Saturday, May 29, 2010

Little Fyodor - Peace is Boring [Fox Pop]

Little Fyodor is a strange dude, the cover illustration is barely an exaggeration. He's also got cred rarely seen in the world of limited edition tapes: nearly three decades worth of work and even a record on Elephant 6!
Fyodor crams ten tracks into the first side ("Side Atom,") starting things off with "Death Sides Now." It's a slow, percussion and voice ditty about ghosts and ghouls that makes for a good lead into the frighteningly spastic "That was a Mistake." Fyodor makes like Devo's crazier cousin with frenetic guitar shards, hyper-kinetic synths and "flustered nerd" vocals. I particularly love when Fyodor changes the chorus from "That was a mistake!/That was a mistake!" to "Condoleeza Rice!/Condoleeza Rice!" at the end of the song. Maybe my favorite track from the tape. I should probably address the most in-your-face element of the album: Fyodor's voice. His high-pitched, cartoonish drawl will definitely grate on the less easygoing nerves out there, although I must say, it's hard to imagine the songs without it. The vocals are bold and definitely throw caution to the wind making for a real love-it-or-hate-it situation. For those who can take the vocals though, there's a lot to like about the record.
"All My Clothes are Uncomfortable" isn't much more than a sketch but that doesn't make it any less fun. Fyodor and his gang manage to pack much more than a minute's worth of jittery energy and jangly melodies into the 62 seconds of "Spider Dream." "Open Up Your Heart (and Let the Sunshine In" sounds like the creepiest nursery song in history ("Let the sunshine in/Face it with a grin/Smilers never lose/Frowners never win") though that's due in part to numerous mentions of combating the Devil. There's a great music box-style melody to it. "You Don't Know" is another solid song with anti-authoritarian and/or just silly lyrics ("Rules and regulations are your latest fad" and "You only care about the hairspray in your hair"). Another favorite is "Cruising (Bummer Scene)" which reminds me of a number of artists, one of the most surprising being Girls Against Boys. It slows the tempo down a bit and it really pays off. There's some great toy piano melodies and lead guitar work all anchored by funky rhythm guitar and Fyodor's suitably hushed vocals. "Everybody's Sick" is literally a scat song, more of an oddity that anything else yet it's one of the five longest songs on the album (though that still isn't very long.)
Another highlight is the giddy, anti-war (and anti-mosquito) sing-along "The God Gripe Song" whose chorus leads off with the line "Why are people so fucked up?" After a brief, warbling rendition of "What a Wonderful World" the band launches into the track which is probably the catchiest two minutes of the tape. Following that up is "Silly Noise" which is basically just that, slide whistle, oscillator etc.
The title track opens up the second side ("Side Bomb") with dissonant synthesizers and ironically callous lyrics "Peace is boring/I want murder/Peace is boring/I crave drama". At 4 minutes though, it's way too much of the same repeated melodic progression. "The Natural Progression of Life" has a heavy, frantic bass throb that dominates the track before changing into a reggae-ish song. It's another slower jam that, once again, really works. Fyodor explores one of the scariest things about dying--no longer having worldly knowledge or sensations--and that "nothing will never matter to you again." Definitely a standout. From there, there is a banjo-laden Nancy Sinatra cover, "Boots," before "Death Wish," another upbeat anti-war number that goes half-time halfway through for some deep jamming until it wraps. The finale, "Fuck-a-duck-a-luck-a-luck-a-ding-dong" finds Fyodor finally going off the deep end into complete nonsense including weird reverbed chipmunk voices repeating the title. There's a nice theremin-style freakout though.
This is a well-made record for those into its spazzy, hyperbolic aesthetic. The tape sounds warm, loud and clear and looks professional with cool artwork by Hannah Batsel and lime green cassettes with WW2 images on the labels. Still available from the Fox Pop Recording Co.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mortuus Auris & the Black Hand - Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden [Stunned]

Shame on me. I've been feeling guilty because I've been loving Pete Taylor's Mortuus Auris tapes on Stunned (obviously!) for a long time now yet I haven't said word one about them here. What is the point having this whole "blog" thing if I'm not gonna use it to just hang out and tell people what I like? Well, I like this. A lot. Mission accomplished.
The praise ain't gonna end there, I assure you.
Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden (say what?) lumbers to a start with radio static and recordings of angry and/or chattering individuals from there a mellow groove via short keyboard loops kicks up and a rude synthesizer starts spitting all over them. You'd think they might wanna high-tail it outta town, but the burbling filtered drool enters into the fold along with a chiming bell and the mechanized crank of a log ride. Taylor skips the drop right to post-splashdown calm. Continuing to lay low, a modest beat materializes and disappears before everything shifts into a minimal dirge with metallic sawing overtop (like an actual saw maybe?). While not exactly a euphoric rise, a repeating figure of synth swells leads the listener by the hand from dark gray into the lighter gray. It's a great moment as it manages to stagger, thrust and lilt in the same breath. Beautiful to say the least, but in a modest sort of way. The tape slips down into a deep undertow briefly before resurfacing with a lurching beat of crunching static. What sounds like slowed-down bells stretch out across the cassette's hissing plains until an everchanging piano figure emerges amongst the drones. Aquatic bee-booping synths straight outta that Dolphins/Orphan Fairytale collab tape drip and swoop around, juxtaposed against the tense background drone. Taylor makes good on his suggestion as a brief echoing keyboard piece in the Black Monopoly Orphan Joker Child Fairytale vein crops up. Surprisingly, it seems like the first side will wrap with earnest guitar strumming and a woman speaking French but Taylor pulls some organ loops out of his hat to conclude the side.
The second side opens up with a barely there drone with a splash of accordion or similiar instrument. A haunted piano and various reversed noises show up not making it very far before an unusually lush keyboard (for this tape) takes control. Passing through random pitter patter, perhaps a recording of rain, a fantastic twitching, squirming beat comes together almost instaneously and leaves way too soon. In it's place though, is some kind of meditative hand-drum beat. Though I don't actually know if it's a hand-drum being used. There's a sound on here that really perplexes me as I can't tell if it's a sample of a human voice or a synth or a layering of various sounds but anyhow, it shows up for a bit to confuse me, thought you might like to know that. More confusion is on the way too, after a brief lovely bit of piano rains down, I'm met with something could maybe be a field recording of trickling water run through some filter pedals. Somehow I doubt it, but Taylor creates a really tactile, pseudo-gastrointestinal mess of a beat. I like it. Heading to one of my favorite parts of the tape, a group of foreign-sounding pieces ranging from monk-like chants to Middle Eastern dance music. I cannot quite tell if they're original or appropriated recordings, probably the latter I assume. The various pieces are occasionally broken up by rough patches of noise, or infilitrating drones. Acoustic guitar makes its return, picking out a repeated arpeggio, until some seriously thick noise hi-jacks the tape and drives it into the ground 'til it perishes in flames. Or so you think! A buoyant guitar strum returns and fends off the noise, ending the tape on a bouncing, upbeat note. It's always nice to see the good guys win.
Taylor's work as Mortuus Auris seems focused in creating potent miniatures but this tape finds him applying that concept in a more streamlined, larger framework. Practically each mini-piece has a few drifting tones and some rhythm cycling but there is a longform fluidity to the tape due to some skilled editing. It definitely feels like a whole as opposed to fragments spliced together. This is the kinda tape that's a journey (which is why, for better or worse, this review was basically written like a tour-guide.)
60 minutes. No filler. Finely crafted and supremely bitchin'.
Stunned supplies fitting "dismal paradise" artwork too. Sold-out but you're bound to find a copy languishing somewhere. If you will it, dude, it is no dream.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Family Treasures - Altars of Ashes [Tape Drift]

Eric Hardiman's (Rambutan/Century Plants) Tape Drift label has been a real powerhouse as of late. This last batch may be the label's best yet and, for me, the ultimate champion is this tape by Family Treasures.
Family Treasures is generally a solo project of Danny Moore but for this tape he's joined by collaborator Jeffrey Shurdut on saxophone and man, oh man, what a duo these guys make. I haven't heard Moore's solo stuff yet so I know I'm making an uneducated statement (but that ain't gonna stop me,) based on the strength of this tape I'd love to see this duo become permanent.
The chemistry between Moore and Shurdut is spot-on. Shurdut's playing is absolute fire and Moore, who mans synth, electronics and percussion, takes a really interesting and effective approach. Moore goes very minimal with effected rumbles and clangs never creating a constant rhythm. He occasionally hovers on a vibrating synth note and Shurdut reaches for about the highest pitches you can possibly produce on an alto saxophone. The duo settles into a rather placid portion of sustained tones that is slowly split at the seams by Shurdut's blares and sinister synth swells courtesy of Moore. The atmosphere is queasily thick and foreboding as Shurut tears into his instrument. There are absolutely no themes here as far as I can tell but the duo definitely create a harmonic unity through (or despite) their tonally disparate modes of sound creation. Shurdut wails away with a seriously excellent free solo while Moore holds down a mellow bed of sound. When he's not being a free jazz monster, Shurdut follows Moore's lead with long drawn-out notes twisting in the wind. You only get sucked deeper in the transcendent black hole as the tape rolls; the sax carves up the proto-cosmic soundscape with texture, control and, most of all, conviction. The tape is a single long-ass 45 minute track split onto two sides, but it immerses you into its world so completely, it's never a chore to listen to. I've been reliving the experience fairly regularly.
With the second side, Moore sets a faster, more standardized rhythm along with washes of keyboard and spacey synth sound effects. Moore's expanded presence is welcome as his increasingly complex orchestrations inch the piece little by little toward a climax. The duo's stark cooperation on the first side becomes more and more interactive on the second side. That is until Moore all but drops out, shining the spotlight on, what is perhaps, Shurdut's finest moment: a squiggly, frothing-at-the-mouth burst of energy. Moore capitalizes on the moment slowly creeping back pushing the jam to the next level with heavy throbs and whirs of electronics. The imposing, stoic thug to Shurdut's flamboyant, psychotic crime boss.
Culminating in dramatic sweeping fashion, this is one of the most thorough and compelling re-envisionings of free jazz I've come across. I don't know what it's limited to, hopefully no less than 100. One of the must haves of the year! Don't sleep on it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Uphill Gardeners - The Uphill Gardeners [olFactory/Kill Shaman]/Moses Campbell - Who are You? Who is Anyone? [olFactory/Static Aktion/NGA]

Catching up on the latest olFactory Records releases, an LP by The Uphill Gardeners and a CD by Moses Campbell.
The thing that most interested me about The Uphill Gardeners (apparently that's a homophobic slur I've been unaware of all these years) is Bobb Bruno's presence in the trio (along with Jarrett Silberman and Nigel Lundemo.) Whether wreaking havoc on small villages as Goliath Bird Eater or jamming under his own name, Bruno's stuff is always solid. You'd never know Bruno was involved though without the accompanying press sheet, the record is outfitted sparsely with a tracklist-as-cover art sleeve with a printed approximation of what the b-side of the record looks like on the back. No band name or label info anywhere. When the world finally collapses and we no longer have the plush comfort of the internet (if people are still listening to records) everyone will be scratching their heads over who made this? when did it come out? Which is somewhat fitting as the recordings that make up this LP were done in '96 and '97 (one of the few morsels of information present on the sleeve) and are just getting released. Apparently when the band was active they released a CD and 7" and this LP collects material that didn't make it onto either of those as well as sessions for an abandoned album.
The Uphill Gardners were spawned back in the middle 90s when instrumental rock music was pretty popular in the underground scenes for some reason and this record is definitely a trip back in musical time. I don't mean to say that music sounds dated necessarily but there's something about tightly coiled avant-rock coupled with the absence of vocals that is firmly placed in that timeframe, in my mind at least.
"Boner Music" opens up with a rigid A-Frames style battering. A mild pummeling more interested in the dynamics of rhythm than brute force. After making subtle rhythmic re-adjustments, the band segues into a back and forth play between a rhythmic/feedback figure and a swirling-tar, detuned undercurrent. Especially dig that latter part. The band pulls together a stiff-lipped polyrhythmic figure to end on before going double time to an almost disco section. It's a great track and the trio navigates the multitude of change-ups with staggering precision. My favorite track, "Goldenrod Sunrise," knocks up the tempo a notch or two. The trio plays things close to the chest for a little while throwing in subtle changes here and there until a minute and a half brings a simple but remarkably catching guitar line. The Uphill Gardeners ride the strength of that guitar line for while as a DJ would with a great beat though there's a few tricks such as filtering the entire mix that pop up. The track wraps with a breakdown that morphs into fuzzy drones. "I've Gotta Stop Getting Pregnant" begins with thick fuzzy drones as well. There's a rhythmic pulse buried in the deep black slime that drums latch onto around a minute in. The song slowly slides from doom to mid-tempo strong-armed rock, though the pounding bridge isn't quite as potent as other changes in the previous tracks. However, the heavy repetitive bass and guitar lacerations that cover the most of the track get the job done pretty well. It kinda of just peters out though and doesn't leave as strong of an impression as the first two. The album's shortest track "Sounds" features an almost trip-hop drum beat and rolling bass line. The guitar leaves some lingering, swelling drones and a brittle keyboard plinks out a 3-note melody. It's a nice, easy going piece to end the side on.
The second side is split between two ten minute jams. "He is Master..." starts out on some disgruntled strumming and continues for 3 minutes or so like some dude jamming with his halfstack in his bedroom. From there there's a bit of organ and whatnot until the drums show up leading to a riff that manages to be heavy and have a sweet little shuffle about it too. Though the second part is due more to the drums. This would actually be pretty good driving music or maybe it would even work with a late 70s crime movie montage. It really is all about the drums here, they lay down an uncommonly infectious groove, and the band has the good sense to just ride it out. For a while anyway, just when you think the track is over the trio seriously attacks you with a blisteringly loud 45 second outro of noise. Definitely unexpected and a touch painful with headphones turned up. "Diet Experiment" has a nice little melody, which was also unexpected, I can't quite tell if its guitar or keyboard (both?) but it sort of hangs in the background with a modest crystal/fantasy vibe. Though they're playing pretty nice here The Uphill Gardeners seem as though they're harboring a bit of tension and the jam is about to ditch the hypnosis for some cathartic raging. That doesn't happen exactly, but they do up the tempo for while and the break down into looser territory. The final minutes are a bit of a scrambled mess and one of my favorite sections of the album. The download code also supplies you with a bonus track "Growing Up Next To Poison" and I don't see why it wasn't included on the vinyl as it's a pretty sweet track but there you have it.
This stuff is kinda difficult to describe, it's easier to define by which categories it doesn't fit into than to find one in which it does. Anyone seriously longing for that instrumental mathy/avant rock of yore i.e. the 90s, your record of the year awaits.
Who are You? Who is Anyone? , a co-release between olFactory, Static Aktion and No Girls Allowed, the band's imprint, is the debut album from Moses Campbell an L.A. area six piece with the usual instruments in tow (guitar/bass/drums) as well as violin, accordion and musical saw. The little bit of info I found about them in the bit of googling I did praised them for their energetic live show. I was bit surprised by this as the album seems like it could maybe use a shot of adrenaline. The best songs are by far the most energetic such as "Overhead" in which, after a nice, lilting acoustic guitar and musical saw duet, the band launches head first into an anthemic fist-pumper with guitar fuzz and accordion wheeze in full force and some really solid drumming as well. "Ugly" is catchy as well with an excellent polyrhythmic jaunt empowered by the propulsive, staccato rhythm section and chattering glockenspiel.
The music is pretty solid throughout the record but the major aspect of this album that I just do not connect with, and unfortunately it's a big one, is the vocals. Someone's voice is a personal thing so it's never fun to criticize but the vocalist sings with this mumbly, occasionally tone-deaf, kid-with-no-self-confidence-who-constantly-gets-stuffed-in-a-locker affectation that really works against the rest of the band. He may be going for some kind of Decemberists/Neutral Milk Hotel thing, I'm not sure, but it doesn't work here. The sometimes corny lyrics aren't a great help either. My least favorite tracks, "Wallflower" and "Fights and Clubs" make a flaccid pair and each is way too long at 5 and 5 and a half minutes respectively. The musical accompaniment is de-emphasized to the point that each of the tracks just collapse with little else to focus on but the vocals. One of the biggest issues with the album is too much of the time the instruments simply defer to backing up the vocals despite the record being at its best when the opposite occurs.
Taking "Overhead" for example, lyrics like "Just say you want it!/And it will be yours" fall a little limp without an authoritative presence on the microphone. It's really too bad because everything save for the vocals is firing on all cylinders; it could have been a great neo-Pogues kind of anthem with the right singer but even as it stands it's still a catchy song, one I'm often humming to myself. "Dano's the Man" throws some fuzz on the vocals and, though it doesn't entirely solve the problem, it's definitely an improvement to the band's overall sound. Incidentally, there's some great backing vocals on the track, I don't know who's responsible for those but maybe they should be fronting the band.
There's definitely some promising aspects to this record but as is, it didn't do a whole lot for me, although I'll be listening to "Overhead." However, I suppose for someone into folk-rock stuff who doesn't mind emo-ish vocals this record would certainly be worth a shot.