale," the tape finds Richards exploring the transcendental properties of a distorted microphone. He weaves blankets of feedback and, I think, mainly voice into muddy, shifting banks of fuzz. Richards does a pretty good job finding rhythm in the midst of it all and he gets onto some kicks that just flow like liquid. The tape feels like a river at times, ebbing and flowing, dictating its own pace but it sounds more volcanic than peaceful. "Another Lost Night" makes use of sparse looped drumming incorporating it into the simmering tumult. Richards does a really interesting thing where rhythm is one of the main focal points of the track, but the rhythm itself is quite slippery. It seems to continuously get buried only to reemerge slightly warped, bent into something new. It's really the side-long "Beggar" on the second side that gets me going though. It takes its time casting its spell, it's mainly a couple of distorted frequencies interacting for the first bit, but it slowly creeps into a nearly melodic zone. It's not necessarily a hypnotic thing but you just kinda fade into it. The same pulsing loop is pushed up front while cackles and groans and distorted throbs cascade and trickle around it. At some point, probably around half way through, the piece is fully realized, lots of little details working in perfect unison: almost choral bits of vocals, melodically manipulated feedback, a central groove in the form of rumbling mounds of fuzz. It's a fantastic, scraping, gnarled beauty. I'm gonna have to check out more of this Chapels stuff cause Richards seems to have a pretty fundamentally unique approach to the noise/drone genre, I'm curious as to what other stuff he's come up with.
Sparkling Wide Pressure - Seven Inside & Out
I always have a tough time labeling Frank Baugh's Sparkling Wide Pressure project. It's not really drone because there's such an emphasis on melodies and he tends to compose things in a vaguely song-like manner yet the traditionally song-based tags don't fit either. Mr. Baugh's an anomaly; that's for sure. "Color First" eases you into the tape with its fugue/funeral procession hybrid. The track moves at a very mellow, nearly mournful, pace but to Baugh's credit he makes the track incredibly active despite the slow pace. There's guitar, static-y loops and I don't how many layers of keyboard melodies. My favorite, hands down, is "Creeping Cloth Highway." It gets even more "fugue-ier" which is a big plus in my book. There's a fantastic intertwining of synth lines and the thing that seals it all is a distant, probably vocal, whine that resembles a singing saw more than anything else. A break halfway through finds a new melody and minimal drum machine taking over, set against quiet, garbled speech. It all climaxes with a Vangelis-esque rise from the ashes. Awesome. The second side brings "Outside, Above My Head" which is a good deal different, at least on the outset. A recording of wordless vocals and acoustic guitar out in a wood somewhere is the central element with touches of synth making their way in and out. Eventually, with the addition of more keyboard and wiry electric guitar, the track gets to be a lethargic, swollen psych jam. "Rock Wall" starts up more ominously with a modulated, bassy synthtone. This track is way more minimal and it takes a little while to capture me, though once Baugh starts laying on more keyboard lines, I get into it. In an effort to make up my own silly genre like real music critics do, I'm gonna call Sparkling Wide Pressure's stuff "neo-fugues." Baugh's work really does remind me of what Bach was doing but with a much looser, more warped approach. Good stuff and SWP has a brand new tape on Stunned so head there if you're interested.
Silver Bullets - Free Radical
This Sicilian psych crew was discovered by Super Minerals and Magic Lantern member/apparent Stunned A&R man William Giacchi who produced this tape as well. Most of the tape is made up of fat, jungle grooves and opener "Monday Morning in Ragusa" is among the fattest and jungliest. Not too mention an instant favorite. The bass and percussion are wisely pushed front and center while the psych guitar improv's are peripheral, adding to the track's texture and letting the focus fall on the rhythm section. It's heavy, hypnotic and addictive. Twenty more minutes of this would do me just fine but Silver Bullets still have another ten songs to get to. And holy shit do they do it again on the next track, "Flight from Babylon." This time instead of dense and heavy, the groove is a bit speedier and takes on a brilliant pan-world flavor. The percussion is vaguely African sounding and they got some brilliant melodies that sound somewhere between gypsy jazz stuff and traditional South American flute music. Sadly, I don't much about Sicily beyond The Godfather so this could be inspired by traditional Sicilian music for all I know. I do know that this jam has a catchy as hell, rattling groove though. "Black Leaf" isn't particularly rhythmically driven but rhythm still has a presence. The brief track is mainly led by a couple of echoing guitars. The title jam brings back the rhythmic section but the overall effect is more of a full band glide than a focus on the grittiness of the groove. "Revolutions" is heavy on the South American vibes I mentioned earlier. There's some great intertwining guitar and flute-like lines over an active but united rhythm section. There's a great smokiness to it all like it's soundtracking some mystical magic show or show something; that sounds silly but this jam is like a hallucinogenic so no wonder I'm drooling kooky babble. I think there's maybe a sax solo buried in there too but I can't be certain. Needless to say the track rules.
"Il Punto" on side b is some of the most streamlined, "rock" stuff on the tape. It's basically 4/4 and leaves the guitars wide open spaces to shred. Just wait for the introduction of the tambourine near the end, it really gets things moving. "Sister Polygon" is hazier with lovely cascading keyboards and the absence of a rhythm section (though not rhythm.) They're surprisingly good at this kind of stuff too. Though I can't say why, "Shiva" almost seems to have a more acoustic vibe save for some spacey guitar playing. "74 Dream" is similar but wades a good deal deeper into the swamp fuzz territory. The apparent sequel "White Leaf" weirdly enough has an awesome mechanical vibe as the Silver Bullets whip their gangly limbs into shape. The closer "Ascent" is a beefy psych jam, thick and solemn. A perfect conclusion.
I'm the first to admit I get bored with some psych stuff out there but this tape is so punchy, and the Bullets play with such soul, it's practically revitalizing the genre in my eyes. Here's another one to chalk up there with the best that Stunned has ever produced. So great and killer artwork too.
Dead Black Arms - Lake Reflection Catalyst
It feels like it has been a long time since I heard some great Danish drone but no longer. Especially cool is that it's brought to me by an artist unknown to me (one of Stunned's specialties.) Lake Reflection Catalyst is two brooding side long slabs, the first of which is matter-of-factly titled "Lake Reflection Catalyst I." After a few minutes, the piece hits full-on bludgeon mode. It sounds like mainly guitar doing the thrashing with the possibility of a taped-key synth in there too. Dead Black Arms' sound recalls the live-drone vibe of Family Underground and Hototogisu's penchant for heaviosity. DBA don't allow for much breathing room, they seems to be caving your skull in between the headphones to the point of claustrophobia setting in. They slam the same violent chord over and over, only it somehow gets more oppressive each time you hear it. The twenty-plus minute track has a rise/fall action, though it's a fairly shallow curve allowing for maximum time to be writhing in feedback. The flipside "Lake Reflection Catalyst II" begins quite differently with a barrage of clattering cymbals. They create a surprisingly full sound; it ends up working similarly to the blaze of feedback on the previous side with the density of microtonalities generated by cymbals rather distortion. The sound itself more jagged and ruthless than feedback can usually provide. That isn't to say the side is completely devoid of electronics, there's a creeping drone always looming not far off the shore. Dead Black Arms pulls an extended crumble to finish off the track which is a nice touch culminating with some fairly pretty guitar strums. A solid outing worth checking out for those looking to be battered and bruised in freezing cold temperatures as the ominous cover art suggests.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Plankton Wat - Dawn of the Golden Eternity [DNT]

First of all, I must note how beautiful this record looks. Dewey Mahood (Plankton Wat) contributed great artwork from the sleeve to the labels and DNT main man Tynan Krakoff put it all together beautifully with lovely ruby red marbled vinyl. Damn, I just couldn't believe my eyes when I opened it up.
Last I heard from Plankton Wat was last year's tape on DNT. It was a great psych slow burner but Mahood has tweaked his sound just a bit for this LP and topped himself in the process. The first of ten, "The Magic Citadel," caught me off guard as it's a total fist pumper. Glistening waves of guitar set in with raucous tambourine hits before Mahood just starts burning up the fretboard. It's probably only about a minute and a half but it gets your heart racing. The title track cools things down a bit with airy, looped layers of guitar and free drumming. The drums really control the dynamics of the track cause when they're mellow cymbal rolls it's a pretty piece but when they get hectic so does the whole track. "Song of Winter Death" features more great, and completely different, drumming. Hollow, thudding toms make a semi-hypnotic base for acoustic slide guitar and flute to do their thing. "Shrouded Path of Enchantment" reminds me a bit of that DNT tape with stark and brooding acoustic guitar arpeggios. There's a second guitar that provides subtle plucks of the root note occasionally and it creates a strange sensation, the sonic equivalent of an undertow. A single, skeletal melody is doubled by banjo and voice on "Occult Blues." It's short but pretty profoundly eerie. "The Exiled Wanderer" is an awesome rhythmically driven track. Each instrument is used to percussive ends but Mahood deftly weaves flickers of melody from mbira and other instruments within the tangled web of rhythms.
The second side kicks off with "Sphere within the Lotus" and I'm not sure if it's possible to give a song a more "psychedelic" name. It fits cause it's a squall of a song drenched in glorious, or copious, amounts of fuzz and wah, depending on your viewpoint. Mahood is even rocking wind chimes harder than they've ever been rocked before. Sadly, the piece is pretty short. "While the Clouds Gather" is a mellow number, and there's not too much to say other than it's supremely, if unassumingly, gorgeous. It sneaks up on you. "Other Realms" is the default epic of the side, marking the return of Mahood's wordless vocals paired this time with guitar. The track drifts for a while until a slamming groove comes out of nowhere making everything get real good real quick. "Voyage of the Night Pavilion" finds acoustic and electric guitars making a great team, the former handling the melody and the latter producing a fuzzy fog and chiming in on the melody when it feels like it. Its a perfect outro cause of the gently lilting vibe, though it heats up near the end with a melting guitar lead.
Dawn of the Golden Eternity is another great installment of Mahood's 4-track psych excursions. I like that he kept most tracks pretty short so he could cover a lot of ground, but I wish he'd given the openers of both sides a bit more time to jam it out. If you dig Mahood's stuff this definitely worth the pickup and if you don't know it, this is a fine place to start.
Still available.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dragging an Ox Through Water - The Tropics of Phenomenon [Freedom to Spend]

Initially released last year as an LP on Awesome Vistas The Tropics of Phenomenon by Brian Mumford’s Dragging an Ox Through Water project has now been given the professional CD treatment by fellow Portlander Pete Swanson on his still relatively young Freedom to Spend label. That’s a lot of info to cram into the first sentence but don’t you now have that fantastic sense of being an informed consumer? Moving on; upon hearing such an unwieldy and weighty moniker as Dragging an Ox Through Water I was not expecting a pop album but that’s pretty much what The Tropics of Phenomenon is.
“I Would Understand” instantly reminds me of Microphones stuff from earlier in the decade, a soft voice and a nylon string guitar. The thing is though over the top of that simple arrangement there’s a nutty free guitar/electronics/percussion paste that’s spread on thickly enough to set the track off kilter but not enough to dampen any of the melodic elements. The late introduction of a warm organ completes the lightly elegiac mood. At a minute and a half, it works well as a sampling of things to come. The second track, “Snowbank Treatment” is an instant stand out. The voice/guitar element is still present but augmented by an essentially electro arrangement: a steady electronic kick, a fuzzy synth melody and a heavily modulated, lilting keyboard lead. It’s pretty difficult to pull off an electro/acoustic thing and Mumford does it unbelievably well. It’s more a superficial comparison than anything else but Dragging an Ox Through Water reminds me of The Magnetic Fields where the songwriter’s grasp of the song is so strong that he can assemble odd arrangements culled from a number of sources and consistently end up with a great pop song. Mumford’s work certainly veers onto weirder avenues than The Magnetic Fields though. The beginning of “A.) The Unbearable Dumbness of Being B.) Earthen Airlock” is some kind of plunderphonic pastiche before a grimly buzzing synth coats the track thickly until fading to a long bout of near silence that makes up the rest of the track. “Dice Smiles” is the probably most plaintive, traditional ballad of the bunch with strums backed by a small orchestra of oscillators. It’s a pretty beautiful and surprisingly delicate arrangement. Interestingly enough there’s a silent fifth track delineating the two “sides” of the CD attempting to retain the feel of an LP. “Predictions” turns a sparse, punctuated acoustic arrangement into something reminiscent of a mechanical free jazz band before Mumford’s voice returns attempting to be heard above the din. The most straightforwardly pretty song on here, “Houses and Homonculi,” turns whining electronics, pretty close to the kind of thing you’d hear on a harsh noise tape, into an emotive and even somber expression in the presence of such a lovely fingerpicked melody and multi-tracked vocals. “Lilacs Sprang from These Apes' Brains (Shut Down All U.S. Torture Facilities)” operates more like an interlude than a song, flute-like oscillators singing and electronic gizmos all a fluttering and sputtering before the title, accompanied by guitar, is sung. “Devil’s Prayer” has a sprightly keyboard diddy and a buoyant rhythm before getting swallowed up by a blackened synthesizer and, luckily, its spat out again cause it makes you feel so damn good. Finisher “Not Harping on Powers” seems to have a bit more dramatic weight, making it a good choice to end the record on. This is partially just because of the song itself but there’s this raging inferno of distortion kept at bay during the whole song but it constantly threatens to subsume everything around it.
This record is incredibly solid; not only are there no throwaways, but the whole album is pretty much all highpoints. Mumford has developed a consistently engaging sound for this album and has a pretty good knack for when it’s best to defy expectation and when it’s best to let the melody play out. Also it must be mentioned that the voice can really make or break a record like this and Mumford’s voice, whether it’s not much more than a whisper or when he really goes for it, is really pleasant to listen to. There’s a naturalness and warmth to his delivery which is integral to the success of the whole venture.
I’ve been sitting here for a while, listening to the record for the third time, trying to come up with a good way to wrap this all up but it ain’t happening so I’m just gonna say this: Mumford has made just a fucking great pop record, which is way too much of a rarity these days, and I’m enjoying it immensely.
Still available from Freedom to Spend.