Sunday, October 31, 2010

Locrian - Territories [At War With False Noise/Basses Frequences/Bloodlust!/Small Doses]/Locrian - The Crystal World [Utech]

In this post-Yellow Swans world of ours, Locrian has always been one of the most consistent and musical of the noise brethren. I'm sure buckets of sweat went into it, but it seems Andre Foisy and Terrence Hannum just have this special chemistry. There must be an explanation, like they're telepathically linked or Siamese twins separated at birth now reuniting as one mind or some comic book shit like that. I don't know how it got be that way but it is, and there's hours of evidence and thousands of witnesses to prove it.
Bringing in the concept of collaboration to an already perfect union is a funny proposition. Collaborations, particularly in an improvisatory environment, are always risky but are always interesting as well. You never know if the unknown volatility of collaboration will lead to an explosive re-imagining of the participating parties' sounds or will it just sort of fizzle out.
In all honesty, I was initially a little resistant to this Territories LP. One of the main things that I absolutely love about Locrian is the singular chemistry shared between its members. I felt like adding collaborators would dilute the magic. But truth be told, once I nestled up to it a bit, I noticed that there' s a lot of damn fine shit on this record.
Opener, "Inverted Ruins," is a good choice to bat first as its opening seconds are phenomenal. A thin wave of feedback lingers as an echoing synth trots out a simple melody and what a great pair they make. From there the piece morphs into an actual song with loping drums, Mark Solotroff (Bloodyminded, the Bloodlust! label) growling through some effects, and a number of instruments being pushed into unstable territory. Its yet another great example of sustained tension, a feat that Locrian performs probably better than anyone else. There doesn't seem to be a lot happening; each performer is incredibly restrained. Yet! By the end, the track is just quaking and you have no idea how it got to be. The next piece is my favorite from the record and one my favorite Locrian pieces period. "Between Barrows" stews in a boggy single note synth for a while, augmented by tasteful cymbal rolls. And then it happens. Channeling, whether directly or indirectly, Basil Poledouris's magnificent opening titles for RoboCop, the piece flowers into the most beautiful of Locrian's career. Bruce Lamont contributes lilting saxophone to Foisy's and Hannum's brooding guitar and organ. It's hard to adequately put this into words. The piece is so simple but its blackened elegance is breathtaking. A must hear. "Procession of Ancestral Brutalism" is the default epic, totaling 11 minutes with 4 additional players in tow. After the near silent two minute intro, a guitar slams out a pretty rockin' progression and synth seethes along with it. From there the double bass drum kicks and the track gets a shot of heavy metal adrenaline in the heart. I'm not the biggest metal fan on the planet, so I don't totally connect to this one. It's pretty good but, in my opinion at least, it lacks a lot of the texture and detail that made the previous piece so brilliant. It does feature a pretty sweet outro though, as everything but a sole guitar falls away. "Ring Road" is another long one featuring Solotroff on vox and synth. The whole affair is a heavy throb of multiple synths and bass guitar. It's a muscular arrangement but Hannum (I think) is still working hypnotic bell-like melodies within the humid terrain of bass and synth. Tremors pulse underneath until crumbling into feedback and a melody via slide bass (again, I think.) "Antediluvian Territory" is the sole piece made only by Foisy and Hannum. The latter brings out the organ and tapes, while Foisy contributes clean-toned guitar harmonics. It's a nice piece, certainly in line with the darkness surrounding it on the album but its a touch brighter and a little more airy. Minor key organ still looms ready to swallow up the bright harmonics, but said harmonics manage to get out unscathed. The finale "The Columnless Arcade" is really great. It's dense and gritty and there's a certain looseness to it that isn't present elsewhere on this very tight record. Sounds intermingle and disappear into each other. That's the first part of the piece. There's an abrupt shift into a full band affair with pummeling drums and so forth. The shift is jarring at first but the guitarists (Foisy, Hannum and B. Judd) whip out some excellent guitar leads before the piece subsides in a brief glistening organ outro.
It's not a totally cohesive record but it was an interesting experiment and all personnel involved produced some great material.
The Crystal World, Locrian's latest studio effort, also changes up personnel with the addition of Steven Hess (Pan American) on percussion and electronics for the whole album. The record is inspired by JG Ballard's novel The Crystal World about an African jungle that is slowly crystallizing. Opening track, "Triumph of Elimination" introduces the feel of the record. It sounds like a jungle, the tinkling guitar could be any number of creatures. But it doesn't sound like your typical, red-blooded jungle full of life. It's ominous and strangely empty. The tinkling guitar motif carries over to the second track "At Night's End" as Locrian further expands on this dim portraiture of a fading jungle. Hess's drums drop in the song's back half. Foisy contributes many excellent guitar leads as Hannum moans, probably prostrated over his organ. The piece features Locrian's signature polyphonic approach to audio hypnosis, inculcating Hess's drumwork seamlessly into their sound. The title track, throbs on a lone sub-bass synthesizer before Foisy introduces an arpeggio made more complex through a hall-of-mirrors use of delay. I think Hannum might even be wedging a few piano notes in there too(?) A soaring distorted guitar tone lingers with swelling synths and sporadic drum hits. "Pathogens" is the first of two 11 minute monsters. Starting out real slowly with a barely noticeable taped key and a few ruminations of guitar, it isn't until halfway though Locrian comes out of their shell. The drums pound with a nearly jazzy swing as the strings and keys strain themselves around the drums, pushing themselves into corners they're afraid to go. I think its the most unusual arrangement Locrian has yet come up with, neither guitar, synth or vocals are the main focus but twitch and fret at the fringes of the piece allowing Hess to fill in his primal ferocity. "Obsidian Facades" changes the tone with a scream and an ominous two-note pulse. Pouring on copious amounts of fuzz and feedback, the piece trudges along; too heavy to be ghostly but much too chilling to be anything but. In the final minute or so, an ascending/descending guitar melody emerges so lovely you have no idea how to process it amidst the murky horror. A marvelous piece, which segues into the epic finale "Elevations and Depths." Opening with stark acoustic guitar strums and Rosemary's Baby-esque vocals by Erica Burgner, the trio launches into a full-on dirge 3 minutes in. The Burgner's coos are replaced with Hannum's distant shrieks and thick fuzz is exchanged for the acoustic guitar. Maybe my favorite element at work here is the zoned out surf guitar accents, pulling all the right things out of Badalamenti's work in Twin Peaks. It doesn't end there though, Locrian shift gears again into a fantastically beautiful arrangement of acoustic guitar, violin by Gretchen Koehler and I believe multi-tracked accordion by Hannum. It's just an incredible, incredible arrangement, worthy of accompanying the climax of a feature-length film adaptation of The Crystal World, if there ever is one. Really brilliant work.
Without doubt The Crystal World is Locrian's most cohesive full-length yet, though I don't know if I should make the claim that it's my favorite as I do really like Drenched Lands a lot. Needless to say, there's some gorgeous and powerful stuff here and anything with the Locrian seal should probably be in your collection.
Territories is available is you haven't already grabbed that one but the The Crystal World is still nearly a month away (it drops 11/27/10) so in the meantime you may want to grab Locrian's new split LP with Century Plants on Tape Drift as that is sure to be a monster as well.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

M. Geddes Gengras - Pink Trails/Deep Moon Time [Stunned]

So I've always liked Mr. Gengras's stuff, and his side on the split with AM Shiner at the end of last year was pretty damn slammin' but this right here, this Pink Trails/Deep Moon Time, his expansive new double cassette on Stunned, is some serious fucking business I was not prepared for.
MGG rips the first tape hard unleashing some Yellow Swans-ish zen-through-grime action. Initially hitting your ears with a manipulated tape of hand drums, Gengras lies you down in a coffin in no time and starts shoveling on dank fuzz and synth. This first side is really incredible, so gnarly and throbbing but still so beautifully melodic. A layer of snowy feedback is caked on everything. Some deep sub-bass synth lurches and grinds making be think maybe there really is that underground volcano ready to swallow up LA. Powerful and heavy as hell yet scrappy and detailed too. It's a fighter without a weak point. More and more elements surface Gengras eventually singing something but there's no way to tell for sure what, or even guess, due to the racket. Seriously brilliant piece. The second section of the side manages to come off as even more unstable with speaker cabinets buckling under their power and shriveling up against weird taped clatter. Raging feedback and a lilting melody hit back simultaneously. Going all rock tumbler on us, he's grinding down grit to gleaming gems. Then, Gengras, whips out some tabla amidst the noise and a Moog with the one-way ticket to hell. And we coast out on some raucous hand drum action. So Side 1 down, mind blown. 3 to go.
The second side opens up with the same tabla as feedback begins to work its way back under your fingernails coloring them a grody brown. MGG tries to keep your mind clean with a fantastic, soaring synth melody buried under the gunk. Subterranean tremors start crumbling the interior of this here temple Gengras has built and all the ghosts and ghouls are set free. The voices join for a decayed symphony as the damned march to the gallows, while Mr. MGG is over there in the corner just fuckin' one-finger jammin' on his Korg. He then pulls out the Sun Ra chops he's been hiding, molesting the keyboard and wringing out a devilish extended solo. The synthesizer dies off ever so slowly, bedded in rattles, clangs and rumbling, speaker-ripping bouts of feedback leading to a lonesome melody coming from either a guitar or a keyboard (I can't tell!) At that point, the side seems to launch into a new section with polyphonic organ tones and a random instrument being strummed to death. Before long the competing melodies begin tear each other limb from limb. Gengras beckons you to experience the aural cannibalism.
It's a nasty mess and this is worth picking up for the first tape alone. I know usually save this for the end of the review, but fuck it, Recommended.
The second tape Deep Moon Time finds Gengras taking it easy for all us sinners. Gone are the feedback doused arrangements and putrid audio infections. Beginning with two dueling clean-toned synth melodies, the piece is immediately more relaxing than the previous half hour. However, MGG hasn't lost his edge, massive sub-bass swells push their way in turning the piece into a thoroughly ominous affair. It's now just a matter of time to see what evil thing will happen. The section segues into a new set of sustained tones, really the first place the tape goes a little drone. From there Gengras constructs melodies out of the ether. Slowly but surely he molds the melodies, eventually whipping them into an improvised synth solo. Gengras just keeps riffing away, against the foggy bass, until the piece drifts away.
The final side continues the vibe of dense, packed bass and single note melodies. An echoing melodic figure treads water before being swept away by the current of other swelling tones. Literally unstable bass rumbles turn up nearly shaking the piece off its hinges. The crashes get louder and sharper moving at a relentless, metered pace for a while before sputtering out. The next piece hits instantly with tangled, thicker-than-usual melodies. And when MGG pulls out the late 70s film score synth lines, man oh man, it's too much. It's a beautiful polyphony that's way too short. The next track attacks you with the sharpest, most brittle synth tone west of the Mississippi. A saturated bass throb hits hard and heavy and we appear to be moving full circle back into the grime of the album's beginning. Cycling on two-note bass waves, a melody cuts its path puncturing the monolith with quick stabs, gradually tearing it away to reveal a beautiful, shining chorus from heaven underneath. This is an epic, epic event.
Gengras has found a luscious and muggy middle ground between analog synth composition and the improvised noise sphere and I can't get enough. Headphones are a must!
Chock another "one of the best of year!"s on the Stunned Records 2010 scoreboard. What are they at now 6 or 7? Great artwork, chunky "butterfly" 2xCS case, seriously massive tunes. There's no reason not to snatch it up except, well, it's almost sold-out so hurry.

Friday, October 22, 2010

You Are Not All Boring - Pixelated Getaway [Boring Tapes]

Pixelated Getaway is the debut release for both You Are Not All Boring, a project of Jason Boyko, and the label Boring Tapes. Boyko provides nine instrumentals that mostly throwback to 80s new wave mixed in with a hefty love of ska and reggae as well.
"Riding Mowers" kicks off with a mechanical buzz and some birdcalls before launching into a no-holds-barred cheeseball synth/snare/bongo ditty. It's not until a theremin-esque keyboard lead enters that the jam really hits its stride. The jams rolls along in that mode for a while before leaving that theremin lead by its lonesome, ending things on an eerie note. "Lagging" recalls an old video game soundtrack (a la Streets of Rage) by way of Miami Vice and Duran Duran. Serious forward momentum based on a circular melody, heavy synth toms and some cool lead lines. One of the better songs on display. "Miles" continues the vibe with a mellow laidback groove. At least until a fluttering sequenced melody kicks in. "Island" takes the tempo up another notch with repeated synth-bass line and dubby organ stabs. And then the track goes OFF with this wiggling, warbly synth-xylophone solo! Totally rad. (Also really dig the rustling drum machine backing it up as well.) Then Boyko takes it up another notch doubling the long, sinewy melody with organ. The drum machine gets thicker and the jam grows more and more bad ass. Great piece of work, good use of dynamics, instrumentation and just a real sweet melody too. "Evil Electronics" closes out the side, with another xylophone melody and a crunk snare and clap pattern. An ominous bass throb earns the track its title. Halfway between the score of an 80s horror movie and a club groove. It would be great piece to accompany one of those bad-trip-in-the-dance-club scenes. Way too short dude.
Side B starts off with "Physical Dimension" flips the script with a 4-on-the-floor disco jam. Focused on an excellent clipped vocal melody, almost more akin to a siren, it hits all the classic disco marks continually ramping up the energy. Boyko even drops in the syncopated synth stabs at the end, wearing his dub influence on his sleeve. "Cruiser" is another favorite, a super cheesy dub ditty. My mind is flooded with memories of the early 90s, Ace of Base, the rainy, trashy beach stage of the aforementioned Streets of Rage video game and so on. There are a handful of fantastic synth melodies all intermingling making for another bout of excellent listening. "Ska Synthesizer" is similar but sped-up almost to a vaguely country rhythm. After Boyko launches the main keyboard melody all thoughts of country music dissipate as he layers on more slot machine synth. "Last Light" wraps the tape up. It's another good one incorporating all the elements you've come to know and love throughout the tape, heavy dub rhythms, creepy theremin-styled tones, a long stringy melody all played with a light, carefree touch. A perfect way to end the tape.
Overall, it's a pretty darn fun tape if maybe a touch on the long side. You do have to be a person who can stomach plastic-y instrumentation to appreciate it, but there's lots to love and groove to in this collection. And though lots of people are starting to get back into 80s dance grooves, Mr. Boyko is carving his own niche with that serious ska obsession.
The tape is limited to a scant 25 copies, though it looks to still be in print. Ch-ch-check it out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

R. Sawyer - I Burn [Bridgetown]/Kevin Greenspon - Corridor [Bridgetown]

Couple of short discs here from Kevin Greenspon's Bridgetown label. The first is by R. Sawyer formerly Timeload Fowl and the second by Greenspon himself.
Timeload Fowl contributed a great side to the Gilgongo LP he split with James Fella and Sawyer delivers more good if also more mellow stuff here. Kicking things off with "Constricting Realities I," which amounts to a single soothing drone for most of its duration. Sawyer layers a few more light drones, adding some harmonic divergences but maintaining a focused, subtle touch throughout. "Amaryllis" is similar but hints at a little chaos brewing inside as opposed to the arctic inner calm of the first piece. The piece is more complex than it seems at first glance, due again to Sawyer's extremely subtle hand. Things open up a little near the end before merging into "Constricting Realities II." This piece is much more expansive than the first "Constricting Realities" with slight, rhythmic pulses gliding underneath. The title-track "I Burn" immediately introduces the listener to a noisier palette. It's certainly not noisy in the way his work on the aforementioned Gilgongo LP was but there's a constant, if distant, rumble for the smooth guitar tones to contend with. After a few minutes everything breaks up save for a recording of children playing and a smidge of static. From there Sawyer commences a chilly slowburn of melodic guitar swells. "Blood Bright Star" features the most tension anywhere else on the disc, making for the best listening as well. Fuzzy guitars jet along in a vacuum, hi-pitched notes provide flickers of melody along with percussive elements. The track gives itself a makeover halfway through into a rather beautiful glistening, melodic chorus. Overall, the disc is a well-played hand of guitar atmospherics.
With Corridor, Mr. Greenspon delivers a disc of his brand of "actual songs not improvs" using guitar, electronics, tapes and emphatically no synths. "Once by Chance," the opener, is literally just a taster, introducing many elements without developing them. "Sinking" features a revolving set of distorted, trembling notes that bleed more and more as the clock ticks. Augmented by breaking waves, the guitar eventually tapers and dissolves into them. "Drift Away" comes next, which is an interesting placement as the guitar here seems to be emulating the crashing waves that came before. Greenspon even manages to work in a mellow guitar lead amidst the mist. "Alarming Return" is just that, loud, scraping cassette shards which shatter the placid rays of guitar. After the final crash, the piece drifts off on a multi-tracked melody. "Eyes Forward Still" features more conventional guitar playing as Greenspon spins a lovely blue-grey guitar melody in, what may be, the finest piece on the record. "Unbearable Keepsake" seals up the record with speedy guitar playing submerged in a serious bog of noise and feedback. The track devolves into chunky noise before doin' a 180 into more relaxed guitar swells. A nifty little disc when you add it up
Both are still in print, the Sawyer disc is in it's first edition of 50 and Greenspon's disc is in a second edition of 50 after an initial run of 75 (and 100 copies of a cassette version on Nautical Leftist Antiques) so they are each available for you to gulp down. Greenspon has been particularly busy as of late, touring and dropping releases left and right so you may want to lend an ear in that direction as well.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

(D)(B)(H) - Bleach is the Color of My True Love's Hair [Lighten Up Sounds]/Neon Sea - Fading Light [Lighten Up Sounds]

I've finally found some time to discuss these tasty, beautifully packaged morsels from Matthew Himes's Lighten Up Sounds label.
Starting off with cult crew in the making Damaged Bachelor Hood better known as (D)(B)(H), a project headed up by Justin Rhody featuring the talents of a staggeringly large list of other people. The first piece on the tape, the title track, features some excellent drumming from Matt Shuff (who also plays melodica, guitar and trumpet on the recording) and Kray Fanny weighs in on guitar, radio, percussion and, uh, foot massager while the main man Rhody himself clatters away on paper, vacuum, violin, cymbal, metal and trumpet. Knowing the instrumentation is definitely necessary to envision this stuff if you've never heard it. DBH's music is definitely "improv" but it gets a little more hairy labeling it beyond that. I personally don't think calling it "jazz" is that far off but that might not put the right image in some people minds. The set moves through junky, heavily percussive passages (even on the instruments not generally deemed to be "percussive") while also delving into some near-drone excursions with some pulsing electronics (the foot massager?) The trio does a good job navigating between the various sections somehow making all their bizarre activities makes sense in the context of the piece. My favorite parts are definitely the percussion-oriented ones; coming off of the drone-y section the trio whips into a fantastic all-percussion bit with drums, various objects and what sounds a little like a cash register bell. Totally free and very detailed, the piece certainly goes out on a high note. Well technically it goes out on a few seconds of trumpet and a DJ announcing "You just heard DBH here on DBX. Yeah, I know. Dumb pun." Really cool set.
The second piece of the side "To Me, It Seemed Obvious" features TABOO, who I'm guessing is a band rather than an individual. TABOO contributes vocals, bass and drums while Matthew Himes plays guitar and finger cymbals and Rhody focuses his attentions solely on trumpet. It's a strange track made even stranger due to following that long free set that came before. Over a simple 4/4 beat a low voice grumbles semi-inaudibly with the only phrase I can really pick out being "you're alone." Trumpet and guitar sort of dither around along with someone whistling but the main focus is on the chugging, lo-fi weirdness coming from TABOO.
The taking up the second side is "Creating an Atmosphere in Which God Will Speak" which is another trio formation of Rhody (guitar, violin, feedback, cymbal), Himes (percussion, electronics) and Tyler Larson on drums and guitar. This set was recorded in a live environment so the recording quality is murkier and the piece comes out a lot more jumbled. Instruments randomly pop out at you, temporarily escaping from the lo-fidelity bog, meanwhile people are laughing and cheering making me wonder what was actually going on during this sweat. Did someone turn the game on? Does DBH regularly play sports bars? Or was DBH doing some kind of interactive doing some kind of interactive live performance? There are some cool bits that sound almost like organ, but I'm not sure what is actually behind those noises. Guitar probably. There's some cool violin work in the back half too that I'm enjoying. I just wish the recording quality were a little better on this piece; the murk gives it a curious vibe but I miss the dynamics and detail of the title track. I'm guessing at least part of the goal of the piece is just to (re)create the live environment of the band playing and the crowd discussing "the NBA All-Stars." Odd, to say the least.
Neon Sea is a new project to me, consisting of Oakland-based Dan Kaufman on accordion, bass, drums, tape manipulation and "vocal rasps." Unlike the electro-acoustic clatter of DBH, Neon Sea works with sweeping drones/tones. There's a fine static to the proceedings, perhaps some accordion wheeze had a hand in that, while various effects pulse and sputter, stepping in time. All forward thrust, bouncing along on stuttering, clipped loops. Drums make their appearance with a bit of interplay with bursts of heavy electronics. The drums are a nice presence as they don't overwhelm the electronics but provide significant rhythmic backbone to hang the freaked out electronic signals on. Those signals get real freaked 2/3rds through "Side A" where the monolithic electronics dissipate into frantic warbles. From there they try to at least bundle all their nerves together so they continue as the drums trudge along. Before long though, the drums say "fuck it, I'm out" and the side wraps up in a storm of feedback.
The flipside is real sweet; there's a lot more space and it feels a bit creepier. There's a quiet relentlessly pummeling loop underneath, small swells of feedback and a wealth of eerie creeping creaks. Kaufman bashes away on cymbals like there's no tomorrow though the drums are pretty buried in the mix for the most part. Hissing static envelopes everything for a little while before the pieces settles into a brooding, ominous bass note. Kaufman does a great job molding the other sounds around the monolith. Really rad, I've added this to my list of upcoming Halloween listening. There's a second piece on the side that is noticeably brighter. Not necessarily any happier, but brighter. The bass eventually begins to flow through a swamp of sine wave hiss and chime and I really wish it lasted longer as it seemed to be headed somewhere real cool.
The other thing I must mention here is what a great job Lighten Up Sounds did presenting this pair of cassettes. The packaging on the DBH tape is stellar, great Beatles/wood grain wrap-around slip-on cover which when removed reveals a cover depicting the full set of auxiliary DBH band members George, Paul, John and Ringo. On the inside there's a mini-booklet with matching wood grain cover, with track/personnel info, badly xeroxed photo and bonus Donald Barthelme poem. Fading Light also features a wrap around slip-on cover with double-sided j-card and what I personally love, the Cotton Candy flavor Bubble Yum-inspired pink and blue tape.
Both tapes are still available in editions of 50. And I'd probably advise you to keep an eye on the label as its got plenty more in the works including a Caethua/Shep and Me LP and a pair of tapes I'm personally very curious about by Soaking Rasps and Mole Hole.