Saturday, January 2, 2010

Kommissar Hjuler/Mama Baer – Amerikanische Poesie und Alkoholismus [Feeding Tube]/Zebu! – Bag of Sand [Feeding Tube]

Easthampton, MA’s Feeding Tube Records is home to some of the weirdest sounds in the world and even more impressive/nuts is that FT puts out just about every release on thick vinyl in pro-printed jackets. If that isn't dedication... Case in point, I got two LPs here, one is a split by Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Baer and the other is Bag of Sand by West Mass band Zebu! so named because it’s a reissue of a CD-r originally packaged in a bag of sand.
This Hjuler/Baer record was first described to me as “really heady euro art shit (with the emphasis on shit.)” And, really, that’s pretty spot on. When I first opened it up I was greeted with a frightening, pixilated image of a man and woman who I assume are Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Baer. Then, turning the record over there’s a graphic painting of a hermaphrodite orgy. Yet, what is actually on the record is even weirder.
Kommissar Hjuler’s side “ONCE AGAIN concrete poetry (or was it the song?)” comes with a description that reads “a collage of US-american sound poetry, collected by Jean-Francois Bory, presented by Kommissar Hjuler und Frau.” Beginning with “Once again! Concrete poetry,” which quickly becomes a familiar refrain, Hjuler I assume introduces the piece as a collection of interesting developments in concrete poetry which spans the world. I don’t know anything about concrete poetry so I’m not really sure if these are samples or Hjuler's und Frau's own readings of various pieces of poetry. I’m leaning toward the latter though there may be samples in there as well. Hjuler growls through a distorted microphone which feeds back often and static always seems to be present though not always noticeable. The rapid repetition of “und schnitz(?)” around halfway through gives the piece an unusual but welcome rhythmic push. This thing is really just nuts and all over the place. I'm not sure how to describe what's going on other than to say that. When Hjuler starts reciting the English alphabet I’m not really sure what’s going on, not that I had any idea before. Is that part of a poem he’s reading or is he just practicing his English? When he’s speaking about the clumping animal and the agency of the typewriter, what the fuck is he talking about? I feel my questions are doomed to go unanswered. The track has a very stark, claustrophobic nature and, to be honest, it's a little scary. This Kommissar dude seems like someone which, if I saw him, might cause me to cross the street. Frau seems nice though. Near the end of the side they seem to get more agitated with more distorted growls and feedback whiting out the words they’re saying. Although, Hjuler reads surprisingly lucidly that “the text that is read is never the same for anyone” which catches me off guard as it makes total sense; it’s one last gasp of coherence before the all-consuming, distorto-clusterfuck that the side culminates in. Maybe I don’t need to say this but, what the fuck?
Mama Baer’s contribution is like a side of nursery rhymes by comparison. Her work is still pretty damn weird though. The description that comes along with this is “contains a lot of field recordings and Mama Baer’s voice/treatment.” Baer’s recorder also makes itself a mainstay. The first track “Alcoholisme – brut Part 1” is a much appreciated respite from the firebreathing of Hjuler’s side. There’s a bunch of spliced samples of European films or television shows nestled among a slowly looping percussion hit and wandering recorder. It’s strangely soothing for most of its duration. Baer’s voice pops up near the end of the track, after a brief bit where her voice is cut up, she sings in English though I can’t figure out what she’s singing about. The percussion loop picks up a little but the track abruptly drops off. The second part of “Alcoholisme – brut” features all of the elements of the first part plus a few more. This track is much more filled out with multiple layers of recorder, bits and pieces of electronic squelch along with samples and voice. At one point she duets with what sounds a manipulation of a recording of her voice. A cut-up, distorted recorder accompanies the duet though its volume fluctuates unexpectedly. Electronics and what sounds like someone scribbling very quickly with a marker or pencil appear for a while. Eventually there’s a strange but cool part where Baer constructs a melody out of various recordings of her singing “anymore.” It took me a little while to figure out what she was up to there but it’s quite cool once I figured out what she was doing. Anyway, that “anymore” bit gets all whipped up until disappears. The piece goes out on frantic manipulated samples and calming, echoing recorder and percussion loop. It’s definitely a strange side but much easier to get a handle on than side A.
I’d never heard Zebu! before which I’m kinda surprised by. Judging from this record they’re a pretty killer band. There isn’t any personnel info on the jacket but based on an accompanying drawing, it looks like there are two people in the band, someone on drums and someone on guitar, and there’s occasional vocals and electronics and whatnot as well. The record kicks off with “Jackets Don’t Mean a Thang” and auto-panned Velcro-squelch guitar/electronics. There’s a long build up before the crunchy drums enter. There’s a bit of free rock vibe for awhile before the band falls into blurry, fuzzy drones ultimately crawling out with a weirdly bluesy guitar solo and following freak out. A melody that the guitarist had been jamming on since the beginning becomes clear and it’s actually a rather pretty one when played with lucidity. The track almost ends up a punk song with fast drumming and vocals but the feedback is so out of control I’d be a stretch to call it that. “Thights” is a short simple song which begins with an a capella intro. “Rover the Radio, Over” is one of the LP's stand outs. Beginning with a weirdly afro-Caribbean vibe, or at least as afro-Caribbean has a two man free rock band can sound. The track is wrapped tightly in a blanket of static but the thunderous drumming and strange groovy melodies still come through loud and clear. Zebu! keeps things energetic and dynamic through it’s duration making for a pretty galvanizing jam. “Wow Oh Oh” is only around 40 seconds long and it’s basically a smattering of ideas that would all be great songs if developed. That track shifts suddenly into “Don’t Burn the House Down” a lovely piano and accordion duet which is quite shocking given how feedback-riddled this record is. Closing the side, “Pete Shakes the Floors” never totally lets loose, instead moving back and forth between tense passages of feedback and pounding drums though there’s a brief, riotous ending.
“Olleh Olleh” is basically an intro of one of Zebu!’s recordings played backwards ("Hello Hello" get it?) “Crawling through the Ropes” is another stand out jam. It sounds slightly cleaner so you can really witness the dexterity of the two performers. One of its strengths is the track always has a groove even during the noisy whirlwind freakout section. Near the end the drummer just goes off, giving shape to the bludgeoning noise. The rest of the side’s tracks clock in at 3 minutes or less, the first of which is “Back Tooth Heavy Numb” which is mostly guitar drones. “Enter” brings in a drum machine and keyboard providing another unexpected track. It’s mainly a duet between guitar and organ but there’s a continuous slot-machine keyboard loop in the background as well. “My Girls a Thug” is basically an intro to “My Head Feels like it has Ten Pounds of Sand in it.” “Head” is a loose rock jam, not particularly structured but, despite tempo changes, sticks to a 4/4 and chords thing. “Eat Banana:Lay the Drums & Wave at Thy Guitar” is actually introduced as “Peel Your Banana and Play Drums” so I’m not sure which is correct but it doesn’t really matter. The track marks the first real step towards song-like territory. It’s got some lyrics and a central guitar line supported by the drums. After the lethargic first half, the track opens up into a fuzzy free-guitar rave-up. “Bloody Lips” makes the full transformation in its minute-long duration. It’s a straight up punk jam and a good one that doesn’t betray Zebu!’s abnormalities. Anyone into crazy ass free rock or the more adventurous scuzzy basement punk spheres should do themselves a favor and check these guys out.
The Kommissar Hjuler/Mama Baer LP is pressed on 180 gram vinyl and is limited to 500 copies. The Zebu! LP is still available but only limited to 100. It also comes with a CD-r of the music and a hilarious insert.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice write-up, feeding tube sounds like a clas[sick] affair, cheers