Saturday, July 31, 2010

Alex Barnett - Section 3 [Nihilist]/Alex Barnett - Section 2 [Chronic Boom]

I've been really digging this pair of tapes from Alex Barnett, a Chicago-based synth artist. Section 2 & 3 follow up Section 1 on Catholic Tapes which I missed out on (shit.) Anyhow, the DL Hughley on this guy is it's a synth project but a) it's all analog and b) it seems to be drawing a lot of influence from 70s and early 80s synth scores a la John Carpenter or Moroder, among other influences of course. This isn't new agey featherweight stuff, this is gutsy, punchy synth composition at its finest.
Section 3 kicks off with, what is still the crown jewel of Barnett's works in my mind, "Try Harder." This one definitely has a Carpenter vibe to me, like a less minimal envisioning of the theme from Assault on Precinct 13. Thick gritty synth throbs lay down the law while an old drum machine flickers and pulses away. You know something big is on the horizon and Barnett drops it, an absolutely relentless arpeggio that jettisons the piece into full-on groove mode. Barnett still manages to balance gritty rhythms with lush, mournful synth parts. The track just keeps on rolling; heavy synthetic toms, juicy, slo-strobe swells of synth, man, it gets better and better. Seriously incredible piece of music. You gotta hear this! I like "Tunnels" cause it helps me envision what Mozart might have been like in the synth age, at least if he was composing 1950s space alien haunted organ soundtracks. The piece of music itself seems very much in the vein of 17th or 18th century composition with a lovely bit of fluttering keyboard flair. The rest of it is minimal synthetic crickets and crackle with a deep synth tone making occasional contributions. On the second side, "On the Ice Sheet" starts off with a fairly percussive synth melody and knocks along to it with heavily tremolo'd tones over top. "Focus Wind" brings back the drum machine for a loping beat backing a long, hovering synth sweep. The piece takes a slightly more sinister tone when the melody is introduced. Well, maybe not sinister, but grave. The finale, "Night Passage," takes over with another rhythmic synth loop. Hi-pitched synths whistle along never finding a comfortable place to nestle in, though I don't know if they're really trying that hard.
Section 2 comes to life with "Enter the Badlands" which starts with this weird pumping, pseudo-reggae bit. Neon jet streams are streaked across for some while but its that bouncing keyboard stabs that Barnett seems most enamored with as he slams them harder and harder as the piece moves along until the extended breakdown outro. Echoing keyboard hits provide a shifting bed for smooth synth melodies before passing the baton to "Instruments of Fate." A robust filtered synth melody gets things rolling while high notes continually swell and cease. A crystalline counter-melody covers the piece like ice slowly freezing. I would have loved to see the track launch into a big grooving set-piece but Barnett decides to play it cool. However, flip the tape over and you got the speedy, muscular insectoid bass line of "Metallic Hawks Approaching." Uneasy synth swells counter the fast-paced thuds keeping it in check for most of the piece. At the end though, Barnett pulls a little FIFA98 move, twiddling a nice filter sweep, punching the arpeggio up even more. "Walled Cities" is the most heavy on the rhythm of this tape. It's mainly a manipulated drum track and a bunch of strange percussive sounds, at least some of which are traceable as coming from a synthesizer. A three note melody glues the track together allowing Barnett to follow all his flights of fancy. The final piece, "Fallout," is pretty short. It is basically just a big distorted squall of synth.
Both tapes are good but there's a good amount of growth on Section 3 in my opinion, the pieces seem more full developed, which makes me real excited for Section 4 and 5 and however many Barnett has in him. 2 is available from Chronic Boom and 3 is available from Nihilist. Check 'em.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Clive Tanaka y su Orquesta - Jet Set Siempre 1º [Tall Corn]

This tape arrived in its beautiful aqua shell with zero info. Who is Clive Tanaka? Where is he from? Etc. etc. All questions I have no answers for. It took me a little while to figure what label it's on too as its printed pretty small.
So, anyway, when I first popped this in I was at my old job doing some brain numbing data entry and I'll be damned if that wasn't the most fun I've ever had crunching numbers. I've got no idea whether Clive Tanaka is being sincere or tongue-in-cheek here but the first side of this tape is the cheesiest, most amazing dance-pop I've heard in some time. The first side, subtitled "For Dance", consists of four tracks. Opener "All Night, All Right" is a great example as he pulls out all the fucking stops! More fucking vocoder than necessary including some sort of guttural "funky clav" setting, piano melodies sit along side the bevy of synths, the rhythms are relentlessly buoyant. It's just nuts. Tanaka seems to be synthesizing dance music of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s into something specially designed for the year 2010, and beyond. "I Want You (So Bad)" is probably the best but its hard say. Again this thing is just fucking dripping with synth melodies, filtered guitar fills, I hear Daft Punk in this; I hear "Love is a Battlefield" in this; I hear Boney M in this and its all so goddamn awesome! Tanaka out-Ettingers Dylan Ettinger with a stinging guitar solo evoking an image of Miami Vice so rich you can feel the fucking stubble. When he pulls out the congas for the breakdown and borrows the synth melody from Ja Rule's "New York" it's just too much man. The track just keeps going and going as Tanaka spins gold out of thin air with every new bridge and breakdown. This guy has to be OCD with the insane detail and complexity he weaves into this. It's staggering. "Neu Chicago" is a more breezy jam, total island flavor. All sorts of conch shell xylophone synths, killer reversed guitar solo, male/female vocal duet and big, bold drums. Evoking a vintage Madonna vibe at first, "Brack Lain" comes alive with soft, chilly synths before pulling some kind of Oakenfold action movie bass line and then shifting gears again to an excellent neo-disco stomp with occasional flashes of that second Dr. Octagon album. Tanaka even whips out an Asian flute at one point; this guy puts no boundaries on himself but it never feels like overkill which is pretty crazy. Every new melody, every instrument just heightens the excitement.
I'm less crazy about the second side, subtitled "For Romance." "Skinjob" is another mellow island jam with upright bass and echoing organ and guitar. "International Heartbreaker" has a nice string and brass section among other things but its feels a bit aimless at times without an energetic beat behind it. "The Fourth Magi" is the weakest here as it sounds bland when placed in such illustrious, imaginative company as the album's other tracks. "Lonely for the High Scrapers" echoes the first side while retaining the mellow vibe of the second. It has vocals which, though a simple addition, helps the music move forward rather than feeling stagnant in its repetition. This side is really just less my speed, I think. The songs are chilled out, which is fine but they don't have the snappiness, crazed desire or inventiveness of the tracks on the first side. They're still well-put together but they fade from memory fairly quickly unlike the first side's jams.
Even though I wasn't that taken with the second side, the first is good enough to warrant a recommendation. If this sounds at all interesting to you, by all means, grab a copy before this guy is going on world tours and lining his hallway with platinum records.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mister Fuckhead - 333 [No Label]

A while back I reviewed a hulking 93 minute beast by Mister Fuckhead and Company, where Arvo Zylo and a series of collaborators ran the gamut from forming live junk noise brigades to 7 or 8 piece meat locker brass sections. Zylo a.k.a. Fuckhead (though he recently dropped the moniker and now plays as just Arvo Zylo) is back but this time solo, apparently with only a sequencer in tow, with 333, with a cassette seven years in the making.
Zylo is up to something very different here, it's still a beast at 3 tracks spread over a c66 but Zylo throws plenty of curveballs. For instance, the first side, "Quicksand Eggs of a Beaten Pathos" rolls to a start with surprisingly mellow looped toms. If he wanted to head in a powwow direction he could have, but instead he launches this queasy synth beat and furthermore throws barroom piano over that! The beat lurches/grinds/limps along in a bizarre mess of a beat. Flaming barrages of noise drop in and things get harsh. Heavy torrents of feedback all but subsume voice and the deep throb of the drum programming. The tape continues to singe your eyebrows for a long while with screaming frequencies. It drifts out of the cloud enough for some heavy piano and drum hits though. Sequenced synth tones spread like an infection and morph into an electric organ bit. There's some thunderous crushing drum hits quickly after before slowing into a mid-tempo beat with oscillators puttering all around. The beat gets syncopated and lurches forward. Zylo breaks it down mixing up the beat with a programmed drum solo constructed from live drum samples I think. Around halfway through, the carnage seems to cease. A quiet drum pounds slowly in an empty room until corroded by pervasive scratchy static, atonal panned piano slams, hyperactive squelches and what sounds like a cut-up keyboard demo that morphs into a weird house rave-up. A new agey synth makes a surprising but welcome appearance as the piece jettisons deeper into its technicolor nightmare. My favorite beat from the side emerges pretty late in the game and it's fleeting too as it gets slowed down pretty quickly. The tape lurches and grooves relatively "un-noisily" for the rest of the jam until it evaporates in a cymbal crash. It's a dense and burly side to be sure.
Following it is the first track on the second side, "Deadbeat Deluxe," which continues the onslaught of noisy beats. All manners of bzzsh's, krshff's, and mhmffm's make their way along plenty of loopy electronics into a cyberpunk thrill ride. Fast drum machines, heavy reverbed thumps, repetitive synth parts; no one would mistake this as being uncomposed but it still hangs together by a thread. Zylo keeps piling on more and more sounds/parts/whatever until it makes up a cacophonous layer cake of destruction. The track achieves an interesting feat in that it's totally assaulting music without actually relinquishing the conventional rules of what music should be. The piece breaks down into a section of rare sparseness and Zylo marches along with a beat that sounds like a whip being cracked along with an array of strange noises. The beats kick back in with a bit of a vintage video game vibe. The soundtrack of Mario getting his ass tortured to death in Bowser's dungeon? Don't know what the inspiration was here, but I suppose that's as good a guess as any. The frequencies continue to heave, the jam gets progressively noisier and more confrontational. The steam engine continues to roll until its yanked out by the neck and replaced by a new beat that quickly peters out. The final and shortest track "Plasma/Asthma" is by far the noisiest jam, and I mean that literally cause of how saturated, blown out and grainy it sounds. The sound doesn't lose any definition because of it though which is amazing. Kudos to the masterer, Clayton Counts. Underneath the six feet of fuzz are pounding percussive loops like a muck raking hip hopera from hell about a factory workers' uprising. Gears grind, seize, stop and lurch forward again in bizarre poly(a)rhythms. Shifting into a machine gun synth melody, things get progressively zanier. In what, in all likelihood, is my favorite part of the tape, Zylo launches into a heady haunted organ jam. It's excellently composed with various layers of melodies and manages an absolutely seamless transition from all the head smashing that came before. The whole tone of the piece is difficult to describe as it manages to be a little uplifting but in a very unsettling way. It's perplexing, but I'm gonna take the sublime whenever I can get it.
This is a hefty hour of music, and not everyone will be down with it, but whether someone is or not shouldn't cause the listener to hold back any respect for Zylo's painstakingly put together and singular vision. Fuckhead and Company will probably end up getting more plays in my deck, but 333 takes you on a journey that the former can't match.
The packaging is cool as is typical with Zylo's releases, 333 has a purple vellum cover with a double-sided, fold-out color j-card on the inside. The tape is still available from the artist and there is also a pro-duplicated, shrinkwrapped CD-r edition too if that's your preference.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sister Mantos - Tough Love or The Fands of Hate [Sweetheart Society/Manimal]

A couple weeks ago I mentioned I had some more electronic/dance stuff on the way and, well, I'm making good on that promise. The press release for this, the recent purple LP by El Salvador/L.A.-based artist Sister Mantos drops names like Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Suicide and Gary Numan and I'm not sure how accurate those claims are, nevertheless, it's a pretty good dance record.
Beginning with a mellow jam like "Like I Want 2" is an interesting move. Makes sense though as its possibly the most memorable track on the record. It has a really nice simple pulse that's slowly built up with atmospheric trumpet, keys and other sounds. The buoyant beat keeps the track bump bump bumping while everything else, vocals included, sounds nonchalant and nicely washed out. There's a nice droney outro too. "Disaster Beat WE ARE ONE" is a less shy tune. Its beat actually reminds me a bit of that hair_loss LP I just reviewed though employed in a little different context here. The track is full of propulsive rhythms, irreverent synth lines and choral-like backing which have a priceless effect especially during the excellent breakdown. It's got a lovely melodic lilt which isn't too common in dance music, in my experience anyway. Sister Mantos employed a number live instruments and you can tell. He seems to pay a lot more attention to the texture of his songs than your average laptopper usually does. "AUG05" really reminds me of another song but I can't place it. Built around a jagged, juddering beat, everything else is a placid as can be. Lonesome, blurry vocals and airy waves of synth; it's practically a drone song. "ASTAROTH" flirts with a web of samples and loops before going double time into a neo-disco stomp and then back again. Here is one of the finest moments of the record where a beautiful keyboard part rears its head and gently rolls along against nearly imperceptible vocals til the end of the side. Lovely.
"Kaos" the first track off the second side, has almost a Timbaland-at-a-rave vibe. At least at first, the piece becomes progressively less minimal as it goes on. The song more or less acts like an intro into "No God," probably the first anti-theist dancefloor track I've come across. There's a nice guitar solo that breaks things up but the track lacks the atmosphere a lot of the other songs on the album bring so the repetition doesn't hold up as well and things get a little monotonous by the end. "Stopped Trying" checks the beat at the door, for a misty multi-tracked vocal and synth song. It's very simple but effective and an unexpected choice for a dance record. It really pays off though. "WORLDWIDE" brings the record back into the club. The track is anchored by an excellent chugging violin melody, which provides a different but very welcome timbre to the proceedings. There's plenty of other great things going on here too, lots of excellent synth melodies, strange unplaceable percussive noises and so on. "Breakdown the electoral college" is also a pretty unexpected refrain for a dance anthem as well. "Messian's Dream" is a short outro of cave sounds and that wraps the record up.
Electronic music isn't my forte really but I like this record, Sister Mantos knows how to write and execute pretty complex arrangements and most of all he achieves a sound that doesn't come off as too plastic or digital. It comes on cool opaque purple vinyl which is a definite plus as well. Still available.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cruudeuces – Exile Digs [Tape Drift]

This is the first I’ve heard from, West Masser, Cruudeuces and apparently he concocts his sludge mainly from electronics, tapes and clarinet.
“Side A” slides to a start with curling static joined by cascading sheets of clarinet and delayed microphone rumbles. Some harsher noise kicks in though it mostly wanders in the background. The tape has an interesting sense of depth, where many times the more active elements are backgrounded while smoother, steadier tones are pushed to the forefront. Its failure to hide the turmoil within gives the piece a pervading uneasiness. Though the squirming feedback lessens at points, the tape never gives itself over to the idea of gentle euphoria. In fact, after a lull, the piece seems to return with an even greater unrest. Persistent throbs and squelch are the name of the game. Though there’s a small revelation of relative calm in the last third which finds quiet without sacrificing the identity the track has created for itself. Faint whispers of clarinet present themselves and grow slowly but slightly and the side goes out on their seagull-like echoes.
"Side B" emerges from static with a looped pulse. That hypnotic pulse remains the focus as the piece expands slowly enfolding more and more layers of sound. What sounds like bowed drones, electronic burbles and synth sustain all congeal gradually morphing the simple loop into a more complex form. Kinda like starting with a bare bone and slowly seeing the muscle tissue forming around it, giving it shape. The back half of the track sees some new loops introduced adjusting the rhythm temporarily though the track doesn't change greatly over its duration. That's kind of what makes it work though, definitely an exercise in subtlety without necessarily using a subtle pallet.
The tape looks to still be in print. I recommend picking up all the other new releases too as Tape Drift has really been on a roll lately.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

James Fella/Timeload Fowl - Split [Gilgongo]

Here I am being my usual tardy-ass self reviewing this LP that came out around 6 or 7 months ago I think. Better late than never, right? Hopefully.
Based on my experience with James Fella's solo work, it seems like he likes to recycle and remold random old recordings into something new. It's a process that's certainly been working for him but I was excited to see what he's like in live-performance mode rather than editor mode on the side-long live recording "5/14/09." As it turns out he's pretty damn good, maybe even being better in the live environment. Using sax, guitar and electronics Fella kicks things off with a whining thicket of distorted sax. I'm pretty sure that's the starting point but things get a bit twisted and pitch-shifted and so on by Fella's electronic gizmos. There's definitely some looping going on here but Fella does a good job obscuring which sounds are actually loops and which are live. Is the rumbling mound of distortion really a sax solo? I think so, but who can really tell what's going on in the Fellaverse. Soon, dips and swoops become a thick broad crunch without losing the melodic nuances underneath, not totally dissimilar from what the Yellow Swans did so well. At some point, Fella breaks everything up and starts fresh on a saxophone solo that's more feedback than instrument. As that fades, Fella whips of a guitar web of jingles, tinkles and drones. Though it starts out clean-toned, the flames of fuzz come a-lickin' eventually as a dizzying frenzy of guitar loops sets in. A mildly atonal arpeggio resurges though, overtaking the track with its wobbly windchime effect. The LP goes out on a nice aquatic percussive bit giving the piece as a whole a real nice arc as well as showcasing Fella's serious versatility.
The side by San Luis Obispo artist, Timeload Fowl, is parsed into three unadventurously named tracks. "Intro" comes alive with a round synth tone swelling in and out with some rather noisy work overlaid on top. The piece becomes gradually more complex as it moves along without ever relinquishing its mellow, chilly vibe. Really well-done and self-assured piece. "Untitled" bursts forth with noisy electronics. There's some barked vocals at the beginning that I don't really go for and the piece as a whole is a bit more fierce than "Intro." Though its noisier, it manages to attain the same calmness of its predecessor. Subtle synths move behind the distortion. Weird sorts of textures result, some chime-like while others sounds similar to a bassy string section. The piece sounds more and more open as it progresses, unfurling into an empty wasteland before contracting and cutting itself off. The final piece "Collaboration w/ James Fella" is just that. Thick distortion crackles along until a lone guitar starts a-strummin'. A fuzzy synth counters it. The track pretty quickly takes a different shape from everything else on the record. It flirts with doom metal vibes but it's too devoid of bullshit to be lumped in with all the "demonic" brethren. The guitar (sounds like a baritone possibly) lays out a great progression, the synth links up with a nice melody and then the sax starts blowing rippling sheets of sound. It's totally melodic and totally hypnotic. My favorite moment of the record. From there things breakdown into a sax/percussion freakout still shrouded heavily in distortion until they blip themselves off the screen. I'm jonesin' for some more of this Timeload Fella, how about a full LP next time? Thanks.
This record is still in print at Gilgongo it looks like and its a totally justifiable pickup so get on it. Who knows when these two estimable artists will share another LP. Comes in blank white jacket with wrap-around poster/cover and a full-size insert.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Lace Bows - Glitter Pulse [Cubic Pyramid]/Melted Glass - Fluorescent Swamp [Cubic Pyramid]

Following up its first release by Moonflare, young Portuguese label Cubic Pyramid offers these tapes by Lace Bows and Melted Glass.
Lisbon-based project Lace Bows offers much to be excited about. Galvanized distorted frequencies jump out of the gate twisting and turning before cutting to a brilliant stuttering synth line. Really subtle but incredibly evocative, potent and catchy. There's this great sharpness to the sounds that belies the smooth melody beneath. Finely carved, square-wave tremolo gives the illusion of more of a beat than there actually is creating a lot of complexity to the piece. It's so thoroughly fragmented that it reads like a blunt, psyche-induced dancefloor groove for the unbalanced mind. Filtered sweeps of keyboard melodies play nicely with the stuttering synth line, softening the rough edges. For awhile the keys are on their own until the serrated synth returns. Upon a hearty pulse, an oscillator wigs out in step with the beat. The side ends suitably with a sampled, real life dance song and Lace Bows adds in a heavy, shuddering percussion loop which eventually gets eclipsed by noise. Killer jam, all the way through. The first of two pieces on the second side starts with a brittle two note synth figure. It's backed by a synth loop and another stuttering synth is given free reign to go off on its own solo tangent. A very melodic piece somewhat obscured by the harshness of the tones (though this is not harsh noise.) Another stuttering synth joins rank and the two prickle and please in stereo. After the piece wilts slowly away on the two note loop and the final piece starts up. Beginning with a spacey, isolated arpeggio, the piece uses thick delay to its advantage whipping up all sorts of polyphonies. I particularly like watching the keyboard morph into a percussive shell of its former self at the end. All in all, it's a great tape! I'm sure we'll be hearing more from this project in the future.
Fluorescent Swamp is the first release by east coaster Trevor Long (you may know his excellent blog Jellyfish Altar). It's a totally pleasant listen if perhaps a little underdeveloped. The first side "Ascent" grooves on a great reversed sample of some song I do not know. From there, there is some effects manipulation, maybe some vocals or keys too? I like that Long is able to match the vibe of the sample, his resonations seem fitting rather than wedged in. Ending in slo-mo entropy the tape clicks over to the next side. "Resemblance" features looped groans, static and unintelligible samples all hanging in a weird stasis. Moving at a slower pace than the previous side, the piece starts to get moving when a quick loop emerges causing me to think that those catchy, rhythmic fragments are Long's bread and butter. The jam ultimately goes out like it came in with a fog of static and mindless chatter.
Both releases are still available but very limited, Melted Glass to 40 copies, Lace Bows to 35. They each have cool artwork but I'm really feeling the whole aesthetic of Ana Fialho's art on the Melted Glass tape. Cubic Pyramid looks to be up and coming, get in on the ground floor.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Veyou - Garden [Pilgrim Talk]/Back Magic - Goldilocks [Pilgrim Talk]

These lathe cuts are the second and third releases (not including the 0th release, a Locrian/Katchmare split) on Nick Hoffman's (Katchmare, the Scissor Death label) newish label Pilgrim Talk. The label seems to be geared towards the lathe as a number of the releases have been on that format. I was excited to check these out as it's my first and only experience with lathes.
Garden is a ten incher by Veyou, the duo of Hoffman and Stephen Holliger (Swim Ignorant Fire). With their tape on Scissor Death being my favorite of Hoffman-related projects I was excited to hear more. There's no shortage of weirdness on here. "Side A" is lethargic basement crawl, tentative frequencies getting bullied, random percussive noises, with an occasional synth stab or cymbal swell. The only thing that remains constant is an uneasy creaking drone over which all the other sounds do their jig. There's an attempt at melody in the second half with a repeated keyboard line but for the most part the duo is taking their cues from the great unknown. The last few minutes bring a steady drum beat (that sounds a tad like someone dribbling a basketball) and groaning electronics. Quivering synths follow and at some point the whole piece seems to be slowed a little causing me to wonder what sort of post-production process this went through. "Side B" begins with a weird hollow drumbeat that seemed to skip a lot causing me to check for defects but nope, no unintentional locked grooves just a weird pastiched drumbeat. There's a few more stitched together sections, well in fact there's a lot more. Where the first side seemed to be a more or less live take, this second side is an arranging of all sorts of random recordings making it hard to keep a handle on. There's squirmy feedback cutting straight to full bodied drones, bits of random percussion drifting in and out. Some parts are pretty, some are silent, some feature some vague synth/organ action. It's odd to say the least. The capper is it launches into a weird keyboard demo at the end and then proceeds to scramble it. It certainly puts you in a zone, what or where that zone is still remains a mystery. I'm really not sure what to call this.
Goldilocks, an 8 inch lathe, by another one of Hoffman's duos, Back Magic. I guess this is supposed to tell a story about Goldilocks or something, but I'm pretty sure that's all bullshit and since I've got a bachelor's in literature I'm gonna go ahead and trust myself. No story isn't a bad thing though, the only bummer about this is my record player has a difficult time playing some of it. While only drums, guitar and voice are in the credits, there's definitely some organ action on the first side. Everything is steeped so heavily in reverb, I am wondering where this was recorded at (just checked the insert, Opium Den, whatever that place is). "Hecate Rising," the only jam on the first side, is a slow moving wander through wherever the Opium Den. Warbly keys, warbly guitar strings, warbly unintelligible vocals and the drums holding it all together (with some of the rhythmic manipulation on the Veyou record too). Kinda like The Unicorns if they were really sad and recorded their lonesome tune in the largest meat locker in the midwest. Side no. 2 features 4 songs "Summer Special" a pastiche of guitar arpeggios and cymbal hits leads off with some nice choirboy vocals as well. It ends in a cut up drum solo which is a pretty cool touch. The second song "Ghost Train" features heavy organ use though it isn't much more than an interlude. After that we get to the crown jewel of record, "Glamor Shots." It's as if somebody flipped the groove switch on as this track really swings. Anchored by an absolutely killer guitar riff, more garbled vocals and solid drumming it really deserves to be front and center on the A-side rather than tucked away on the second side. Really rad jam, I want more. "Dowser" is a downer, especially after the preceding groovefest. But I like the latin drumming as it gives the mellow track an unexpected samba-ish shuffle.
So there you have it two very odd but certainly cool lathes, each outfitted with their own killer artwork per usual with Hoffman-styled releases. Garden comes with a fold-out mini-poster and a 7 minute CD-r of guitar/drums songs while Goldilocks comes with an insert and an awesomely bizarre full size art booklet. Thoroughly top-notch packaging as is expected from Mr. Nick Hoffman. Both were limited to like 30 copies or something and are now out of print. You still may be able to dig them up somewhere, or just pay strict attention to new stuff brewing at Pilgrim Talk. Here's hoping "Glamor Shots" gets the full-scale reissue it deserves.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Du Hexen Hase - Du Hexen Hase [Debacle]/Dull Knife - Hands of Conjuration [No Label]

I've been neglecting a stack of discs from local mind Debacle Records. Unsurprisingly, one of my favorites of the Seattle scene, Du Hexen Hase, is among the best of the bunch.
This CD-r reissues a rarely heard tape called Concert for the People of Eugene with a new track stuck in the middle. The first jam "Concert for the People of Eugene Pt. 1" opens with a lingering flute and sparse drum hits. The track lopes along, slowly gathering steam, enlisting guitar drones, a suitcase full of electronics, sloshed vocals and skittering bass drum hits. DHH are masters with doing a lot with a little. There aren't that many elements to the jam but it manages to be dank, meditative, abstract, unsettling and weirdly groovy. It shifts imperceptibly throughout, never giving away its next move but never falling too far from the original tree either. The new 18 minute track separating the "Eugene" jams is an odd one. "Werekrautwolf" isn't tropicalia or anything but it's a weird change of pace. There's a vaguely upbeat rhythm section, squirmy electronics you'd mistake for bird calls, various blurs of static and currents and then the occasional depressed guitar strum trying to bring everyone down. I don't know if this is a live track or not but if it was I bet the crowd was pretty WTF'd and I imagine the band asked themselves the same question. Halfway through though, they really start grinding with the static and the synth blips and pulses and maintain the rhythmic quality in the newly percussion-less environment. The track begins a slow descent into (further) madness with weird cooing, synth sweeps and generally psychotropic drug-addled disarray. The synth squelches, bells toll and the magic man limps down the hallway humming his head off. Phenomenal jam, particularly in the head phones. The final jam "Concert for the People of Eugene Pt. 2" is more concise and less minimal at the get go. Dual guitar lines intertwine constantly with echoing melodies while subtle synth swoops move underneath. The piece moves along in that relatively pretty stasis, forming new melodies and such. Around halfway through the synth gets more unruly with seasick, warbly feedback loops and stuttering circuitry. The track feels like it might break at the seams but Du Hexen manage to keep everything in control for the final, surprisingly mellow comedown. It's a strong work. Anyone into full band drone really oughta check these guys out, they're a must.

Dull Knife's career trajectory as been that of constant paring down. They started out as a four piece drone act, then became a trio and have since settled into the core duo of Adam Svenson (Du Hexen Hase, Little Claw) and Garek Druss (Ear Venom, (A) Story of Rats, Tecumseh). Not only has the lineup been whittled down over the years, Dull Knife is operating at the most minimal frequency they ever have. Last time I saw them play, their gear consisted, between the two of them, of a bass guitar, a microphone and a couple pedals. This CD-r from earlier in the year, Hands of Conjuration, reflects that shift though they don't appear to be using the same set-up.
Opening track "Northern Vortex" features a pretty, delay-addled guitar unfurling arpeggios and it isn't until five minutes in the predatory static that had been creeping up since the beginning makes itself perceptible. By the halfway point the track has found an uneasy balance between dimly lit, droning hiss and moderate but constant kinetic motion. It's certainly one that sneaks up on you; it sounds very different by the end but it's difficult to pinpoint when the whole transition came about. The title track wanders about on what sounds like a collage of footsteps. That weird sort of (a)rhythmic figure eventually leads to a somber, loping bass drum, an occasional crisp cymbal hit and some signal manipulation. Very unusual ground for the men with the dull knife. There's a brief cluster of swelling guitar notes every so often which sometimes intertwines with the feedback warping going on elsewhere. The guitar is probably the only welcoming sound in the whole track. Everything else just sounds... bitter. Mean-spirited but not violent, just there to bring you down. Near the end the guitar gets a little room to expand its shimmering limbs but it's too little too late as the mood doesn't get a whole lot less dire. Out of nowhere there's this strange sort of groove in the final minutes that always shows up unexpected with some sort of drum machine(?) at the helm. Really weird jam. The final track "Goats of Clay" features echoing percussion of some sort and some lonesome organ swells. During the slowburn a few guitar parts come in, one of them seagull-like and the other almost managing a Morricone-esque guitar tone. A full blown guitar melody makes it through in the middle of the piece breaking free from the subtle, aural shackles of the drone genre. Moving from delayed clatter, the duo solidifies into a wall of drones for the track's end.
Each CD-r comes with cool artwork and may be still available through the Debacle and Dull Knife myspaces, respectively.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Raven Chacon - At the Point Where the Rivers Crossed, We Drew Our Knives [Anarchymoon]

This newish Anarchy moon LP is a solo work from New Mexico- based artist Raven Chacon, operator of the SickSickSick label. Chacon keeps one foot planted in experimental noise music and the other in chamber composition and this LP finds both sides getting equal airtime.
The first side features a single piece performed by Chacon titled "The Totem of the Total Siren." The track was recorded live and feels like it. You can definitely hear the room. The piece begins by sounding like a swarm of bees, but in a surprisingly pleasant way, like bees in the distant for enough away there's no danger of being stung. There's subtle touches of melody beneath din and occasional dynamic explosions in volume. I have no idea what Chacon had at his disposable here; it could be many things. Hell, maybe there really were bees involved. Percussive sounds, melodic sounds and general noise and textures all blend into a singular piece. There are times where more definition to the sound would be nice but you'd probably lose some of that tactile texture though. Chacon does a pretty good job with pacing and creating dynamics within the perma-buzz. Around halfway through, the track gets pried open a little and Chacon gets a bit harsher over a percussion loop. Things continue to get progressively harsher and "shriekier" until a semi-Skaters-style keyboard loop pops up for the piece to drift out on as it ends on a locked groove.
I like the first piece but for my money, the B side is where it's at. There are two pieces composed by Chacon but performed by other people. The first "La'ts'aadah - For Solo Violin" from 2004 is right up my alley as I definitely dig on (solo) violin. Performed by Mark Menzies, the piece features long bowed grinds. There's some times elongated pauses between sounds causing me to wonder if this was somehow whittled down from a larger recording. That seems unlikely, but it gives it an odd elliptical quality. There's a melody but the emphasis, like the first piece is all about texture, in this case that means doing all the things your violin teacher told you not to. Mostly working with long, stuttering strokes Menzies creates an unsettled but strangely controlled sound environment. It seems rather anomalous for a solo violin piece as its slow moving with very few theatrics. The second piece, from 2006, "Hasta'aadah - For Wind Ensemble" is my favorite. It's good to see Chacon adding to the wind ensemble repetoire, especially one of this quality. The piece was commissioned and performed by the University of Mary Washington Wind Ensemble and conducted by Craig Naylor. Initially, brass reeds swell robustly with occasional melodic divergences. The piece features the same effortless, wandering movement of the last couple pieces but it's a little more disciplined here. There's a much stronger sense of melody which I like but it's by no means a standard melody. Various parts of the ensemble careen into one another in slow motion with a Charles Ives-like appreciation for atonality. It's a bizarrely beautiful piece. It reminds me in some ways when they show radio waves colliding in space in movies and you hear Elvis overlapping with JFK and FDR and so on. There's drone influenced parts and other warped, carnival music-influenced melodies and all sorts of things expertly crafted into something that is impossible to truly grasp but incredibly listenable and captivating. I really wish I had a stronger vocabulary to describe this as it's really spectacular. I hope Chacon has more of these up his sleeve. I'm hooked.
It's worth picking up the LP for that piece alone, the other two are icing on the cake for me. If you haven't heard Chacon's work before this is a great place to get acquainted.
The record comes with cool silk-screened wrap-around artwork and a full-sized insert. Still available in an edition of 200.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

hair_loss - The Initial Everything's Wonderful [No Label]

Electronic music has making a big splash in the under-ground lately. I’m feeling too lazy to go into examples now but there’s plenty of upcoming reviewables that fit that tag. hair_loss (no caps when you spell the man’s name) is Tyler from Philly noise rock duo Snowstorm as well as Philly spacey electronic duo Color is Luxury and the Philadelphia underground seems like the one place that has always worn its electronic influence proudly on its sleeve.
Anyhow, The Initial Everything’s Wonderful is hair_loss’s first LP, a hyper-limited self-released affair. “The Descent to Incline” kicks off the first side in mellow fashion with a looped wash of guitar fuzz and a slowly emerging drum machine. Strange percussive scrapes and other noises appear and get jiggy before fading. The last quarter brings a loop of an odd synth bend and a more pumped up beat. There’s a change-up for the last thirty seconds, which, after a quick of bit tactile, material abuse, slows the track down. “Fine Breasts, Creased Pages” starts with a solo Velcro synth tone that’s stuttering all over the place until settling into a kind of two-step. Around the halfway point the piece starts getting really groovy but falls back into stuttering static before a last dash to the finish line. “Sweep for a Quarter (Joe Lentini edit)” is a jiving dance floor pumper featuring a skittering sine tone and a heavy synth kick. A really fun piece for sure though it lasts a mere 1:15. “Spot Behind the Left” is even shorter at about 40 seconds. It’s the only track with vocals, a distorted speedy rap over a simple synth pulse. “…Where You Headed?” is focused more on synthwork than anything else turning into a Sun Ra-ish whirlwind key smash at the end.
My favorite track on the record, “Hereditary” starts off the second side. Constructing its beat from shards of distorted electronics, there are a lot of things going on. A snare hit shifts it up to groove mode and then samples of recordings of a padlock being thrown around a locker room are cut up and looped. The second half brings a great Timbaland-style counter melody that gets pitch-shifted all over the place as the beat pounds away. The piece features an extended comedown turning the piece from abrasive to rather nice. “Lisp/Leave Away the Way it is” cuts up an opening synth part that sort of hovers obliquely for a little while until a beat coalescing from a variety of sound sources gets its ass in motion. I think it might have the densest texture on the record. “Open Furnace” is a fitting title for the final piece as it’s definitely the most abrasive and distorted track. It still features a great throb under all the grainy fuzz though and the beat is generally able to cut its path through the thick swathes of feedback.
Due to the release date being pushed back because pressing plant issues, Tyler whipped up the freely downloadable Triple Whippit EP as an apology. The release is only about 5 minutes and the 3 minute main attraction is “Monitor Fucked.” Jumping with a seasick 808, the jam launches into a gritty synth-bassline and accompanying synthetic manipulation. There’s an effective scatterbrained synth shower near the end too. “Melanoma” is a brief, frantically manipulated beat and “Kraken Worship” is a pretty bad ass little groove at just over a minute. Hear it for yourself.
I admire hair_loss’s brevity, half the tracks clock in around 90 seconds or less, but there are definitely times I’d like to hear a track developed further or run longer. Although I’m always a big proponent of “leave ‘em wanting more” so I shouldn’t be hypocritical. hair_loss has an interesting brand of what I’m gonna call “in-yr-face dance” (not to be confused with Corky St. Clair’s “in your face theater”) and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how the project advances further.