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.

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