Sunday, August 29, 2010

3" CD-r Round-up

Every so often I collect a bunch of examples of my favorite digital format to make one big party review. And it's that time again.
First up from the Netherlands is Dead Neanderthals - Dead Neanderthals [No Label]. When this little disc showed up I thought I was in for some black metal or something of a similar ilk. I was immediately inundated with plenty skull (and bone) imagery and titles like "Cannibal Ambush," "Rat on a Stick" and "Napalm Death Trap." Anyhow, do you remember Ettrick from a couple years back? I know that's ancient history in small-press land but that's probably the closest comparison I can make to the Neaderthals even though neither really sounds that much like the other. The key is that Ettrick was a black metal duo on saxophone and drums. There's no personnel listing on the Dead Neanderthals CD-r, and the first couple listens left me in such a perplexed state, I had a hell of time trying to figure out how many people were in the band, sometimes it sounded like two, sometimes four, sometimes in between (3.5??). I checked myspace, the keeper of all secrets, and it turns out its a saxophone/drums "grind-core" duo with the ominious monikers of O and R. Whereas Ettrick indulged in 15 or 20 minute single pieces on their 3inches, Dead Neanderthals tear through 10 tracks in as many minutes, rattling your skull harder and harder each time through and giving you no time to collect yourself. "Idiot Runt" pelts you with squealing baritone sax and thud-thud-thud drumming as if you're the idiot runt in question with these two neanderthals pounding you into a pulp. "Fire From the Sky" uses a lot of effects on the sax making it sound like an otherworldly synth while overdubbed deep bass sax parts drive the piece. "Rat on a Stick" is all machine gun drumming against a killer(!!) solo evoking all sorts of apocalyptic urban decay. "Bloodied Knees" is "Rat"'s song-like counterpart that continues the vibe but with a more melodically-minded approach. "Cubic Aesthetics" is the longest at 1:48. It features a number of overdubbed, interplaying sax-lines that O twists and mangles until out of breath while R huffs and puffs relentlessly on his drumkit. "Sneak Attack" stands out as the most "jazzy" in a spastic Zorn way. There's even a touch of blown-out Wasteland Jazz sax at the end too. "Demonic" rips a screaming solo (that sounds a lot like trumpet even) over a juggernaut bari-arpeggio. "Cannibal Ambush" begins with a scream and then turns into what I'd say is the most fun track on the disc, very boisterous and with a big grin plastered across its face. The finale, "Metal Totem" totally rules, as its basically one long decrescendo as the band splinters apart leaving a brief but excellent solo sax moment at the end. This thing is a lot of fun and it hasn't gotten any less fun after a bunch of listens. I also dig that the band doesn't really sound too much like jazz or metal or this, that and the other. They aren't doing something completely unheard of but they definitely synthesize all their influences into something with their own vibe. Can't wait to hear more from this crew, now just get working on something for an analog format, ok guys? It's a self-released disc so check the myspace if your interested. It comes with a sticker too.
Fossils From the Sun - Lights [Kimberly Dawn]
I've been totally out of the loop on Ray Hare's Fossils From the Sun project. Last time I heard him he was making minimal electronics experiments with his guitar. Now hearing this disc, he has totally revamped his sound into a bleak, post-Suicide world. One that removes any of the few pop elements Suicide had. Over a repeating arpeggio (sounds like a synth, could be a guitar) Hare gets into Frankie Teardrop-mode muttering and snarling about flashlights, greenlights, stoplights and "everybody's dead" in a dubby, mental patient haze while the machines occasionally malfunction around him. Super-minimal and ten minutes long, the song is still entirely captivating. It's lack of "progression" actually works in its favor as you sort of enter into this black hole where the beginning sounds like the end and when you exit you wonder where the hell your mind has just been these last 10 minutes. The 3" sort sort of works like an extended cassingle or 12" single as it gives you the "b-side" a longer, louder, less minimal live rendition of "Lights." It is interesting as the track is a basic approximation of previous track but I think the melody is only similar and not the same. Hare shrieks a bit more here and he's got an extra instrument around providing both squalls and a surprising and rather pretty mid-section of swelling tones. This lulls you into a false sense of security before Hare burns the place down in crazed, ring-modulated fury. Despite ending on whispers of "don't be afraid," I remain uncomforted, Ray, thanks anyway. Totally chilling and great. We need more people de-constructing song-forms into... well, this. Check out Baronic Wall for similarly excellent, paranoid vehemence. Sold-out at source. Check distros or with the artist.
Interstates Etc. - Sanctuary of Memories [Kimberly Dawn]
Another one from Frank Baugh's (a.k.a. Sparkling Wide Pressure) Kimberly Dawn 3" CD-r label, which is one of the big players in keeping 3inchers (and consequently these round-ups) in business. This one is by Brandon Greter who runs the Dream Root label and also operates this great new project. I think this release might be better than the tape I reviewed a few months ago. The phenomenal first track "Inescapable Rain in Yoshiwara" sets things off down the right track as Greter rustles all sorts of junk and clatter together over a brooding, infectious barely-there melody that twinges of Twin Peaks to me. It's a really unified track despite lots of bizarre sounds constantly smacking you in the face. That Greter maintains the uneasy, mournful mood over the seven minutes is a feat in itself. "Fog at Toluca Lake" changes things up with a coventional-sounding guitar starting things off. It takes a few slowly plucked notes and twists them a little with various effects, never deviating too far from the original melody. Greter keeps things pretty minimal save for some more guitar fuzz near the end. "White Claudia" is a fuzzy guitar piece that Greter fucks with a whole bunch, I'm guessing in post-production. Unless its a loop and all the fuckery is live. Anyway, it's a nice wandering melody and Greter balls it up and uncrumples it with all sorts of stutters, bloops and spoonfuls of saturated fuzz circuits. Around halfway through a beat picks up in the back which helps complete the arrangement. It amounts to some kind of sleepy, guitar-fuzz-laden two-step, which, hey, that's perfectly fine by me. Dude's all over the place but definitely does it with his own style, it'll probably be a good move to keep your eye on this guy. Sold-out at source. Check distros or with the artist.
Extra Sexes - Muted Collar [412Recordings]
AG Davis is back with his heavily fucked up, garbled electronics/objects/tape+software edit creepjunksplattercrunchmayhem. The last Extra Sexes tape had some weirdo basement dance grooves mixed in with the brain assaults. Not so, here. This 16 minute beast, in two parts, goes for the psychic jugular. The sound sources Davis is drawing on around this time seem to range far wider than anything else I heard from him. Furthermore, he picks and chooses his times to pummel you rather than just making it an all out gorefest. There's a new sense of restraint and thoughtful use and embrace of patchs of silence. Though the first minute of "Part 2" may give you whiplash it morphs into a weird spaced out siren/bell tower passage. After which, Davis pulls out all the stops with a great, spluttering battle-ram of a showdown. Culling bits and pieces of too many machines on the verge of breakdown to name, its a well-played card before receding into silence, bell tolls and trickling creeks punctuated by severe spikes of distortion. Going out in a blaze of gore, Davis presses detonate and launches a decimating, harsh breakcore explosion. Dare I call this Davis's most mature and detailed slice & splice freak out yet? I hope this disc is a taste of what's to come on his upcoming LP. Still available.
Mesa Ritual - Voltaic Processions [SickSickSick]
Like the Extra Sexes disc, this 3inch comes in an oversized (i.e. regular sized) jewel case but does it one better with invisible artwork I don't get to see often enough. Mesa Ritual is SickSickSick head honcho Raven Chacon and William Fowler Collins, and they offer a 20 minute slab of thick ass, mastered-by-Pete-Swanson noise. The track isn't especially aggressive, it's just grimey. Seriously grimey. It's pure caked-on grit, you can't see what's what. I don't know what was at Chacon's and Collins's disposal here so I'm gonna go with the age-old catch all: electronics. What sounds like a hefty stack of machines sputter and crumble and whistle and stumble as the piece gradually gets louder and louder. Definitely an exercise in "monolithicism." Oh! But wait! Out of nowhere in the middle of the piece, still caked in dirt mind you, is a beautiful, heavily buried melody. Is there a way out of this bog after all? The melody vanishes after moments so I'm guessing the answere is no. It's back to slogging through the dense, disease-laden terrain. Mosquitos keep buzzing in my ears and chewing up my flesh and I can feel the earth shifting and lurching under my feet. Something that sounds like electronic windchimes creeps up behind me before turning to a swarm of angry wasps. There's an end in sight, but I'm already a swollen, malaria-infected, and utterly broken man by the time it arrives so who cares. Sold-out at source. Check distros.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Jeremy Kelly - Shortwaves [Sweat Lodge Guru]/Andreas Brandal - Into Thin Air [Sweat Lodge Guru]

Sweat Lodge Guru is a pretty new label and I was instantly impressed when I held these tapes for the first time. SLG definitely puts a lot of effort in their packaging which is nice to see right out of the gate. The Brandal tape's J-card is printed on sparkly silver paper and the Jeremy Kelly cassette shell has rad semi-invisible imprinting you have to flutter in the light to see. I like shiny things what can I say. Especially when they come with nice sounds.
I feel each new Jeremy Kelly tape I hear gets progressively weirder. This one starts out with the title track "Shortwaves" which is static, oscillator noise and an alien voice giving some kind of argument on the nature of individuality. The track rolls along, fueled by confusion, before, lo and behold, I hear some drums. What will I hear next? Will J Kelly turn this skiff around and launch into a song? Nope, Kelly just rips into drum solo/assault. Some people play drums along to Led Zeppelin for fun; not this guy, it's only static-drenched, sputteringly spouted philosophies really make this dude wanna rock out. "Projection" shows up with dark synth swells, traces of wordless vocals and other sounds. There's a bit of drums swirling around too but it's mostly electronic signals making swooping birdcalls, thick crunching surges and other noises. A slow slide into bad-acid-trip-in-the-desert territory. Will you find your way out alive? The forecast doesn't look so good, man.
"Swallowed by the Sea" picks up on the b-side with more crackles and squeezed-out synth tones. Plenty more bad vibes and drums at work here. Seasick synthesizer bobs and weaves like a drunk failing a breathalizer test. The electronics are agitated and Kelly over there on the drum kit is annoyed they won't just play a song with him. "Asahara" is an attempt at friendlier zones, a melody is played on some bizarre concoction that sounds like a cross between three keyboards, a dulcimer and a bongo drum. I've heard the guy makes his own instruments maybe this is one? There's a hint of an Eastern-vibe to the melody that is until it gets picked apart by jealous electronic gadgets. The final track "Recursion/Dream Theatre," which I'm assuming is a taunt at crappy prog-rock, takes over with what sounds like a fuzzy reversed guitar playing a little loopy melody. Since when did this guy get all lovey-dovey? Kelly just riffs over it with all sorts of mellow, octavia-style leads. It's a great few moments. Rest assured long-haired dudes out there, Kelly hasn't gone completely soft as he returns with a scrambled drum barrage and even turns out some straight Van Halen-style guitar licks. This is a good little tape, lots of cool ideas and it moves along at a rapid clip; worth a listen for sure.
I've been hearing a lot about Norwegian musician Andreas Brandal as he's had releases on such illustrious labels as Stunned and Tape Drift among others, and now I finally get to hear him. The multi-tracked guitar affair of the title track kicks off the tape. The track has a dark shimmer like the artwork. It's harmonious though not particularly melody-driven but Brandal does a good job creating atmosphere with a relatively standard mode of guitar playing (muted strumming and single-note lines.) It ends on a cool rattling rhythm too. "The Whispering Gallery" plucks bass notes over a continuous, though shifting, guitar drones. There's a nice interplay between the drones and melody, as the piece gently veers back and forth between tonality and strained semi-atonality. Like the piece before it, it ends on an interesting loop of a cricket-sounding device among other things. "Invisible Green" has great rustic piano-playing and various sounds of jingling chimes, brittle leaves crunching underfoot and somebody rustling around an attic. Brandal's guitar playing is very nice but it's this stuff that really gets me going, as these sounds are so pungent, and dripping with natural atmosphere that the subtle drones lying dormant aren't even necessary. "Shadow" is all ghostly harmonics and hushed, hollow metal clinks. "A Midnight Visitor" has a great, wheezy organ which stumbles around in a stupor, most likely after having too much fun on the devil's day. Mechanized burblings occur in the background before dropping out allowing a lovely, but ominous, string part (cello I think) to lead the piece to an impeccable end. The organ returns for the b-side on "Room Number 3." Drones rise and cut off sharply, in a thickly woody atmosphere. There's a short melody that sounds like an organ coughing, or choking maybe, that's rather interesting in the piece's stark environment. "The Seven of Hearts" sounds like it might have a bit of effected banjo though I s'pose it could just be guitar. What sounds like a recording of footsteps (or maybe people playing basketball) creates a cool little underlying rhythm while the banjo/guitar/whatever continues its arpeggio. The piece shifts into a pretty bed of organ drones where it finally lays itself to rest. "A Premonition" changes up the pace considerably with what's more or less an electronic beat and a bit of synth action. The piece still fits into the quilt of the album but alters the color palette a little bit. Closer, "It Walks By Night" moves further down this path with unsubtle synth sweeps and siren-like oscillations. The piece develops into some kind Romero zombie movie-esque score, maybe not literally as I haven't seen one in years but that's what is coming to mind. Heavy synthetic swirls, haunting melody, you get the idea. The tape is a nice little suite moving from guitar to organ to synth. Brandal has been making music for a while now and you can tell, his hand is very sure and the tape has a very mature feel.
Both tapes are still available from Sweat Lodge Guru, which looks to be a label to keep your eye on.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Deep Magic - Soul Vibration [DNT]

The last batch of DNT jewels had a lot of big names in it but it was this unassuming gem that really wowed me during my first survey of all the materials. Just when I think I'm out of the neo-new age, "psychy haze vibe zones" (as a friend recently put it) they pull me back in.
The gorgeous first twenty minutes of the tape by Alex Gray (Dreamcolour) are, well, gorgeous. It's complete sonic anesthesia. You could give me a root canal and I'd be fine as long as this was pumpin' in my Walkman. It's keyboards and stuff but what Gray used to make this isn't really important. It's the effortless melodies he creates and the lovely, indelible arrangement of the piece. It evolves slowly but never releases its core melody that entranced you in the first place. Have you ever seen the film For All Mankind? (you should if you haven't) This piece totally reminds me of that, witnessing pure, inescapable, indescribable, otherworldly beauty for an extended period of time. You close your eyes while listening and you'll either melt or just glide for eternity. Deep relaxation music for sure, just a brilliant piece of work. No joke, it's seriously therapeutic. I love this.
The rest of the side is filled out by a nice piece lead by atmospheric echoey guitar, backed by liquid keyboards. It doesn't match the unspeakable genius of the first piece but it holds it own. I particularly like these deep bassy bass throbs that occur in the second half of the track. The real key here is that Gray manages to make music that's weightless and still substantive.
The tape starts up again on the B-side with some placid hand drum action and smooth tones. There's all sorts of new-agey talk about "energy" and endless reflections and "laughter in the universe" and "peaceful vibrations of the soul" on the j-card, and this piece seems to have no other goal than to emit easygoing vibes. The track doesn't develop much, just keeps takin' it easy. The last track resembles the second one a little bit. Heavy shroud of delay amongst others things. I think there could be some sax buried in here too as this is the murkiest piece on the tape. Not dark or dank just cloudy and all smeared together. The second half of the piece mellows slightly, running on synth fumes, before coming to a complete stop.
This is the first I've heard of Gray's work as a solo artist but I was thoroughly impressed particularly with the first piece. The tape's been sold-out for a little while so check the distros or wait for Gray to drop another atomic bliss bomb.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Marinos Koutsomichalis - Malfunctions [Agxivatein]

It's no accident Greek artist Marinos Koutsomichalis named this CD-r Malfunctions. There's a lengthy artist statement included with the disc which ends with Koutsomichalis stating the goal of the release was to "listen to all those sounds that were not meant-to-be."
The first of seven untitled tracks is a very minimal drone affair using synthetic tones that sound pretty normal to me. Though I guess I may have a skewed sense of "normal" compared to most other people. That seems to be the point Koutsomichalis is trying to make though, that what are perceived as malfunctions are not limitations inherent to the machine but limitations projected by the person using or experiencing the object. The second track is a lot louder and thicker. Electronics spit a variety of "malfunctions," spluttering tones, white noise, jittery, crunchy loops. It's a very dimensional piece of work and Koutsomichalis definitely put a lot of work into the mixing and arranging of the piece. All the interweaving layers, enter at different volume levels, drop in volume or out completely to return later. There's a very methodical use of dynamics, despite the constant changes, Koutsomichalis develops a complete continuity to the piece and its rhythms. The third track is a single tone percussively stuttering and sputtering in a haphazard way. I really can't tell if there is any manipulation here or if Koutsomichalis is just leaving the tone to its own devices. I'm gonna go with the former but it could go either way. Koutsomichalis seems to be most at home with a lot of sounds as the next track is an excellently dense and noisy trip. The thing just throbs, sick with static, incinerating everything in site. It maintains this constant heaviness while still throwing plenty of curve balls, but ultimately all of the malfunctioning electronics are whipped right back into shape. What really surprises me about the piece, and one of the reasons why its so great, is that for a bunch of malfunctioning sounds this piece is really melodic. There isn't a melody per se, but Koutsomichalis organizes the piece in a very consonant way letting the piece move smoothly despite the seriously jagged texture. Damn fine work. The next track continues the minimal/maximal pattern with a minimal piece of snaps, crackles and pops. This one gains a simple polyrhythm after a while based on one machine making something akin to the tick tock of a pocketwatch. The next track is another noisy one, which also the first place on the record to engage in loopy, squiggly hi-pitched frequencies. The eight minute finale looms along in a constant state of agitated, prickly static. There's vague movement underneath, but you only get intimations of it which draws you deeper and deeper into the piece. It doesn't change a whole lot, but its mystery never fades either. It's a great note to go out on.
Though the minimal experiments aren't as strong, Koutsomichalis is a fantastically adept "noise artist;" he knows how to sculpt/carve/whatever with pure noise and make it compelling. That's not something I can say about many people.
Edition of 72, available from Koutsomichalis's label, Agxivatein.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ultra Bonbon - North American Family Bond [Tanzprocesz]/Ultra Bonbon - Tapehisssabysss [Bonbon Bruises]/Ultra Bonbon - Paradise Vol. 2 [No Label]

For the past couple years I've taken notice of Dan Milanese's Ultra Bonbon project as one of the more interesting and overlooked noise artists out there. I was happy to see France's Tanzprocesz label put something out by Ultra Bonbon as the two seemed a match made in purgatory. The very nice looking North American Family Bond cassette shows those "Europeans" a thing or two about how to raise happy, close-knit families North American-style. How does Milanese do this? With noise, silly. The title track is actually rather friendly as the tones are little smoother than the usual Bonbon outing. There are plenty of fuzzy blips squiggling and crunching around over some polyphonic, pulsing Q-chord type sound. I'm pretty sure this is guitar-less but every once in a while Danny rips out a thick, fuzzy riff that I'd have liked to see repeated. "Fog of Magog" gets shifts up into harsh mode real quick with an explosion of feedback and vocal junk. It's actually probably the moments after the crescendos that are most interesting as you can feel the residual seething angst still but the machines are caught between calm hums, swoops and twirls and on-edge, grainy feedback bogs. I like that Milanese engineered a brighter sounding set, as the normal route for any harsh tape seems to be hide in the darkness. A stepping keyboard melody starts up near the end which is continually shifted down while Danny shreds his throat.
The second side is a single track, "Gods Bubbles." I don't really know what God's bubbles are like but Danny's got plenty of his own bubbles here. I sort of imagine this as a field recording of some Wonka-esque bubble bath machine. This is Blobs (aquatic Orphan Fairytale & Dolphins into the Future collabo) for the noise set. Ultra Bonbon is always fun to listen to cause there's plenty of movement in the tracks. They never get to a point of manic freakouts but they're never slow going either. Milanese engages in a range of sounds from mild pitter patter to obnoxious oscillator bleats. But what I really love is when he whips up a melody out of nowhere as he does halfway through the side. The screamy vocals don't even bother me so much because of the killer 3-note dirge backing him up. Tones are beaten and strangled to death but the track keeps dragging it's bloody corpse along. Some excellent, complex work for sure.
This Tapehisssabysss is one of the most interesting Bonbon works. At a half hour it's about 3 times the length of the typical Bonbon release, which has a lot to do with it. Milanese has plenty o' room to comfortably stretch out his limbs and ideas. He almost takes the opposite route as North American Family Bond where that was very bright, volatile and one of the harshest releases with the Bonbon tag, Tapehisssabysss is murkier and paced more slowly. Shaped around a looped keyboard melody, Milanese plants a bed of chirps and sweeps and even a few drones. It's a placid side overall, one where you can just sit back and zone out even if he throws a spicier tone in at the end. It's maybe a bit on the repetitive side but its a nice one to chill to.
The second side is great with an awesome wobbly melody and what seriously sounds like muted trumpet. There's a variety of synth whooshes and tape mutation here. Every once in a while you get a pretty big blast of noise, as all the other elements try to hypnotize you into a vulnerable state. It's a really twisted and fantastic track. There's a wild hodgepodge of sounds here, the horns, electronics, weird tape fuckery all brewed into this mucky little stew with a delicious but still kinda funky taste. The piece seems to get crankier as it winds down, like its tired of keeping the creepy train going, before it grumbles to an abrupt halt.
A lot of people were rightfully confused last year when Ultra Bonbon dropped Paradise Vol. 1 and Paradise Vol. 3 without the supposed Paradise Vol. 2 in the middle. Well here it is, a bit late to the table. The funny thing is, this is closer to "paradise" than the others. At least in my opinion it is, as its much easier on the ears, and really what weirdo truly wants to be stranded on a desert island with only a Prurient/Wolf Eyes tape to keep him company? Anyway, "Resplendent City" is a pretty mellow listen. It still has plenty of grit and grime in its joints but there's a shiny oscillator tone leading the way with half melodies amongst little crackles. And at five minutes its just the right length. The second side's piece actually titled "Paradise" is on the weirder end of things. It's really garbled and cut up and pretty difficult to identify what it is you're actually hearing. There's some tense tones buried down a little and this actually one of the more dense, "composed"--for a lack of a better term--pieces from the Bonbon. No real crescendo just the hint of one and then it's back to the A-side. It's about the journey, man...
All three of these tapes are really showing Milanese is a man with a plan; he's definitely expanding his sound in a number of directions and judging from these he's been successful at it. I'm looking forward to the next batch he cooks up.
North American Family Bond is available from Tanzprocesz still but Paradise Vol. 2 and Tapehisssabysss are in editions of 20 and 12, respectively, so good fucking luck!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fat Worm of Error - Fat Worm of Error [Brazilian Wax]

Having watched Fat Worm of Error completely rule Seattle last night, it hit me that Fat Worm may be the next, or I guess, current evolution of rock & roll. How they sound/are so spontaneous and yet sound so perfectly synchronized is unfathomable. Cause they do play songs, but within the structure of the songs the quintet are the freest souls for a thousand miles. It's a fantastic conundrum. Jess is wailing in her constantly changing wardrobe of home-made costumes, Donny is continually breaking every string on his bass, Tim is physically playing his guitar with a guitar pedal, Neil is busy making mongoloid faces behind the drum kit and whatever sampler/clatter mess he's got back there and Chris is just doing all the unnameable shit that Chris does. Their records are good but they don't fully capture the volume nor the absolutely possessed rock & roll attitude.
This brand new 7inch (literally, UPS delivered it to them yesterday) inches just slightly closer to capturing the live feel of a Fat Worm set. Chris described it as them being a dumb punk band that puts out 7inch singles with really bad artwork. And well, you know Fat Worm of Error is the smartest dumb punk band around so I don't have to tell you that this is good.
The a-side is "Double-Headed Baby" which I'm guessing gives you a clue to deciphering the alien blob on the front. Jess is playing an unusually pretty melody (which my girlfriend has identified as a variation on a piece of music from The NeverEnding Story) on her casio amongst all the buzz 'n junk clatter. The pleasant melody and its skronky backing are actually a really great match and the rest of the song sees the two ends trying to meet in the middle leading into this weird but awesome dirge-like first half before splitting to a groovier refrain of "double-headed baby" with excellent rubberband bass and some cowbell-laden drumming. Things get even denser as the needle rolls along with guitars flipping out into various manners of atonal attack with some sweet stereo-panned effects in there too. In the punk tradition, it's a pretty short song but, man, it's like an entire punk album packed into 2 and a half minutes; a dense, tightly coiled spring of fun and fury.
The flipside "Anglo Sox" is solid too. It throws you right into a rumbling cowbell/bass/2xGuitar prog nightmare before Jess comes in and opens up the track. The track is a big tug o' war between nothing and everything. The song gets splintered into all its separate elements and quickly krazy glued back together then splintered then put back together then... well you get the idea. Unlike the first side, this track is definitely on a closed loop veering back and forth to either extreme. It sounds like there may be a clarinet or bassoon chirping along with all the strings too but don't hold me to it. The vocal refrain of "hysterical wizards!" gets a little tiresome after being repeated ad nauseum but with Fat Worm of Error nausea always comes with the territory.
Anyway go see these guys as they travel the nation(!!) and buy this and all the tapes too. They're good.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Seven Vowels of Nature - Vol. I and E [Sacred Phrases]

I reviewed a tape by Kevin Salyers a while back under his Streetworker moniker. It was prickly but pleasant drone stuff and now he's back with a different name The Seven Vowels of Nature... wait, A, E, I, O, U, sometimes Y. 7? What the fuck's the seventh?
These sounds are a lot smoother than Streetwalker's but it doesn't quite resign itself to the euphoric side of things. On "I," deep, round, slowly undulating waves are met with a distant delayed siren. Less sullen, pulsing keyboards fill in the middle and the track is untied and set adrift. It doesn't give away too much, keeping his cards close to his chest, Salyers establishes polyphony without clearly delineating one sound too much from the other, and all the while somehow avoiding murkiness. Definitely a balancing act, and well balanced at that.
"E" reminds me a little more of Salyers's Streetwork; a buzzier, slightly metallic tone trembles away mostly dominating the track and a few other static synth tones act as foils. Eventually a watery synthesizer wins out, stealing the spotlight for a short solo bit. The piece of the side, is very similar. Maybe a second take on the same idea? Salyers seems to be working with the same set of sounds but the pace seems to be a bit quicker. Tones glisten with an intently minimalist style. The piece isn't so much minimalist in sound as in composition. Salyers can't be using more than a handful notes here. The sounds harmonize but never make the full transition into melodies.
Overall, the music is perhaps a little too ephemeral for its own good as it doesn't really stick in the memory long but its a well put-together and pleasant 20 minutes.
The tape is available from Sacred Phrases in an edition of 48 copies.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Warm Climate - Camouflage on the River Wretched [Stunned]

Anyone who heard Warm Climate's previous opus Edible Homes can't be expecting anything less than perfection from its follow-up Camouflage on the River Wretched. And, man, it really delivers, probably even surpassing Edible Homes. The only aspect where Camouflage doesn't quite match Edible Homes is atmosphere. That's not a criticism in the least though. The pervasive chilliness of the cavernous free-glam-creep-out of Homes is more or less unbeatable but where Camouflage hits hard is the songs. "Saltwater Simplified" launches things off with a fuzzy, stumbling synth-bass line. After a few echoing shrieks the song hits full force with groovy, loping drums and thick grinding organ. Seth Kasselman, who masterminds Warm Climate, is singing in his signature glam-falsetto, struggling to be heard above the racket. It's a short song but immediately sets the tone for what's to come. "Trespassing" shifts into the more avant-garde Warm Climate mode, with sample manipulation, eerie drones from guitar and keys floating pretty freely. Then Kasselman's voice enters out of nowhere and all of a sudden this loose arrangement becomes some futuristic ballad. Bass backs up the vocals while a wah-wah'd guitar sets about squirming. Things get more and more twisted with matter-of-fact female narration about a fat man, and a basement, while brass supplied by Cailin C. Mitchell lets out some elephant roars. The track totally works but its amazing it does. How Kasselman envisions this and then keeps it together is beyond me. The track wears so many hats, it's mind boggling. Balmy ballad, cinematic soundtrack, dark jazz/drone session, placid keyboard piece all in one. "We Wish You Rain" may be my favorite track. It begins with a fantastic foreign-sounding rhythmic jaunt and then just fucking lays into it with copious amounts of bad vibes. Multi-tracked vocals, thick thick thick bass, keyboards and effects-laden guitar squalls. All this with a relentless, organic dance groove behind it. The track just gets more and more unhinged drifting off to any idea that gets in its head. "More Wretched" kicks off almost like MF Doom beat, vaguely hip hop-styled drum machine and weird collage of instruments/sounds. It's a pretty short but it's a nice interlude seguing to the next side. "Voice Over Headlights" features a murky beat akin to quick foot steps. There's a brief intimation of a gospel-blues vibe amongst scratchy crackles but the track eventually settles into some gargling vocal drones. Jangling chimes, guitar fuzz, a slow bass throb and something like walkie-talkie feedback lead into Kasselman riffing on his clarinet. The dry, woody tones seem unusually at home in their crusty surroundings and clarinet is just awesome period, I'll think it sounds great anywhere. This section is one of my favorite parts on the album as its a great solo and a really nice, somber break from the album's constant cacophony. A bit hotter playing from trumpet and drums takes over before launching into the "song" portion. Which is excellent. Chunky bass, operatic keyboards and multi-tracked vocals over a great guitar line. It gets interrupted much too early by garbled noise. The final section recalls some of the eerie minimalism of the last tape, and for the first time on the record Kasselman's voice doesn't face any competition to be heard. It's him singing over a low bass rumble and airy keyboards. Seriously epic jam! It's a well-placed retreat to calmness, in conjuction with the brief swirl of keys, guitar, bass and voice in "Two Stones", before moving into the gutsy finale "Blue Metro." Kasselman is in unabashed rock & roll mode here, screaming about something being "blue on the metro" over crunchy drums and bass and plenty of thick guitar distortion caked on as well. It feels great going out on the rawest note. Well, what an album. I'm impressed. Stunned claims they were recently christened the best band in LA and I'm not gonna disagree. Kasselman just keeps barreling on down the street with no signs of slowing down, doing his thing like nobody else. Either climb aboard, or get your ass run the fuck over. Stunned is down to it's final copies so paypal that shit right away! Oh and there's fantastic color-pencil(!) artwork by Phil French all over this thing. I love it!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Duck Dive/Edibles - Split [Stunned]

Alright, so this cassette was supposed to be part of the Alberorovesciato review, but that became its own beast and I figured it'd be better to split 'em up. Anyhow, the tape collects Stunned Records's two main interests, Portland acts (Edibles) and international acts (Duck Dive). Edibles is the home-made dub alter-ego of Dewey Mahood (Plankton Wat, Eternal Tapestry) while Duck Dive is a project from Indonesia totally unknown to me 'til now.
Duck Dive takes the first side with the cut "Equatopia" which was made with a synth, a handful effects and a multi-tracker. It seems like there's a few influences at work here, there's a bit of the vibe of Sean McCann's kaleidoscopic electronic experiments and older Skaters stuff if you can imagine it without all the vocal fuzz plus whatever synth-centric influences there are. The dude behind this goes by the name of Gonzo, whether he's a Hunter Thompson or Muppets fan is your guess. Anyhow, those influences are around but what this guy really wants to do is just jam. He creates a thick bed of sounds, with a number of intertwining synth parts and then just riffs over them. Other than some loops of bird calls this side is Gonzo being a synth traveler, traversing the landscape of his own design, marching along, playing ditties for himself as he crosses the next hill. He's credited here for composing and improvising which makes sense as each movement of the piece has a framework but within that framework he just lets himself go to it, feeling his way through until satisfied. It creates a nice vibe as this music sounds very electronic but it really doesn't feel rigid at all, it's very warm and organic sounding despite being made 100% from machines. In the final movement Gonzo whips out some stellar chops and he flies all over the keyboard, jammin' hard and heavy with some virtuoso action. I dig this stuff, real lively and fun to throw on in any occasion.
Mahood kicks his overdubbed dub into gear on the b-side with "Hangin' Out." I feel like there's a touch of a tongue-in-cheek vibe here. I do not mean that this is a joke or anything, Mahood seems really into this. I just mean that he really goes for it, everything is filtered and phased half to hell and the grooves are generally pretty thick and relentless. Like Mahood is saying to the listener "now I'm really gonna get your head a-nodding!" The tracks are only semi-distinguishable from each other, which kinda just the case with dub but it's a fun side. I like "Dubtrip" a lot as the groove is especially cutting and focused, "Invader" which follows is looser and has its charm but for me the more tightly coiled the Edibles the better. "Tracers" probably sounds most "vintage" of the six tracks to my ears. A classic bassline, echoing vox and plenty of guitar stabs. "Chill Wave" isn't really chillwave, but it is one of the more lethargic pieces on here. "Synthscape" is actually a fairly relevant title for the finale as it matches a minimal echoing dub rhythm section with glistening synthesizer streaking across on the sky. I'm sort of missing the point picking out track from track as this is really about chilling out the whole side through. I hear there's supposed to be an LP on DNT sometime next year, I'll be curious to see how Mahood develops the Edibles sound for that.
Long sold-out now, so hit up the distros I suppose as it's a darn cool tape.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Alberorovesciato - Crown, Mineral & Sacred Well (The Skorpio Tape) [Stunned]

Arrrrrrre... youuuuuu... rrrreadddyyyyy? ["YEAH!"] Alberorovesciato is BACK! [The crowd goes wild.]

* * *

I don't write memoirs very often or anything but that's an excerpt from my latest piece of autobiographical fiction I'm working on titled "That Time I Heard Alberorovesciato had a New Tape Out." You may think that I embellished a little (I didn't) but that's why I'm covering my ass with the "autobiographical fiction" tag. I know I don't want Oprah on my back again; that's the last thing I need right now.
So why am I opening a review of a band I really respect with such an idiotic intro? I don't know, maybe cause I'm too stupefied to have any better ideas. I asked the question, you answer it.
After a great disc on Singing Knives, the Berlin boys from Italy are finally following up their previous Stunned cassette (one of my favs from '09.) And here it is: absolute freedom in a compact audio format.
First of all, if you have not heard these guys buy/download/youtube whatever you can. They're brilliant. With a vast ark of instruments, pots, pans, objects, etc. in front of them, the duo commune with and occasionally attack the objects with sticks, mallets, giant tree branches (no shit) and whatever else they feel like. And that right there is the essence of the tape. They do whatever it is that feel like and, this is the important part, it rules. This is the product of completely liberated artisans and impeccable talent and taste. The duo is as complex and percussion-focused as ever but this tape finds them occasionally reaching for a melodic instrument. They still play it like an idiophone generally but that small melodic presence adds a fascinating coloring (and contrast to) the raw surroundings.
I think I maybe mentioned this when I reviewed their other tape, but this stuff is so difficult (impossible?!) to properly write about because Alberorovesciato is getting at some form of communication way beyond a learned language. They run the gamut of naturally occurring sound; their music is a continual (non-scientific) exploration of what texture "material x" creates when "technique Y" is used to draw sound from it. All sorts of scrapes, rattles, and melodic chiming are at work amongst pings and crashes of metal and hollow thuds of drums.
Recorded immaculately, the album sounds wonderfully clear and warm on these pro-dubbed tapes. The mic picks up all the nooks and crannies of their sounds while also capturing the feel of the room. I haven't been lucky enough to see these guys play yet but I don't feel gypped having only heard their releases. Their energy always seems to fully translate, and if it doesn't, well, my noggin will be blown when I hear the real thing. I feel witness to an amazing creation-in-action, listening to these guys unravel whatever puzzles they set out for themselves into perfect sonic tapestries that follow no rules. This music breathes. It's unmistakably and purely alive; and I'm not sure of a better way to compliment it. Hear this.
The tape is sold-out at source but there's bound to be some of the 111 copies still available. You have your quest, now go forth and find Skorpio.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gasoline Gathers Hands, Gathers Friends - Tail Light Fever Forever [House of Sun]/Xiphiidae - Slowing Atrium [House of Sun]

Got two more installments from the great Canadian label House of Sun. The last tapes I heard from them were total dreamers (Tuluum Shimmering and Charlatan) and so I was suprised to find these to be such a pair of murky guitar lurkers.
The first up is by a band I'd never heard of before. Gasoline Gathers Hands, Gathers Friends is a bizarrely christened wandering murk affair. I was just listening to my Maths Balance Volumes LP the other day and now that I'm listening to this, GGHGF definitely reminds me of them so it makes sense why I always dug Tail Light Fever Forever. They seem to move with dronier, more extended brushstrokes than MBV though. The first side is a totally warbling affair with some dude howling in garbled angst while blurry guitars pick and strum around him. I like how they start with a conventional base (a song) and stretch it and contort it into something strange and mysterious. There's a really pretty instrumental passage in the middle of the side. It drifts along in the same awkward fog but sticks to a melodic framework making it a nice oasis in the sea of alienated loner muzak. Once the strangled vocals show up its back to creepdom though. I think there's some tape manipulation towards the end as the jam seems to get more and more feral and loopy. The second side is immediately more placid and well adjusted. Sounds like some organ, moaning vox and guitar all in a thick, reverb-laden din. A lovely little guitar arpeggio emerges with relative, but surprising, clarity. The sound shifts to slightly Grouper-esque on this side which you know I'm behind. More or less wordless vocals accompany the guitar with faint fragments of sound floating about too. I can't quite tell how many people are behind this; it's pretty minimal so it could be one person or perhaps as many as three all sitting tranced out, cross-legged, focused intently on the single element they are contributing. The piece turns into quite a pretty song with plenty of vocals a-swirl; it's an unusually upbeat ending even if its still in shades a grey. This seems like a cool project, I'll be keeping my ears out for 'em.
From an unknown project (to me anyway) comes a well-known one from Jeff Astin. Laying down the law in 20 minutes flat, Slowing Atrium reminds me of Astin's tape last year on Cabin Floor Esoterica under the Abolicao tag. This is much less rustic sounding, which I liked about the Abolicao tape, but I'm not gonna hold that against it. On the first side, there are dual guitars spinning their cobwebs in separate channels with a thick coating of crusty field recordings. I swear there's a few keyboard stabs floating around but maybe its just guitar, as the guitar also makes a time of imitating chimes. Guitar gradually becomes less of a focus as the drones seep into the murky tapes of Astin's favorite hikes or whatever. Sticking with the whole hiking idea, this is a nice little "ramble" in the woods which is big praise coming from me, a confessed hater of "rambles." Maybe I like this ramble because I can do it from the comfort of my own home or maybe its just because it's, you know, music.
"Side B" separates itself from the first side and all the various images of forest fungi that litter the case by delivering an ultra-sparse guitar-centric piece. The two main elements here are guitar strings and silence. It sounds like there might be some tapes or something else present too but its not much more than a whisper. A guitar figure repeats in various permutations, widely spaced out. Around halfway, a tape of a creek gently trickles with faint windchimes as well. Stuttering half-melodies appear at the very end making it the loveliest part of the track. The side is definitely a meditative piece and a very good palette cleanser; I hadn't heard Xiphiidae in some time and I like the direction its headed.
The Xiphiidae tape is still in print, but it seems like Gasoline Gathers Hands, Gathers Friends is all gone from the label. Check the distros, I suppose. Both come in recycled cardboard arigato packs for cassettes, so you can save the environment while jammin' some sweet tunes.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sean McCann - Chances are Staying [DNT]

Can you believe this is the first time Sean McCann has ever been on vinyl? I mean the guy has released roughly 620 tapes and CDrs all of which range from being pretty damn good to pretty damn amazing. He's one of the most consistent players on the field so give ol' DNT a hand for finally moving McCann up to the big leagues.
The first side contains the side-long piece "Labyrinth" which seems to be drawing maybe a little inspiration from Steve Reich and that kind of sound while remaining unmistakably "McCann." There's a phantom pulse buried way down deep and McCann populates the piece by stacking flowing synthetic frequencies, glistening strings and ghostly vocal/guitar/electronics(?) muck. The piece just seems to wander without much arc but goes down real easy anyway. This guy is just a master of composition; he has complete control of every sound creates, yet he makes it seem effortlessly organic, as if its the music of a forest that always seems to just exist. The final few minutes are spectacularly beautiful. When McCann begins to change things up, he introduces the radiant, buzzing synths and mournful string melodies with so much grace you forget there's a human hand behind this. Probably more than anyone else in the underground, McCann's music really makes me feel something deep inside. My experience with his music goes far beyond "I like this. This guy is really good." (which is absolutely true.) But there's so much heart and passion in his music and he imbues it with such unmistakable beauty that I can't help but get a little choked up sometimes.
3 pieces fill out the b-side, the first of which is "County Heirlooms." The swirling jam adds drums, banjo, reeds and sloshed vocals to the mix and the piece flits in between loping country rhythms to loping reggae-ish rhythms. "County Heirlooms" is a pretty fitting title as the vibe I get from this is a total nostalgia flashback. And I don't mean nostalgia in the artificial way that's so popular right now; this piece sounds like listening to a whirlwind of memories. Sounds rush by ephemerally, only able to snatch glimpses before they're gone, never gaining a complete experience of their presence. But the larger sense you get from the piece is not confusion, just a contented, sunny smile. "Stasis" is only about 2 and a half minutes and its a nice little keyboard piece but its basically just a respite between the more robust "Heirlooms" and "The World He Left Behind." There's some fantastic moments on this album for sure but I think as far as an entire track is concerned my favorite is the finale. "The World He Left Behind" is less subtle with the synths and it sounds really great in the headphones. There's such a perfect melodic shifting that goes on almost subliminally in the bass frequencies that all the little bells and whistles he throws on top are merely icing on the cake. There's a bevy of chimes, strings and lots of keyboard melodies. It's the most dense piece on the LP, really leaving it in the listeners hands to take the plunge and explore everything it has to offer.
This is yet another excellent record from Sean. Surprise, surprise. I probably wouldn't call it my favorite McCann but its definitely up there on the top tier with the best of them and there are certainly many moments on here that belong in McCann's hall of fame. Everytime I listen to it I appreciate it more and more so maybe as time passes it may become my favorite, but by then who knows what other portals McCann will have opened. Regardless of my personal placement of it though this is a phenonmenal record from a true artist and at 400 copies you actually have a chance of physically owning the next essential piece of McCann's discography. Take the chance, as this record is staying. (It seemed right to me to end on a terrifying pun, deal with it.)
Available from DNT and now is a perfect time to buy as the DNT mailorder is opening back up this month. It'll be 12 bucks well-spent.