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.

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