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.

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