Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Extraordinary Pigeons - Journal of Graphic Noise: Issue One [Pigeon Coup]

Journal of Graphic Noise is a new art zine from Seattle act Extraordinary Pigeons. The 20-some pages of artwork are accompanied by a lathe cut, cut rectangularly to size to slip inside the pages of the zine. The concept here though is the audio on the lathe was "created by converting the zine's images into sound with reverse spectrogram technology." Reverse spectrogram technology? Sounds like a made-up something from one of those 50s sci-fi movies I love but I'll take the Pigeons at their word that it exists.
The artwork in the zine was created by the members of Extraordinary Pigeons and I don't know how many members there are but it seems like there are 3 hands at work. The first set of images are a grey-scale, topography-gone-psychedelic affair. They look they were made on a 20 year old computer, mapping diagrams of microscopic bacteria. Next up are 4 bizarre ink/colored pencil drawings of faces with strange features and creatures popping out of them. Gruesome teeth, skeleton/Swamp Thing hybrids, some sort of rabbit/beetle/larvae thing. Weird shit. The last section, probably my least favorite, continues the WTFs with a centerfold of two cats doin' it and computer manipulated photos of children and boy scouts.
Now for the audio portion. The small, weirdly cut lathe makes my automatic turntable flip out. It refused to play it for a while until I outsmarted to the stupid machine. The sound of the images via that "reverse spectrogram technology" is strictly harsh noise. Heavy crunching static crackles and rips in surprisingly dynamic fashion. I'm assuming there has to be some human organization here as I'm guessing the images themselves don't indicate any temporal instructions to the audio conversion. I don't know if the Pigeons scan the images live and sculpt the output from there or if this is all put together on a computer. Either way, it's a pretty good shot of harsh noise and the lathe ends on a groovy, crackling locked groove.
This certainly an interesting release and the first time I've ever come across something like it. If you are interested I recommend heading over to Extraordinary Pigeons' awesome website ("we are a band, this is our fucking webpage.")

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Douglas Firs - Haunting Through [No Label]

The Douglas Firs is a project of Neil Insh of Aberdeen, Scotland and this CD-r Haunting Through is supposed to be a taster for a forthcoming full-length, most likely to be released on cassette.
Apparently the material on this disc was recorded over a six year period and its separated into four songs, two in the 3-4 minute range and two in the 6-7 range. "The Quickening" begins with footsteps crunching through leaves and an unidentified rumble that slowly comes into focus as slightly ritualistic tom toms. A melody tinkles along with a chattering crowd and Insh drops in a folksy violin with multiple voices singing and on a dime the track turns into a pop tune. Petering out into crowd noise, the song resets itself to a lovely waltz with echoing piano, humming violin and loping drums. Insh's voice carries the tune to its next passage, a duet with a female counterpart over puffs of accordion. The folk-dance feel earlier in the piece returns before dissapating into an a capella choral interlude. When you think it might go out on a big crescendo, Insh subverts expectations as the piece slips away on abstract field recordings and a lone synth. The song perfectly introduces Mr. Insh's style, at least how I see it. Insh is working largely with traditional or conventional folk and pop influences but chooses to weave them into an elaborate, unconventional fabric over the course of a piece. So rather than delivering something standard like your average indie pop band, his songs feel a little more alive, as they take you somewhere. "Future State," the shortest at nearly 3 minutes, is woozier with a lovely melody and a swelling chorus of voices, recalling some of my favorite Spiritualized moments. Second half of the piece is an interlude of subtle tones. "Grow Old and Go Home" finds Insh and his female counterpart whose name I sadly do not know singing over a sparse piano arrangement until synthetic and acoustic percussion kick in. An array of brass provide a fantastic segue to a more grooving version of the song with shakers and a walking bass line. This doesn't last for long as the final minute or so features a quiet organ and recordings of dogs barking in the distance. The final track, "Soporific" may be the strongest. After an extended intro of ambient synthesizer, Insh's carries a sparse arrangement into a new movement that hints at getting a little more rockin'. The reason I feel this is probably the best piece is simply that the melodies and all the "pop" elements are stronger here than anywhere else on the disc, and there's a bit more grit courtesy of some guitar fuzz. From the rocking middle section, the song tapers off into just voice and piano atmospherics.
This disc has definitely piqued my interest; The Douglas Firs show a lot promise. There's a bunch of great ideas and melodies here, and Insh is certainly approaching pop music from a more interesting perspective than most. I'm looking forward to hearing the Firs on a longer record that will allow them to unfurl their limbs a bit as well. Not to mention, it'll be great to hear 'em on tape.
I really have no idea how to find a copy of this as I don't think The Douglas Firs have a myspace or anything. I guess hit the ol' Google now if you're interested, besides your job just got a lot easier with this new Google Instant thing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Debacle Records Round-up

For those involved in the Seattle noise/drone scene you know Sam Melancon from Debacle Records nearly props the scene up singlehandedly, the guy is crazily active both with his label which focuses exclusively on Seattle-area artists and with Debacle Fest a multi-day festival which he curates. This year's Debacle Fest is coming up quick, starting tomorrow night and running through Sunday (Sept. 17-19) and features the likes of Pete Swanson, Rene Hell, John Wiese, Chrome Wings, Stag Hare as well as local/Debacle favorites Dull Knife, Du Hexen Hase, Physical Demon, Wind Swept Plains and Megabats, among many others.
Anyhow, a long while back Sam handed me a hefty stack of Debacle discs and I'm sad to say I've only taken the time to review a few of them so I'm playing catch up now.
Various Artists - Bleak|Beauty
Since I was just mentioning the curatorial capabilities of Mr. Melancon. I figure a compilation is a good one to start out on. Culling artists from across the Debacle catalog and beyond, there's hearty doses of noise from Slates and Pig Heart Transplant and gritty, occasionally groovy, malfunctioning machinations from Summon Thrull and Physical Demon among many other sounds. The opening track, Slates's "Rainscatter" is all jagged, serrated edges; a relentless 7 minute rumble in the gutter. Certainly a brave way to kick off the disc. Meanwhile, later in the disc Pig Heart Transplant give the listener a quick run through the wringer with "How to Survive in the Woods." What I really like about the track is how succinct the pummeling is. They drop in and 3 and a half minutes later your skull is pulverized. Thunder Grey Pilgrim and KRGA both turn in some really nice drones as well. TGP's track "Breathe Eons Breadth" does a great job balancing melodic elements while sustaining atmoshere. There's some sparse, ringing Western-ish guitar notes near the end which you know I love.
Although the disc is solid on the drone and noise fronts, it's often the oddballs that catch my attention here. Walrus Machine delivers a great, idiosyncratic jazz track "Attic Stains" which stumbles around at a quick pace like a drunken man chasing the bus. Red Squirrels make an excellent raga-ish contribution "My Bike is a Sailboat" that definitely stands-out amongst its company. Forrest Friends are probably the weirdest band in Seattle and their track makes that very clear. A four minute menagerie of literally thrift store instrumentation. Cheap acoustic guitars, weird metal chimes, yelping, hand drums, toy accordion, you name it. Wind Swept Plains challenges them for weirdest here though with a loping, detuned, weirdly voiced "folk" ditty. Megabats shifts things into a heavy fog with sequenced melodies and drum machine barely peeking through, very nice.
Overall, it's quite a good compilation as it features a lot of quality work that covers a lot of area on the sonic spectrum. Perhaps a good place to start if you've never heard any Debacle material before. There's plenty of artists here I hope to hear more from.
Megabats - In/Out
Megabats is Sam Melancon's music project along with somebody named Riley. There's next to no info on the disc so I'm gonna guess this is predominantly keyboards, electronics and possibly a guitar. The disc veers back and forth between dronier selections and rather vibrant keyboard-driven pieces. "Meek Attack," the opener for instance, finds Megabats gradually building in volume over the course of 7 minutes. Grey-blue drones dominate but it's slowly apparent there's a synth melody burbling underneath. The next track "Battleground Sky" totally flips it around. There's pretty much no reverb, just multi-tracked, quivering synth. A stomping bass drum is a nice touch that really slingshots the melodies on their way, upping the energy of the track. The melodies slowly become more complex as does the drumming. I can't tell you how happy it makes me to hear live drumming on this track as well. Since they're trafficking in such boldly in electronic textures, the live drumming gives the piece a wonderful balance between the electronic and the organic. Nice choice boys! "Bag Lady," the only short track, is another good one, delivering a heavily murked out two minutes of looped melodies. "Clever Teeth" twinkles, lopes and glimmers over its seven minutes while "Jarritos" slightly echoes "Battleground Sky." Its got a murkier feel than "Sky" but its got a boatload of keyboard melodies all locked arms and skipping down the street. Megabats kick in the distortion for the default epic, the 13 minute closer "Canopy Fire." Spitting sequenced synth melodies through static distortion, the duo straddles the noise and electronic music realms without actually sounding like either.
Hemingway - The Mansions in Heaven are Empty
First of all, love the title of this disc. Now that that's outta the way, Hemingway will be playing Debacle Fest in their two-man heavy metal riffin' guise Great Falls. On this disc though, a single 22 minute track, they use space very well. Panning spacey, percussive bass notes while a guitar crackles and feeds back, the piece moves through peaks and valleys. Just when you think a crescendo may be on the rise they push everything back leaving only a few deliberate sounds. This disc is all I've heard of Hemingway but from where I'm sitting they are at their best when they are the most restrained. They really know how to hone in a few potent sounds and garnishing them with a few noises around the frayed edges. The duo mostly moves back and forth between a simmer and pummeling, as occasionally they like to drop some in-the-red rumbles on you. The back half of the track continues the peaks and valleys trajectory but also works around a loose guitar progression leading to a modest but satisfying finale.
Slates - Street of Dreams
Here's another single-track CD-r but this one's twice the length. Yikes! I'm guessing there's a concept here but there's practically no info to back me up. If you look at the cover which is a really wonderful piece of photography, you'll notice the house burning amongst the beautiful flowers and otherwise quiet neighborhood. The cover folds out to show the rest of the photo a crowd of neighbors grouped in the street, some craning their necks out windows, all attention focused on the fire. The flip-side of the booklet thing shows the fire from another perspective, raging even further, with the group of neighbors still captivated by the smoke and flames, with one man caught in the act of photographing the fire on his cell phone. I'm guessing that this piece is attempting to capture the experience on these onlookers. I may be way off base here but I'm goin' with it anyway. What's my evidence? Slates's track sounds like a fuckin' fire! It crackles and grumbles incessantly and grows, very slowly, more massive, more intrusive and more violent. There's a hypnotic aspect too as you see with the onlooking crowd. (May I also cite those DVDs of nothing but footage of a crackling fireplace to warm the homes of those without chimneys?) You can't keep each crackle, crunch and pop straight and, for better or worse, you get lost in the noise. Some people will appreciate the experience of this 44 minute arson-steeped piece, others won't, but it's gonna keep burning whether you like it or not.
Anyway, Debacle Fest will be kicking around The Josephine and The Black Lodge here in Seattle over the next three days. Hit up the Debacle myspace for full info

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Flower Man/Carl Calm - The Breslin Wayside Rotary/The Sag [DNT]

In anticipation of an upcoming Caboladies LP, DNT Records CEO Tynan Krakoff has prepared this double cassette of the two Caboladies solo projects. Flower Man and Carl Calm each contribute a succinct, twenty minute tape to the release though on slightly divergent paths.
Flower Man's tape is marked DNT053A so I'll start with that one first. Cramming in 10 pieces, Flower Man is apparently a bit of a wildman. He's all over the map here with his electronic squiggles, acoustic percussion and weirdo birdcalls on the opening title track. It's somehow frantic and mellow at the same time, don't ask me how. "Away Outdoors" could be an m83 outtake or something, a buoyant synth arpeggio recycles itself and chiming tones hammer out a melody. Very nice piece. "Yayenna Airplane" is a bunch of spacey oscillator manipulations a la Forbidden Planet. "The Quoclo Zoom" sounds like an old video game score with a marching drum machine and stressed synth tones warning of the ghosts, neon boulders and other dangers lying ahead, waiting to befall you. Wrapping up the side, "A Ripple Near the Sun" rests on a looped group of synth plinks with animal-like oscillator manipulations groaning and squealing over top.
Flipping it over "Fostered by a Latch" (ha!) burbles and rumbles to a start. It's another weird one with an array of percussive electronic noises and I think briefly a voiced couched in radio static. "Resurfacing" resembles the title track but features a number of glistening keyboards nestled uncomfortably next to each other over what I think is the same percussion loop from the first piece. "The General Effect of Science" is a collage of random electronic beeps, swoops and whirs similar to "Yayenna Airplane," do I detect a pattern here? "To Be/Wildlife" is a very nice synth number with a mellow, smooth arpeggio and a grumbling oscillator. "Seagull Pill Box" closes out the tape with more animal-like noises, like recreating an aural jungle habitat using nothing but a synthesizer. I know I'm repeating myself but this is some wild stuff, if a little underdeveloped.
Carl Calm flips the script with what is more or less an electronic/dance project. Contributing 5 tracks and one alternate mix... "Acayucan Cacique (Orchestral Mix)" flickers to a start with stuttering organ backed by almost choral keys. It's a great introduction to the tape; its rather a modest arrangement but still with an epic touch. "Crocs Time" gets the beats rattling and shaking, they tick away in a vacuum so to speak until the synthline drops and everything suddenly makes sense. The spacey arpeggiated melodies take over while the beat smashes away in the background. Mister Calm keeps piling on more keyboard melodies and subtle funk guitar stabs among other sounds. Very cool groove. Almost makes me wanna go out and buy a pair of those ugly ass Crocs shoes outta respect. "Bone Destined" takes the tape into a more abstract zone, with many, many layers crashing into each other. Although, they start communicating and making friends as the track progresses with a slowly pumping drum track, materializing along with hints of melody.
"A Royal Hole in the Sky" is built upon a series of short loops, I think from a bass or guitar. Carl does a good job jostling through and splicing the series of loops while the drum track clicks away. "Broad Jaunt" is actually not much of a jaunt. It's by far the most chilled out piece on the tape. Unfurling cosmic keyboards with scattered drum machine coming along for the glide. The tape is bookended with "Acayucan Cacique (Hype Mix)" a much more upbeat version of the track. A drum machine marches along with disembodied singing and scrappy keyboard melodies which I'm really digging. After a breakdown into a solo section of said melodies, the track comes back a little heavier before settling back into the song's main passage.
It's a cool little set as you definitely get a bit of a yin and yang vibe, Carl Calm's intricate sound structures and Flower Man's talent for concocting exotic textures. When DNT drops that Caboladies LP I'm gonna try applying this little decoder ring to see how the two members' styles fit together.
This has been sold-out for a while now, so check the distros for copies...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

David Russell - Architecture [Pilgrim Talk]

So here we are. I have another awesome looking lathe cut from Pilgrim Talk on my hands; this one's a clear 33rpm 7incher, and it is very, very good. David Russell is an artist I have never encountered before and I am wondering why. Apparently, Architecture is a "greatest hits" of Russell's best loops as chosen by Nick Hoffman at Pilgrim Talk, reissuing some out of print stuff as well as new material. There are 11 tracks over the two sides and at least as many loops if not more.
This stuff is really wild and really replayable as well. I don't know what Russell used to create these (except that "Erie" is created from recordings from Lake Erie!) but I imagine its quite a range of materials. The scathing, blistering bluster of the unironically titled "Shriek!" scares the fuck out of you right as you drop the needle. It's a very unfriendly little scalawag. Flipping the switch to "Fiddler" Russell gets the train a-movin'. There's the implication that a fiddle is involved here but hell if I can figure out how. It sounds more like a heavily botched/manipulated trumpet melody to me, with a snare or something providing some sharp crackle and pops. "Snap Dragon" is a sexy telephone party gone haywire, with them all cradling each others' receivers and ringing excitedly. "Who Dunnit? Loop" is short, all murk and grind. "Jerk Loop" is one my favorites, a seriously fucked dancefloor stomper. Don't even know how to describe it, very playful, very groovy. Very cool. "Swagger Loop" keeps the energy high with a much more ominous point of view. Mechanical shuffling with a relentless whining sine melody. "L W P" is also a neat one and totally changes styles. It appears to be all piano at work here and its creates a ghostly but surprisingly uptempo little creepout to end the side on.
The second side allows its four tracks to stretch out just a tad more. "Tremor" is a hyper-ventilating little groove. It's the kind of stuff I imagine all the weirdos out in Western Mass and Antwerp dance to all night long. "Loop of Guilt" is another favorite. Totally not getting the name here as this one just makes me wanna jump and jive. It's an expertly crafted beat from various vocal samples and a few raw drum hits. It sounds like something a very adventurous party DJ might have spun back in the early 90s. The aforementioned "Erie" is another anomaly in a record full of them. Apparently created from recordings of Lake Erie, this thing seems way too rhythmic for that to be so. There's definitely a submerged feel but there's gotsta be some drums on here somewhere! Anyhow, "Slighted" returns to the vibe of "Swagger Loop" but develops it much further. Plenty of distortion, lots of sounds all sputtering for your attention. It really feels like its building to something but alas its just a loop (or more accurately a collage of them). This is a case where its definitely about the journey though.
Some seriously excellent stuff here, possibly my favorite Pilgrim Talk release. What I love about Russell's work here is that most of these are simply just a single loop, but he constructs them to have a lot of depth as well as to throw you off guard slightly so the loop never feels too familiar or repetitive. Great work.
Limited to 50 copies but happily still available. The artwork/packaging is very nice as is typical of Pilgrim Talk's output.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase - Seashard [No Label]/Rack Rash - National Felt [No Label]

So apparently Chris Cooper (Buddies/Chris Cooper Bill Nace Duo, Fat Worm of Error) is in a techno band now and this tape Seashard, the latest from his solo guise Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase, is his him in that "techno" mindset. I'm gonna guess that this tape has, at its center, guitar, as that's the instrument Cooper generally performs his wizardry on, but it's very possible I am way off on that as there must be at least a sampler or something everything that is channeled through. The sounds have gone completely ballistic here, all sorts of weird bloops, squirts, crackles, scratches, pops, cowbell hits? tear through you like shrapnel at a mind-boggling rate. I haven't been able to discern a coherent rhythm here but everything flies by so fast it wouldn't have been missed anyway. At one point, Cooper shifts into hyper drive with ascending synth tones follow by pitter-pattering snare and long, agitated bow-scrapes on guitar or bass. There's a cool "glitch" section, which makes me think "wow, glitch music would actually be pretty cool if it wasn't always made on fucking computers." You may have noticed that I'm just clutching at anything to write about for this review. This is because, well, how do you describe this? Hopefully, I'm giving you general idea of it (maybe? [shrug]) but this thing is on its own orbit. There's some beats here but they either creep up on you or just straight up hide. Near the end of the first side Cooper brings out some strange melodies and the tape develops some forward momentum before mellowing out on the comedown.
The second side is even a bit better I think. Beginning with a weird collage barrage of laboratory beeps, racecar-like sound effects, percussion plunks etc. From there it jumps off the deep end into 50s sci-fi sound effects (back when they made them with oscillators and circuits and such) but in a strictly non-cheesy way. Strange little melodies pulsate, either butting heads or jumping in each others beds. Receding into a softened squirm and scrape affair, with a drum machine puttering along underneath, it launches into a gnarly, cut-up, hard-panned freakout. These are probably the most "normal" moments of the tape as there's a steady if subtle beat and it slows down just enough you can start getting a hang of all the sounds going on. The most upfront beat of the tape turns up later still skittering away like the drummer in a 60s jazz quartet on a solo. Slowing down even further, the tape concludes with a handful of sounds conversing across the left and right channels, birthing melodic bastard children until muttering "Fuck, I'm tired. I'm outta here." This is the most thoroughly inventive cacophony I've heard in a long time.
Who knows if Cooper himself can wrap his mind around this incredible piece of confusion he's created. This is the uncharted, intergalactic intersection of techno, free music, weirdo music, jazz, avant-guitar and probably a bunch of other shit but its way more wild and fresh and exciting than any of that implies. Absolute jaw dropper, I highly recommend seeking out a copy of this as I doubt you've ever heard anything quite like it. I haven't at least.
So now that 3-D is all the rage (again) everyone's jumping on the band wagon and Fat Worm of Error's Tim Sheldon is right there along with everybody else. Check out the packaging on this thing! It's like the smokestack is coming right at you (it is!) Sheldon somehow found time to hand carve the title into the tape shells too. Anyway, so the presentation's awesome and this tape also helped me get a step closer to hearing all the Fat Worm members in solo form. Only one more to go; Donny, I'm comin' for you next. This tape is another perplexercise you'd expect from the crew but probably not in the way you'd expect. National Felt is all slowed-down samples of what sounds like various pop-rock songs from the early 90s. I'm sad to say I don't recognize any of the samples but they got me singin' "bay-buh!" in a slow-mo, Tears for Fears-sounding voice. The tape hops from sample to sample sometimes looping them or slicing and splicing them up. Along with that, Sheldon lays down some grrrrzzz's and oscillator squeals, static blurts and sounds of random shit getting knocked around in between and overtop the samples. It's quite a cool piece of music (probably about 10 minutes in length) that seems to cover a lot of ground in that time while also being paced rather quickly. It's unexpectedly listenable in a really great way.
I believe the b-side is just a repeat but for some reason it never sounds identical to the side that came before. I guess that's a testament to the elusiveness and wonder of the tape. Or maybe I'm right and it's not identical. Or maybe Mr. Sheldon is just fuckin' with my head. I'm okay with all three possibilities.
Both tapes are self-released so I guess try tracking down the artist, or getting them at a show. Some distro out there may have a copy(??) Anyway, maybe try Cooper at angsthasepfeffernase[at]gmail[dot]com and the Rack Rash myspace