Monday, September 19, 2011

Steve Baczkowski - Tone Arm [Cae-sur-a]

Here's the deal, Cory Card known for his Foxy Digitalis scribin' and his Stone Baby vibin' launched a cassette label earlier in the year christened Cae-sur-a. They've been rollin' right along droppin' a bunch of cool tapes all over the sonic map. Some killer noise from York Factory Complaint, perhaps even more killer drones from Hering und Siene Sieben and Pine Smoke Lodge and even some rock bands are in there. However, the crown jewel in my estimation fits firmly in the "other" category.
The inside flap describes Tone Arm as "a solo improvisation for turntables, prepared records, tone arm, bells, implements, flutes, vibratube, baritone sax ..." Wow, I shudder to think what that ellipsis implies. In case you didn't glean it from the tape's own description, Tone Arm is bonkers! I'd never heard any of Steve Baczkowski's work before this. I know he did a record on baritone sax with Bill Nace that I should track down but otherwise, the guy's a mystery to me. How representative is Tone Arm of his repertoire? No idea. Does this guy crank out madness such as Tone Arm with the ease in which others eat breakfast? That's a scary thought indeed.
I give up, this is too difficult to pin down; I'm sitting here at my keyboard trying to catch as catch can with little success. Um, where can I start? Where's a foothold? I think there might be some bird calls in here. Maybe? But then again they could be sounds that only sound like bird calls. After an initial trial by fire--wild speed manipulation scree--at the outset, the first side settles into a nice little abstract riverboat trip. The aforementioned birds are chirping, a slo-mo record creates the ebb and flow of the swampy current; it makes for some pleasant traveling, observing the exotic locale. That is until Baczkowski pops his lid. There's an explosion of sound, among it violently clattered bells and a severely trash'd and slash'd old timey song--could be a TV show theme for all I know. All the fragmented non-music cues are subsidized by flute pieces and other more "recognizably" musical elements, perhaps wisely. No one without a taste for the bizarre will probably dig this but to Baczkowski's credit, this is pretty accessible for being so far off the deep end. Tone Arm sounds like it was recorded/created in real time, and considering how well paced and composed it sounds this Baczkowski seems like a real proficient mind warper.
There's a pause as the tape reverses course but the second side brings back the energy instantly. A series of percussive loops lope along in hypnotized cave man bliss while Bacz regurgitates all sorts of movie monster moans and twisted whistle sound mess. The side gets more and more discombobulated as it moves forward, concussing itself, slipping itself into its own coma. Oddly enough, out of this fog of uncertainty Baczkowski winds up these strange, dare I say, catchy loops and lets 'em fly. He's obviously digging it; he grabs his baritone and wails away over his makeshift backing band until pressing stop.
This cassette is really wild and I'm not at all sure how to succinctly describe it. It's plunderphonic, sure, but that's far from its defining trait. It has some of the left-field, psychedelic sample-clutter feel that Tomutonttu has pioneered, and then there's guitar "players" like Nace and Brian Ruryk that share the penchant for dynamic use of noise. Of course I can't leave out West Mass weird fucks like Chris Cooper and ID M Theft Able in my spaghetti-throw. Are any of these sticking? Well, regardless, this tape is sticking in my deck because for a mere 20 minutes Baczkowski covers miles of too-little-if-ever-seen territory.
As these things go, the good ones are always gone, so hit the distros to track down a copy of this son of a bitch. Cae-sur-a is still stocked with a bunch of other good tapes of all stripes, so I recommend giving the site a peep.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Idaho Joe Windslow - Smoke Your Fear [Psychic Sound]

This record came out of nowhere. It is almost like some spirit out there guided it into my unknowingly open arms.
Armed with a bevy of gear including a home-made "gongtar" along with tabla machine, lehara machine, "Arabic Casio SK8-A," Pakistani Bul Bul, Tibetan creaking drum and more, Windslow integrates each element of his sound perfectly. His droning, metallic gongtar, the trippy grooves of his tabla and lehara machines, his deep voiced, lethargic delivery of lyrics about ghosts and out-of-body experiences.
Lead off track "Out of Body Experience" is still probably my favorite as it's such a perfect nutshell of what Idaho Joe does and does so well. A seriously infectious melody emanates from the lehara machine (I think) while Joe wields all sorts of creaks and glistening grind from his gongtar. His beyond sloshed vocals lay out the LPs main aim as he petitions you to "experience an out-of-body experience." This really is a track you gotta hear, gotta feel as words don't do justice to its trifecta of creepiness, trippiness and catchiness.
"Arabic Casio (Sk8-A) Sampling Function" is an instrumental interlude showcasing the, you guessed it, Arabic Casio's sampling function. Joe throws his metallic gongtar daggers over a tight match-up of tabla and lehara machines in "When Fear Overflows Into Ecstasy". He sings about fear making you feel warm and fuzzy but this song sure doesn't make me feel that way. Dude's gonna hurt someone with that gongtar.
After the 45-second warbly drum solo of "Ektar Solo," another album standout called "My Own Ghost" wraps the first side. I had never thought of "Hey this guy has a pretty good life" being a catchy refrain but man it is here. The gongtar sounds jangly rather than grisly here too which certainly contributes to its sing-along quality.
The second side opens with a fantastic piece of analog electric tamboura called "Analog Electric Tamboura." It's highly evocative, so much so I think it could be fleshed out into a film score. It makes for a perfect midpoint in the record.
"Poltergeist" brings the tabla machine hard and heavy (you may recognize it from Punch-Drunk Love) as Windslow waxes about feeling spirits around you. "Sk8-A with Distortion" makes for a surprisingly weird little interlude. I tend to have a set idea of what can be done with a Casio but Windslow wrings out some weird and squirming sounds from it.
The lehara machine crawls a lot slower on "Great Great Grand Brother." The gongtar drones come long and slow as well. I love that it ends with "you feel like the entire youniverse"
"Heaven's a Booby Trap" details what to do if you see a light at the end of the tunnel. Windslow's advice? "Don't go. Heaven's a booby trap." Windslow sounds most convicted on this track. Perhaps it's because the Casio beat and gongtar stay far enough in the distance that Windslow's voice twists comparatively naked in the wind.
This is a seriously bitchin' record. Nothing else like it my collection. Definitely do what you can track this down.
Psychic Sound did a great job putting this package together: multi-layer screenprinted front and back covers, thick vinyl, sweet labels, and very informative insert with lyrics and instrument listing for each song. Contact Psychic Sound and berate them until they repress this spooked out monster.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Parashi - The Wine is Safer than the Water. [Skell]

Parashi is the project of NY-based Mike Griffin who I gather, based on a couple of CDrs from his Skell imprint, is a righteous dude. (He also dropped a tape on the famed Stunned imprint this year that I somehow missed out on.) Griffin also collaborates with Ray Hare (Fossils From the Sun, Century Plants etc.) which is a match-made in heaven if I've ever heard one. Need I continue?
On The Wine is Safer than the Water. which Griffin "recorded live using synthesizers, metal objects, contact microphones and various percussive devices" is a killer little disc. Namely what's so killer about it is the restrained presence of the synthesizer. Now, I love synths as much as the next guy but it's really exciting to hear someone, such as Griffin here, working with such dynamic sounds and minimal, reasoned structures rather than flooding a tape with synth sustain.
The top jam, "And the People are Often Drunk" unfurls itself over the course of 7 minutes. Ever so slightly, the once small clicks, clacks and crackles become agitated, and begin to burgeon and swell sucking up the formerly plentiful amounts of space. From manipulated percussive clatter at the front of the track to the grinding machinery at the end, Griffin plans a well thought-out route and then navigates and paces the trip wonderfully. "This Results in an Increase" begins somewhere around where "Often Drunk" ends. A low rattle gnaws away, wisps of sounds scrape by occasionally. Midway through, a synth tone becomes discernible but is quickly plucked apart, tendon by tendon, cannibalized by its own sonic surroundings. "In Their Pronounced Tendency" over multiple layers of sputtering machinery, the synth gets another shot and sirens away gently, relatively unharmed. That is until a rabid a hyena gets into the circuit boards. The cackling and screeching are offset by a deep, smoothly throbbing basstone that makes the whole affair all the more queasy. "Toward Violence" cuts its length to under for 4 minutes for a more distilled kernel-ing of the ideas that preceded. Various percussive sounds trip and stumble, emanating through delay pedals keeping slurred, synth washes at bay throughout the duration. The most radio-ready track of the bunch! Nice!
The ever reliable Eric Hardiman wasn't blowing any smoke when he praised this guy. With this CDr, Griffin shows a much appreciated sense of adventure and a sheer knack for complex, thoroughly engaging compositions/performances. We may have a real talent on our hands, folks.
Edition of 50, Skell looks like it may still have some copies.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Froe Char - A New Swan's Death [Free Loving Anarchists]

This was a good lesson to never judge a tape by it's cover. There was a picture of a super goth'd woman on the inside who I gather is Froe Char, the title A New Swan's Death was not givin' me good vibes (perhaps because I really hated that fuckin' Black Swan movie which was fresh in my mind at the time) and I really had no clue what Froe Char meant or how I was supposed to pronounce it. I guess that goes a long way to expose my prejudices of goth-looking album photos, the word "swan" used in conjuction with "black" or "death" and, of course, band names that confuse me. You know what showed me the error of my ways? Actually listening to the tape. It's a brief one but pretty dang good too.
Released by Texan label Free Loving Anarchists, Froe Char drops 8 songs in 20 or so minutes. Each is steeped in reverb but never really sounds spacey or euphoric to its credit.
"Morning Rax" pounds away on a rudimentary acoustic guitar with multi-tracked voice, practically drowned out by all the echoes surrounding them. "In Waste" rolls along on a two-chord guitar progression, sloshed vox and minimal drum machine taps with a fantastically subtle counter-melody appearing midway through that really sells me on the jam. For as simple as the song is, Froe Char did a hell of a job creating a ton of depth and texture in the arrangement. This has slowly become one of my favorites on the tape. The following track, "Seppuku," which may or may not be about samurai, I can't tell, was the instant stand-out my first time through. It really hustles. Sharp organ tones and a relentless drum machine keep the energy jacked from the get go and from there the artist has a lot of fun arranging soft, melting vocals and other subtle, nearly subliminal instrument parts. Not too much fun though, as the track feels like it only lasts for a minute. The title track seals up the first side. Plenty of flanged whooshes fly through track which is built around a basic acoustic arpeggio.
I can almost understand the lyrics in "Saying Again" which is a first for the tape. It's a very pretty ballad, with all the instrumentation blending into an almost effervescent coating. "The Arsonist" is another favorite. A sizzling, uptempo drum machine pump-pump-pumps underneath an excellent bassy guitar riff. Aside from multi-tracked vocals, that's the extent of the arrangement but, damn if it's not a potent combination. "Resume" cools it down a notch with a keyboard beat, round organ tones and slurred, spoken lyrics. "The Burial Song" is a great choice to close on. The most open sounding guitar on the tape appears, strummed gently with a really great (and a little bit eerie) keyboard melody leading the way.
All in all, this is a really cool tape. There are certainly some standouts but the more important quality to note is there are no duds. Froe Char has a great sound (I hesitate to make a comparison to Grouper or someone of that ilk since Froe Char seems to approach her music with a more energetic viewpoint) but most importantly there are some great ideas underneath the reverb. A promising voice in the blandscape of hushed, reverb-buried songwriters.
It looks like Free Loving Anarchists still has a few copies of the tape on sale for a fiver. Edition of 80 copies.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sunflare - Sunflare [Cubic Pyramid]

This raw debut tape by Sunflare on the up & coming Portuguese label Cubic Pyramid is two sides of fun. Earlier in the year, I reviewed another psych tape by dUAsSEMIcOLCHEIASiNVERTIDAS also on a young Portuguese label A Giant Fern, where the group experimented with different styles and instrumentation; that is not the case with Sunflare, the trio know exactly what competition they're participating in and they go for the gold.
You will be able to decide if you like the first side "On the Red" literally from the opening seconds. There are three elements: 1) relentless, swinging drums 2) a chunky, clutch bassline 3) a free-wheeling, wah-soaked six-string burning rubber all over the goddam place. That right there is all you need to know really. Not into that? No need to bother.
Sunflare goes at it with gusto which I really appreciate. Too many psych bands out there don't have enough balls for me. If I'm gonna listen to your 15 minute jam you had better not waste my fucking time.
The last couple minutes get really good when the dude with the ax really starts to shred and eventually just settles into slammin' out power chords before opening up for some more shredding. The rhythm section is rock solid to the core until they eventually call it quits as the tape runs out.
The second side is titled "Into the City (Night Vision)" and the name is fitting as its much chillier despite still being completely fuzz drenched. After the gutsy energy of the first side it's nice to transition into moodier territory. There's a healthy dose of reverb and whammy bar providing Twin Peaks-esque dark surf moves every so often. The rhythm section kicks in and the jam is in motion all of a sudden retaining the chiaroscuro lighting of the intro. The guitarist goes way off in his own world, leaving it to the bassist to navigate the track through it's various movements and eventually guide the ship home. The back half of the track mellows things out in a really effective manner, building tension before laying on some burned-out psych wreckage before pulling the plug.
The group has a raw knack for this kind of stuff and I think there's a lot of potential to be developed by the trio. They aren't afraid to get wild and really go for it, and that's a quality that can never be valued highly enough.
Cubic Pyramid has since released a 12" by Sunflare but this tape is still available it looks like and it comes with cool paper and vellum overlay artwork. Psych-heads take note

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Che Chen - Che Chen [Pilgrim Talk]/Bridesmaid/Sunsplitter - Split [Bastard Sloth]

I'm pairing up these two 7inches for review for two vague reasons. They both have ties to Illinois and their covers look vaguely similar and alien to me. Otherwise, I'm not sure these have anything else in common whatsoever other than their size.
I'd never heard of Che Chen before but record features a complex system of "violin, sine wave generators, feedback and tape delay" which definitely got me excited and I always expect Nick Hoffman's Pilgrim Talk label to offer something interesting. I like violin quite a bit and it's rare I get to hear it in a solo or semi-solo context such as this. The first side "Pulaski Wave (Violin Halo)" features a beautiful pairing of overdubbed violins. They teeter back and forth between drones, half melodies and skronky aggression. The sine wave generator provides a round, near-constant hum which, while subtle, fills out the lower end of the spectrum to complement the sharper violin notes. I think the oscillators are somehow rigged to interact with the violin, though that whole business flies way over my head. Overall, the side is really tastefully considered. The range of sounds available from a violin are employed while keeping within the mellow context dictated by the sine wave generator.
The second side "Newtown Creek Mirror Lag" features tape delay in addition. It's more melodic that it's predecessor without sacrificing any edge or interest in the less "pleasant" sounds violins have to offer. There's a jaunty beat created via the electronics manipulation of the violin. I'm reminded of Cajun violin when the player's feet are constantly tapping a rhythm along with his action on the strings. Here, with the help of tape in the form of delay and overdubbing Chen applies this principle in a more integrated fashion, where the rhythm is derived directing from the instrument its supporting.
This is a great little record and I'll have to be on the lookout for Chen's name now. The artwork is super-minimal but the record comes with awesome blue labels which feature detailed diagrams of the systems used for each track. My favorite detail, on the second side, is "Violin Tuning: ?"
This split from the Bastard Sloth label is a small slice of metal.
I've never heard of Bridesmaid before but it's a double bass and drums trio. Something that's kind of funny to me is the two bassists play exactly the same thing almost the entire track. I am guessing they have no pretensions about doing some kind of dueling bass thing, they're just trying to sound fucking heavy. Who can't get down with a band that wants to sound really heavy?
The band's totally in sync; since it's one big rhythm section the drums follow pretty closely to what the basses are doing. The first half of the track "Vilkin' it for All it's Worth" plays around with a heavy lurch & groove riff, with sort of an ebb and flow to the rhythm eventually transitioning to a tighter arrangement. The band kicks into the next gear in the second half of the track which I really dig. They launch into "pummel" mode, with a surprisingly melodic touch. There's not a lot to report, just that Bridesmaid is rollin' hard and heavy, riding the riff to the end groove. Not too shabby.
I have a full length Sunsplitter tape on Land of Decay that I still need to give the review treatment but the band's offering here is probably the best track I've heard from them. On "Plum Blossom" (a pretty metal title if I do say so myself) you notice instantly that instead of basses SS has two guitars. In fact neither band shares an instrument. It's almost like a 6-person metal band split in half and put out a 7 inch. The guitars duke it out with their own slo-mo riffs while the vocalist sings and delivers swathes of noise and loops. A. Dunn's vocals are a good match for this sort of thing, they are low and sort of lethargic (only word I can make out is "flower") and they exist inside the mix rather than on top of it. Minimal drum programming occasionally kicks into full-on double-bass drum mode but it's the guitars that do the heavy lifting here from every angle. They really hold down the rhythm, the melody and control the dynamics of the song. Sometimes content to pound away at a measured pace other times delivering twisty leads. All in all, it's a pretty badass track with a lot going for it. The more I listen, the bigger the fan I become.
I dig the vibe of these guys because they retain a certain "classic-ness" but they aren't afraid to tuck vocals into just a single section of a song, or use a drum machine or smear acrid coats of noise over their arrangements at times. Also props to Bridesmaid for doing their own thing as well. And there's no cookie monster vox on either side; I'm in metal heaven.
Both records are available from their respective labels. The Bridesmaid/Sunsplitter record is also available in gold which is pretty sweet. Pilgrim Talk put out the Che Chen record in an uncharacteristically large edition of 300 so you can definitely get your hands on a copy and grab the deeply strange Psychophagi LP while you're at it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Remnants - Vision Being [Imminent Frequencies]

Got a lovely-looking noise tape from Remnants to discuss from the Imminent Frequencies label. I dig the whole visual vibe of this thing; top notch inspiration, design and execution.
This is the only release I've heard from Remnants but based on the sounds on display here, it's a quite a fitting name. The feel of the tape is noisy but at a distance. Either it was recorded in a large space or more likely there are a few reverb pedals in the effects chain. Short, constant delay drives the side as waves of feedback ebb, flow and crash. Apparently, the only sound sources on the tape were a pair of contact mics. The aim of the tape is interesting because despite the basis in noise electronics it's also trying for some of that resonant temple drone feel (that goal is confirmed by the artwork.)
The first side is a good deal stronger than the second. It begins with copious amounts of decayed, blurry feedback, but a little ways in the piece settles into a deeper, darker place. The feedback crust is wiped away somewhat, and vocals and other noises are able to come through. Vocals create a nice melody sounding almost like an incredibly bassy pipe organ. I'm definitely feeling this section of the tape; it sounds much richer and infinitely more expansive. The tape begins to rupture towards the end; stuttering, crackling in danger of getting torn from the face of the earth.
I think in seem some ways all the reverb does a disservice to the second side because it smooths out the dynamics so much. You can do a lot of interesting things with contact mics but all the sounds get kind of flattened out here. Furthermore, the first side doesn't really have much of an arc to me. A side doesn't have to have an arc necessarily but on the other hand it doesn't really hit that deep drone sweet spot either.
Imminent Frequencies has been trucking along quite well it seems dropping tapes from the likes of famous "C" names: C. Spencer Yeh, Chapels and an upcoming one from Collapsed Arc that should be good. Based on the high-quality production value and the variety of sounds emanating from it, IF could be a label to watch.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Joe Kile - So Many Nights [Unread]

It's not too often I end up with a tape like Joe Kile's in hand. I mean the cassette world of raging noise, euphoric tones, grimey rock & roll, 70s analog synth revivalists, wingnut instrument abusers etc. is awesome and I love all those sounds. But you know what? Sometimes there's nothing better than popping in a tape of sweetly classic folk tunes.
I mean there's not really an angle to take on Joe Kile. He's not a certified outsider weirdo, or at least his music doesn't give me that impression. He doesn't bury his songs in lo-fidelity scuzz or howl demented lyrics. He just writes some good songs.
Released on Baltimore's Unread label, Kile crams 20 tracks onto a c32. The lead off "title track" features a far away thump-crash rhythm and the occasional six string embellishment. Proving to be a defining characteristic throughout the album, Kile's voice and its gentle twang is the center of the action with perfect, subtle accompaniment from the instrumentation. "Feeling So Tired" has a nice organ procession as a weary Kile hums "I'm so tired of feeling so tired." "Heat of Misery" is absolutely my favorite. It's one of the most "country" tunes and it's quite an elegant, understated ballad about the death of a relationship. Kile is at his best lyrically, speaking as an omniscient narrator delivering poetic commentary and even manages to squeeze a guitar and banjo solo in there too. The gently warbling organ of "Feeling So Tired" appears on "I Heard it When You Called Me" but the whole thing cut offs after a half minute. "Living on Mars" changes things up considerably with a super crunchy electric guitar that practically drowns out Kile's voice.
Kile cuts through the next bunch of tracks quickly. "Balloon" is brief and nearly an a capella. "Firey Red" in addition to a dirty guitar, muffles Kile's drawl in fuzz. "Glass Bulb" is one of the bigger head turners as all of a sudden you're dropped into a crispy disco beat louder than both the guitar and voice. Just as quickly you're yanked out for "You n' Me" a plaintive ballad about "doin' some honkin' tonkin' just like old times" which features quite a pretty piano/organ arrangement in the outro. The instrumental "Bad Time" is an odd guitar/organ pastiche and closes the side.
The second side opens with "Bend and Peel" which is an a.m. radio pop tune basically. Jaunty strums, jaunty drum machine and even jauntier organ stabs make for an incredibly buoyant pick-me-up that contrasts well with Kile's typical mellow, wearied style. One of the finer tunes on the tape. A dose of warbly strings make their presence known on the brief "Takin' Off". "Southern Heat" ought to be climbing the charts with its timely topic; "You can't beat Southern heat" is a refrain many would agree with. "North Brook" features a searing little riff which Kile cools down with his soft coo. "Old Tom" vacillates between fragmented strings and becoming a rising stomper. The closer, "Sometimes All the Words Come Out Wrong" is another good one. It's one of the more layered arrangements on the tape with multiple guitars and organ cascading and subsiding, and it's all the better for it.
The criticism I have to level at So Many Nights, is it's put together pretty roughly and cramming so many songs into a short amount of time causes some to bleed together. Maybe that's the idea, bleeding together like memories from so many nights. Either way, a significant amount of songs don't hit (or barely hit) the minute mark so quite a few feel underdeveloped. There's certainly a gap between the best, most developed songs and less developed ones. The fact that songs are often cut off a tad prematurely due to the dubbing causes things to be a occasionally jarring as well. Those points said, they are small complaints. I am glad I have this tape and have been introduced to Kile's work, perhaps he's the sort that puts out more polished records and then scrappy, rough-hewn tapes like this.
It's hard to pinpoint a good reference point because Kile's style is so classic and steeped in tradition; he sounds like everyone, in a good way. I'm thinking his music is maybe a little like Pumice but thoroughly inspired by Americana? I may just be reaching for a comparison there but Kile is a voice worth hearing if you like classic Western song forms on cassette. Unread seems to be quite a neat little label as well. Check 'em both out!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Clay Man in the Well - Kupe's Sail [Peasant Magik]

This warbly, hissing mess is one Antony Milton's latest works, and amongst his finest.
The first of many untitled racks is a highlight with it's backwards noises, unintelligible vocals, and a killer guitar/drums combo that drops in in the second half. Milton follows that up with some loose guitarin' , augmented by shards of feedback and melted organ tones. It's a really great track that has revealed itself more on repeated listens. Changing gears, the third track spotlights a couple of layers of organ (AM dropped a whole record of chord organ so you know he's into the instrument.)
One of the best things about the tape is that its looseness is a defining factor and strength. Milton makes the listener feel at home in his musical wanderings, the steady stream of new approaches is never jarring. The fourth piece for instance features a sizable build-up. In fact, almost the entire track is a build-up, basically a journey-not-the-destination sort of thing. Milton does change directions though, delivering a fantastic resolution without resorting to providing answers. The piece is a gorgeous little number with a fractured, faraway melody. There's a warmth certainly , but with forlorn trappings. I imagine it soundtracking a vacated farmhouse, the emptiness consequent of tragedy. Really just utterly gorgeous. Milton provides soft vocals but wisely leaves the focus on the central melody allowing his voice to fade into the track's ether. The final piece works in AM radio trance mode. It almost sounds like Milton's version of "Dream On" but I think he's just borrowing the phrase. It turns out to be a rather epic jam with a nice organ-led coda following it up.
The second side opens with a fragile little folksy tune. Wispy voice, intertwined guitar and piano lines and footsteps keeping time. What begins as fragile feels convicted by its end. Nice work. The track that follows is a weird one. Plinking piano keys are featured upfront as Milton delivers speedy, rather incomprehensible spoken word. A lot of feedback and scuzz takes over, rumbling along on a deep bit of drumming. Hot string bends fall all over each other as Milton whips out ragged riff after riff. Milton's brief vocals are barely detectable under the racket but I really like that they make it in, you get a true sense of how heavy the din is. The next piece is quite nice. An unwound, just out-of-tune ballad of guitar, voice, field recordings and a sawed violin. The mellow vibes perfectly follow up the previous wreckage. Slipping into something a little more warbly, multi-tracked acoustic arpeggios vie for control over manipulated field recordings until a new guitar takes the lead with a stomper. Some violin shreddin' and a great vocal melody from AM bring the track home. One his best quieter tunes on the tape. A shiny, ramshackle folk thing is stretched out with soft, bowed drones and organ tones and various guitar melodies making for a fantastic send off. The second side doesn't offer as many high points but it's still incredibly consistent throughout.
The tape is a really cool little journey but seems to have flown under the radar a bit. It's got that rustic, cassette-coated guitar wanderer vibe of Ignatz records but with a penchant for noise rock. Not a bad combo in the least, give this thing a look.

In Rotation #8

Dang, it's been a while since I've done one of these In Rotation things. And since, so much incredible stuff has found its way to me one way or another so I'm gonna spew it all out at you.
I caught Chicago free jazz crew Tiger Hatchery at Seattle's best show so far this year (they shared the bill with an amazingly free and melodic set by Wally Shoup and Don Berman (dude's got one of the coolest drumming styles I've ever seen,) Jason E. Anderson (Brother Raven) did live analog modular processing of saxophonist Wilson Shook and Panabrite closed the night with deep synth vibes.) The Hatchery blew the roof off the place, still one of the most intense, relentlessly energetic jazz ensembles I've ever encountered. Dudes were all super nice too, I complimented Andrew Michael Young on his solo Catholic Tape and I was pleasantly met with news of a second tape to be released in the future. Ben Billington also gave me his recent tape as Quicksails on Deception Island, another sweet entry in his unique percussion-inspired solo synthery. While I was there I obviously clutched a bounty of proper Tiger Hatchery stuff too: an insanely good one-sided LP on Pizza Night, a cassette on Baked Tapes, the best bang for the buck, with a live set on each side, and a split 7inch split with rock band Lechuguillas (who they modestly stated delivered the better side; modesty is great and all but please allow me to disagree, Tiger Hatchery.) Killer band, if you missed their tour, well, that was dumb.
More killer Chicago shit (is there something in the beer over there?) Running's self-titled 45rpm LP on Permanent. A wailin' and wall-shakin' Chicago noise rock record. Sloshed, uptempo Jesus Lizard-on-amphetamines gnarlyisms. Some of the cuts barely qualify as songs and others drop the catchiest riffs and most inept drum solos in ten counties, all the while feedback bleeds all over the record even between its 13 tracks. There is no silence on this record! Awesome. Check this band out already!
Speaking of silence, I gotta talk about this new Rale LP on Isounderscore. First of all, fuck. Have you seen this record? Like for real seen it in person? If you haven't, you won't be able to begin to understand what I'm talking about. Seeing a picture of the jacket online will give you an idea of what it looks like but make no mistake, the record in person is simply gorgeous. It's so simple, so elegant and just perfect. Kudos to Brandon Nickels's design work. As far as the sounds go they are quite stately as well. Rale aka Bill Hutson has created quite a fantastic drone record; one that does not lull (or dull) you into submission with constancy or repetition but it instead breathes. Hutson constructs it meticulously to move through stretches of sculpted sounds and pure silence seamlessly. I just got this and can tell it's a good one. I am looking forward diving in many more times.
"Meticulous construction" and Sightings are two terms that I've never really thought about together until now. "Now" being since I got Future Accidents the latest LP by Sightings, released by Our Mouth. This is the best Sightings record I have heard. It's got all the good things about Sightings but revamped into a more studied, cerebral brand of noise rock. The side-length track "Public Remains" on the B-side (which features help from Pat Murano) could pass for (or in fact is rather) an excellent example of modern abstract composition. It's dense and complex stuff but immediately listenable. Really outstanding work. Shahin Motia and Kid Millions engineered this record which reminds me when are Ex Models gonna drop another record?
Moreso than any other label this year, Weird Forest has been blowing me away. Of course part of that is me digging through their back catalog as well but still, props. One of the smartest moves made by Davy Bui when he became the new CEO last year was instituting tapes into the Weird Forest pantheon. Matt Kretzmann (Garrincha & the Stolen Elk) dropped a tape earlier in the year which is a great cassette-concrete thing he had done like a decade ago or something, glad it finally saw the light of day! I can hear traces of its style in Garrincha, but it's definitely a path of its own worth traveling down. And damn man, Bui went 3 for 3 with the new tapes he dropped recently. Colour Buk delivers a half hour of intermingling avant-junk skronk rock with super-weird and really awesome songs. The Preterite dropped a hearty two full hours of magical piano/tape manipulation pieces. It's always nice to have another reason to add a double cassette to the collection. The crown jewel of the three for me is Kevin Corcoran's Haptic Music, an absolutely stunning tape of solo percussion. It's the kind of thing that not everyone will be down with but they fuckin' should be. Corcoran's approach to his instruments (or "objects" may be more apt) is patient, tender (sometimes) and fascinatingly detailed. His subtle manipulations make for extremely engaging aural gestures in the headphones. It's music for people who love to listen. One track is actually pretty too, as Corcoran pulls drones out his drums. Along with the tapes, Weird Forest dropped a to-the-letter reissue of Symphony for a Genocide by Maurizio Bianchi (billed as M.B.) which was gone in a flash (all 520 copies!) I had never actually heard any M.B. stuff which is why I picked it up. Apparently Bianchi is a pretty conceptual guy stating "The moral of this work: The past punishment is the inevitable blindness of the present" and, well, whatever. I'm not exactly seeing what the gnarled tones and relentless beats contained on the record have to do with that. Good thing I only really care about gnarled tones and relentless beats. This thing seems like it could have been made today and it's 30 years old. Modern experimental music you are really behind the times. Also, Noveller released a new album of her trademarked tangled guitar strings called Glacial Glow. Weird Forest collected a bunch of Terrors cassette tracks, forming a new CD/LP of barely-fi, heavy-on-the-lethargy tunes called Qagan Lord. A few keepers on the record for sure. Perhaps the most interesting of the new full lengths is Garrincha and the Stolen Elk's Void. In some ways it has a touch of a post-rock feel. Not the shitty neo-prog stuff but the classics like early Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Of course, where there was like 20 people on a Godspeed record you got two here; though the two, the aforementioned Bui and Kretzmann, are products of the current multi-tasking, 17-instruments-to-every-person scene. Long story short the record is still a bit of an enigma to me as it is, and when you think about it in context with their previous releases, well, that makes it all the more enigmatic.
No strangers to blowing me away, Stunned dropped their second to last batch of tapes and well the batch probably couldn't be any more flawless. A.M. Shiner drops a weirdly musical tape (is that an actual instrument, and not a stalled transmission, that I hear?) Super Minerals go straight off the deep end with Contacteer and continue their hot streak of one-upping the release that came before. Not sure if you caught that, but basically each successive Minerals release has been better than the last, at least for a while now anyway, not many bands you can say that about. M. Geddes Gengras and Jeremy Kelly play analog synth-sparring partners as Voder Deth Squad to masterful, mind-blowing effect. Think Gengras's other Stunned tapes and then imagine him dueling with some kind of alternate reality doppelganger. Santa Cruz, CA's Ugly Husbands (which I haven't heard since their very nice debut cassette) delivers an abstract spectacle of lo-fi bedroom songwriting while on the flipside resides Gul Bara, a Warm Climate side project--need I say more to entice you? A duo of Seth Kasselman and Caitlin C. Mitchell, Gul Bara is maybe a little like an expansion of those interludes between "songs" on the Warm Climate records, but where as those interludes were strategically calculated, each piece here is left looser to thrive on its own accord.
The Rise of Elklink delivered by, you guessed it, Elklink is a LP reissue on KYE of a cassette released way back in 1998 (yes, "My Heart Will Go On" was stilling ruling the airwaves when this initially came out.) Graham Lambkin, thank you for reissuing this. This record is way too fucking nutty to get lost in the past. The duo of Lambkin and wife Adris Hoyos (Harry Pussy) have created something that hasn't gotten any less confounding in its 13 years of existence. The source of practically all sounds on the record is the human voice but, it's most likely not what you imagine it is after a description like that. This is a record for someone who loves tactile sounds, minute sounds magnified and all textures that can be derived from physically manipulating something i.e. me.
Blanche Blanche Blanche, the metamorphosis of a Zach Phillips project I loved to pieces, GDC, delivers lots of good homemade minimal pop pieces ("Heroes of the Microphone" probably being the definitive statement thus far for a few reasons) on their debut tape (pictured) for Night People. The duo seem on the verge of blowing up, Night People are dropping an LP later this year and Pitchfork and Vogue are already drinking the kool-aid. Looking forward to more.
Avant Archive has been all over the map of good shit this year. Take a gander for yourself. Recently Mr. Michael Jantz dropped tapes by Talk West, Bret Schneider and HMS. They're all so different it is hard to rank them. Talk West was initially my favorite with its patient pedal steel meditations but now, I don't know, Schneider's balls-to-wall loopy computerisms are really sticking in my mind and that doesn't even take into account the staggering showmanship of HMS' guitar/synth/drums improvisations. How about you take a listen and tell me for a change?
Seattle-area crew Extraordinary Pigeons and Regosphere (who is PDX-based if I'm not mistaken) just dropped a split cassette via Pigeon Coup International. The last I heard from the X-Pigeons was a Zine/Flexi-lathe which was a short track of harsh, grainy noise derived from an "audio-ization" of the images in the zine. Their side here is a spooky acoustic-drone piece reminding me of the days of 2008 when everyone was high on GHQ. Needless to say it caught me a bit off-guard but I like it. Regosphere contrasts EP's acoustic activities with a nasty wall of noise. Concocted with analog synthesizer and shortwave radio, the two pieces have guts to back up all the noise and sometimes even lock into strange hypnotic places. Nice work.
Also got a weird tape by Chica X on HeWhoCorrupts Inc. who is an eight year-old girl who raps over home-made beats by her pops. That sounds like a gimmick but most of the tracks are pretty sweet such as opener "Da Bank (1, 2 Step)" Chica X is at her finest when she's droppin' lines like "on my malibu bike and I'm feelin' kinda happy" or sneers "It's not that hard to get a library card" and taunts "How's that job at micky dees treatin' you?/Guess you shoulda been hittin the books instead of skippin' school" on stand-out "To the Library..." A couple tracks aren't as strong but overall the tapes a lot of fun.

Friday, July 8, 2011

In Rotation #7

This post got lost somewhere in the internet void cause I went to this show back in May I think or was it April?

Just caught a killer show put together by Gift Tapes/DRAFT Records main man, Jason E. Anderson, showcasing the talents of Matt Carlson (Golden Retriever) and RM Francis in his debut performance. Two cool sets by guys approaching synthesizer music from opposite ends of the spectrum; Carlson delivering a highly maximal set of analog modular patch-cordery and Francis delivering a killer trip (as in cerebral traveling rather than "trippiness") exploring the dynamics and imperfections of time-stretched digital synthesis. I'm always a little wary of computer music (I'm an analog guy, what can I say?) but I was totally sold on Francis's work. Apparently he's got a tape on the way via DRAFT.
Anyway, while I was there I picked up a ton of tapes. After being amazed by one of Anderson's sets as Harpoon Pole Vault a couple weeks ago, I nabbed the HPV tape Outside This Area on Jugular Forest. While his live set was hyperactive and wild, the tape is much more mellowed but Anderson produced equally excellent results in both. Spacey analog synth-ery with a purpose; there are a lot great melodies that drive the cassette. The Eagle Vision cassette on Aguirre by Brother Raven, Anderson's duo with Jamie Potter, is similarly excellent. Form and melody play an even greater role here. It's a hard choice between the two as I love the looseness of Outside This Area but the deeply relaxing melodic forms of Eagle Vision are hard to resist. I'll choose later. Even as impeccable as those tapes are, and I do mean impeccable, Spare Death Icon may be my favorite of Anderson's projects because it's so damn badass. The recent Gift Tape, Survival channels John Carpenter, et al. making for an inspired album of pseudo-movie synth music. The last track is even called "Credits". Anderson also dropped a side-long anti-relaxation synth piece on a Stunned split (pictured) with Brad Rose's fantastic Charlatan project, who by contrast delivers highly relaxing synth music. It's a smart pairing of two of today's top synth aficionados; one of the best in Stunned's recent split series as well.
The one non-Anderson-involved tape was by Carlson called Gecko Dream Levels. A loopy, forty minute brain-mash. It makes me think what if an early 20th c. avant-garde composer (someone with a sense of humor like Charles Ives) created soundtracks for early video games. Carlson basically just lets himself run wild all over the tape, discharging a wealth of ideas. Among the most "composed" pieces on the tape, "Infinity Canyons" is phenomenal.
What attracts me to Anderson's and his cabal's work is instead of there being a passiveness of sounds which is characteristic of a lot of this new new age of synth music, their sounds are very much active. I don't mean in a quantifiable sense, just that there are dynamics in the music that are often lacking in the work of others. Despite the highly (or should I say completely) synthetic nature of the recordings they feel and sound certifiably organic. Stellar stuff all around.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Interview: Michael Jantz of Avant Archive

This marks the first interview feature for Auxiliary Out Redux; there are more in the works that will hopefully be realized soon. Enjoy!

Avant Archive is in it's second year of operation and has amassed quite a diverse and interesting catalog. The label has most recently released tapes by the likes of Talk West, Bret Schneider, HMS and as well as double-cassettes by mainstays Sean McCann and Ajilvsga. The label's founder Michael Jantz (known musically as Black Eagle Child) was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

Auxiliary Out: What is the origin story of Avant Archive?
Michael Jantz: I think it's common to fantasize about doing a label. You know, "It would be cool to do this or that". So like a lot of folks working with music, I had the fantasy and so finally I realized I could probably make it work. I have been in touch with a lot of tremendously talented and friendly folks over the last few years while doing music as Black Eagle Child, and so naturally when I wanted to launch the label, I called on a few of them to contribute. Some of the first invites have yet to be responded to in full, but a handful of them have already been realized in full and I've also come in contact with new friends since last year when I started the label and lots of exciting stuff is planned.
AO: Unlike nearly every microlabel out there, you don't do one-time limited editions, what's the inspiration behind that?
MJ: The collectibility of a lot of new and interesting music is a bit unnerving. It's not a new topic for discussion, but I think it bears reiterating. It seems that plenty of artists are publishing music that becomes physically inaccessible within a week or two of the music's official release. I understand the financial entanglements that I suppose necessitates this situation, but I also think that a little patience and good faith can help to combat it. So far I've only done reprints of two (of the, at the time of this interview, 14) catalog titles. The funds for these certainly could have been channeled into new releases, but I am not interested in creating a giant catalog of music that isn't available. I want to create a catalog of music that represents a certain array of artists that I find interesting, and I want the catalog to be accessible from now to the indefinite future. I realize that with the proliferation of music blogs and torrents, nothing is every truly out-of-reach. However, I think (and especially in the case of experimental and underground music listeners) that there are people who would like more than a potentially low-grade digital copy of a work. It's in the spirit of supporting and promoting forward-thinking music that a listener should be able to purchase a copy of an album, rather than download it due to its unnecessary physical unavailability.

AO: Visually, AA releases bear a lot of resemblance to each other. Do you feel like Avant Archive has a certain or recognizable "sound"?
MJ: No. I don't really want to let the label become pigeonholed, so to speak. I know and love plenty of labels that have done a great job with showcasing a certain sound (right now a lot of labels are doing a lot of synthesizer music), and sometimes it's nice to know what to expect with a label or a new artist that label is presenting. But with Avant Archive I want to keep the scope broad and offer music that is simply good and interesting, regardless of the style or genre category the music might be pushed into by listeners or critics. I listen to all kinds of music for pleasure, so it would be probably very difficult for me to only release music that met a set of specific, banal prerequisites. If I like a demo, then it has potential for release on Avant Archive.
AO: Where did the visual look for AA come from?
MJ: I designed it myself with some kind of amalgamated vision that's a result of seeing certain book editions and record cover editions. In 2010 I worked on a split cassette for the label Digitalis Limited (a tape shared between Mike Pouw's Knit Prism and myself, as W.A. Munson). I did the layout and design for the j-card and it really kind of thrilled me to work on it. I like the b&w look and I also like the very library-like template that allows for both uniformity or cohesion and also some unique and potentially very powerful or interesting visuals. So that's more or less how the 'look' was born. I initially wanted to keep it very rigid, but since launching the label I've become more relaxed and realized that I can stray pretty far from the original layout and still maintain a nice cohesive aesthetic across all the releases. Future editions will break drastically from the current b&w cassette layout, though I will always maintain it as a 'standard' for many of the catalog items.

AO: You offer free streaming of every Avant Archive release, what prompted the decision to do that?
MJ: Well this sort of follows on the heels of the idea of a permanently-available edition. I don't want any of the titles to ever be unavailable from the label, but I'm also financially unable to order more copies of every release as stocks are depleted. I will eventually restock physical titles, but the time frame inside which I do that will vary. So as a solution I have created the digital section, which I then realized would be a great way to just allow people to listen to the release entirely if they would like (without purchasing, or prior to). The streaming is really an added bonus or an afterthought to the download function. You can opt to download an album for a fee, or else just stream it for free. And if you like what you hear so much that you want to order a physical copy, then great! Perhaps total streaming availability will eliminate 2nd hand sales of Avant Archive tapes because nobody will ever be disappointed with a purchase ever again!

AO: What about the "Artists Page"?
MJ: This was sort of done without thought. I think one of the elements that defines a label is the group of artists it brings into the fold. And I think it's important to give potential listeners or patrons of the label a chance to read the label's description of the artists it’s working with. My description of a particular artist should be unique to my perspective, which I channel through the label. It's an opportunity for me to explain what's great about artist X and to justify the existence of that artist's album in the label's catalog.

AO: What is it about an artist or release that makes you say "I want to put this out"? Or "what qualities attract you to an artist or release?" may be a better way to phrase it.
MJ: Things so far have fallen into three categories: 1. music made by folks I've been in touch with (friends) and whose music I enjoy; 2. music made by people whose music I've admired for a long time but have not yet spoken with; 3. music submitted by strangers via demos. So in the first case, it's pretty straightforward; a friend is doing a cool music project and I want to work with the person. In a perfect world, this would be the case 90% of the time. However there are a lot of labels and folks are busy. Also, it's good to let some new voices enter the stage. In the case of putting out music by people I don't know yet (either someone whose music or project I'm already familiar with or not), I think the most important thing is that I enjoy the music and I can envision others doing the same. Like there is no formulaic approach for targeting a sound aesthetic, there can't really be a distinct method for picking what music gets put out. If I like the music and the person is interested in working with me, then we will likely be good to go.

AO: Are there any releases you're extra proud of or particularly excited you got to release?
MJ: I don't think it's fair to pick one or two above the rest, because honestly I am very proud of all of them and I think they're all excellent contributions to both the label's catalog and the global music community. BUT I will say that I was particularly excited to put out the first catalog title, which is my own "Born Underwater"/"The Arquebus". I'd been waiting for the perfect opportunity to put these out and then it came. I had only submitted the demo for this tape to a few labels back in 2007/2008 and not surprisingly, got no response from anyone! But over the following years, I spent a lot of time listening to and relistening to these tracks. I'm glad to finally have them out in a respectable edition and one I feel entirely satisfied with, since of course, I handled every aspect of the production. I'm also right now eagerly awaiting the delivery of the label's first vinyl edition, a 7" record by the band Horse Marriage. It's been a thrill to do a vinyl project and having 'broken my cherry' so to speak, I now feel pretty excited about tackling more projects like this in the future. I'll also mention that the 7" rocks hard! As much as I love working on experimental music, I am also very excited about working on a full-fledged rock'n'roll record.

AO: That makes for an easy segway into my next question. "Born Underwater"/"The Arquebus" are probably my favorite Black Eagle Child recordings. You sort of covered this, but why did they sit on the shelf so long? They seem to stand out or separate themselves from most of your catalog.
MJ: Well it was recorded at a time when I didn't have a very concrete vision of how Black Eagle Child should sound. Albeit, I didn't really form that vision until after putting out a good dozen or so cassettes of music under the name. After a certain point I felt like the stuff was too different from everything else I was doing that I couldn't see putting it out alongside the rest of my rather pastoral catalog. But then I realized I could do it on my own label because I could kind of explain it myself. And I think now that I justify it by saying that it is still largely guitar music, and Black Eagle Child is predominantly a guitar project.

AO: You mentioned you've got a 7inch by Horse Marriage coming out soon but all of your releases thus far have been on cassette tape. Are you pretty dedicated to the cassette format or do you intend to do predominantly vinyl releases down the road?
MJ: Similar to my views on playing and recording music, I am opposed to the purist approach in music publishing. I am a proponent of the Rooseveltism, "do what you can with what you have". So while I love cassettes and the possibilities they offer, I also think CD and vinyl are terrific formats. I think it's unfortunate that formats go in and out of fashion, though I suppose I owe my realization that cassettes are a viable format to the fact that cassettes are now in fashion. But trends aside, I think that all formats have their own benefits and selling points. Down the road, I would like to be able to pick a format that I think most fits the music that I'm publishing. So a couple of 40-minute pieces will obviously not fit on an LP, even if (fingers crossed) I could just decide to do an LP version of any given release. Just an example there...some stuff is great on CD, I think. The vinyl record is considered by many as the king of music media, but I think that's a little simplistic. So no, I don't think I would do vinyl predominantly, but I do want to do more projects on media other than cassette.

AO: You're last few releases (HMS, Bret Schneider, Talk West) were from artists unknown to my ears, how did you come across them?
MJ: All three of those were instances in which someone contacted the label to inquire about submitting a demo. So they were all pretty straightforward and easy; simple introduction, here are some samples or our demo, and then we would talk about what would potentially become a release in the label's catalog. I think I've been fortunate so far in that I've not got too many demo submissions that I've turned down (i.e. I have had some pretty excellent demo submissions!).

AO: They're all very different but really good.
MJ: Thanks...I would have to agree with you. I like keeping the sound varied.

AO: Do you see any of those as in line with previous releases you've put out? Do you ever choose releases with the intention to stake out new territory for the label?
MJ: I don't really think too strategically about the catalog, except for one avenue, which is simply that I don't want to put out too much of the same kind of music. I have a loathing for genres and categories as much as anyone, but in the case of operating a label I think it's important to be aware of the categories into which people will inevitably put the music that you're producing. So I try to be mindful of what I've done and what's on the slate for near-future and I try not to give any critic or listener any grounds for pigeonholing the label with some term that would serve to oversimplify my mission.

AO: What are some of your favorite labels? How much does your personal engagement with other labels influence your work with AA?
MJ: My desire to start a label was definitely born from watching some of my favorite labels grow and turn into these incredibly inspiring and impressive entities. For the last few years I've been obsessed with Stunned Records (no doubt many other folks have as well). Stunned is probably the sole underground label that has time and again wowed me. Also, Housecraft records, owing largely to the fact that Jeff has released so much of his own music on that label, as well as the many collaborations and solo efforts happening in his neck of the woods. Digitalis was the one label that actually opened my eyes to a lot of underground music. I don't think any other label is doing the same as Digitalis right now, in terms of volume and quality...they just put out a lot of great music on a frequent basis. I'm also a long-time fan of the Rephlex label, and I kind of revel in a lot of aspects of that label, including the minimal production specs and a lot of the 'mysterious' releases they've produced over the last 20 years. Roll Over Rover is another fave, owing to my ties with the folks running that label...they're just super-nice guys and their putting out great tunes that I've spent a lot of time with over the past couple of years. I could probably list dozens of excellent labels, but those are some that have been consistently excellent.

AO: Do you feel like AA is line with other labels, for instance a number of the artists on AA have released music on Stunned and/or Digitalis. Is there any sort of comraderie or, perhaps on the other hand, competition that develops when you share a "stable" of artists?
MJ: I think the overlap is pretty evident among many labels working in this realm, and I definitely want to let Avant Archive be something more than "just another tape label" or whatever it might appear to be to the untrained eye. I do enjoy a lot of what's happening on these other labels, but I also think there are artists who, for whatever reason, are not getting any voice, but whose music is every bit as incredible. So while I like to work with artists who are already established in the music community, I also think that working with new artists is probably more important. I think, "If I don't put this out, who will?", and it is something that really deserves listeners' attention. And I suppose my hope is that some of these new voices will be then welcomed into this mystical stable of artists!
I also think that it shouldn't matter what an artist's back-catalog looks like...listeners should listen to a sample (or the whole album, if you want) and decide from that basis whether or not you want to buy a tape or record. I'm sort of unnerved by the circumstances we sometimes create in which we foster wild proliferation of a certain handful of artists' discographies, which then 'dominate the scene' so to speak, while new voices are unheard because they aren't 'abuzz' right now. I don't claim to 'solve' this, but I do want to do my best to make the music the most important part of why I operate the label.

AO: Any music been wowing you recently?
MJ: Well the last two Super Minerals tapes (both on Stunned) have been on frequent rotation, as has another couple recent Stunned tapes. One is a split between Nite Lite & Waterfinder. Really I've been digging hard on the Nite Lite side, but the whole tape is pretty grand. Then also the summerTales/Knit Prism split, equally great. Then also the newer 2xCD by Lionel Marchetti called Une Saison, issued on Monotype (literally wowed me...just floored me on first listen!). Not on the WOW scale, really, but I've also been listening to the Art Museums LP a lot, and plenty of Chris Weisman, Kurt Weisman, Happy Birthday, and Ruth Garbus.

AO: What's next for Avant Archive?
MJ: Definitely more cassettes. Cassettes from Hakobune, Olli Aarni, Jeremy Bible & Jason Henry, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Bjerga/Iverson, Travis Johnson & Jeph Jerman and a few other less-certain but equally awesome artists. I've invited a guest photographer/designer to contribute to some of the future editions also, which I'm very excited about. Upcoming 7" lathe-cut acetates from Will Long and Fabio Orsi. Then there will be a CD edition of a live performance from He Can Jog, including a remix by another existing Avant Archive alumnus. Finally of course there are some very exciting things I'm not quite ready to share...but hopefully 2012 will be excellent.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

[GUEST REVIEW] Camis - Cats Kils [No Label]

This is the first of its kind, a guest review on Auxiliary Out, written by Arvo Zylo. Enjoy!

Cammisa Forrest seems to have an affinity for spray paint. When I saw the band that she was in, Miami Beach, who apparently reunited for a performance at Chicago's Neon Marshmallow Fest in August 2010, she was running around gleefully behind some kind of barricade made of plastic wrap in front of the stage, coating the translucent sheen with a fog of different colored spray paint. The flimsy cellophane wall fell down, and she flailed around with it like some kind of glue sniffing fairy lady, while Matt Kimmel babbled, chanted, coughed, and hacked into a heavily delayed swatch of effects. Everybody in the room probably left with a headache or a “contact high” (if that is appropriate for fumes), and I'm not sure if I liked it or if I was just light-headed. In person, Cammisa is definitely mellow and peaceable, certainly a free spirit if there ever was one, which is still refreshing to me even in the art/noise/experimental scene. There was a discussion between Dominick Dufner (Sigulda), myself, and her, which led to trades. With no surprise, what I bartered for was packaged in thick paper sewn together, covered in gold spray paint, with a CDR also spray painted (caked with spray paint). Apparently it was limited to 20 copies and thrown together in honor of the fest.
Cammisa or Camis, which seems to be the official artist name, is definitely young, but just how young I don't know. Either way, the CDr Cats Kils to me is an excellent piece of work, not that it boasts expensive vintage synthesizers, has any studied techniques, or worships any particular necrophile genre, it doesn't even hold much of an affiliation to the concept of “outsider music”. What does it for me in a lot of cases is when a person's personality is shown in what I would consider a pure form, and when someone creates a world that I can visualize, I haven't caught on to that as succinctly as I did with
Cats Kils in a long time. In this case, there are layers of lo-fi drones, simple toy keyboard phrases, lots of reversed vocals, and (dare I say) charmingly half-baked acoustic bedroom songs. At one point, there is someone novicing at a piano and in the background, birds whistle, people walk around, Camissa continues to play while occasionally making talk with a barking/growling dog. Later on, something that sounds like a plodding reverse accordion tap weaves around sparsely with distant spaced out wa wa wa singing, acoustic guitar and maybe a ukulele, a squeak doll, and some kind of plastic percussion instrument, and this track goes absolutely nowhere, which is good for an ending. At other points it sounds like layers of Soundgarden and Fionna Apple in reverse, and ultimately, what drives it home is where Cammisa is sort of meandering with her voice reverbed out over a sitar loop, when someone apparently comes in during the recording and says stuff like “you said you were going to go to clean your room 4 hours ago, you said you were going to go to sleep one hour ago, I need you to quiet down, I can't sleep through these pornophonics” etc. It sounds more like a roommate than a parent and either way, the chant defiantly keeps going.
I can't help but to imagine a person (not necessarily Cammisa) sitting anxiously in front of a television or at a dinner table during autumn, after getting back from school, annoyed that the sun is going down earlier and earlier, unsure of their identity, unsure of their future, and feeling a sort of optimism that comes with so many options; a desire to have more horizons coupled with the feeling of being trapped, the absolute refusal to accept some dreadful idea of hatching into a real grown up who packs their lunch and hurries through futile, clotted traffic over and over. I see a person unintentionally disregarding consensus reality in baby steps, a willful naivete, an insular yet familiar chaos coupled with a peaceful disruption that irks people who can't let loose, and an unwillingness to commit to anything but the moment. This little disc comes off as not particularly rebellious, not deliberately contrary per se, yet both abstruse and autonomous, and refreshing in how effectively peculiar it is.
I don't really know Cammisa, she could be an accountant for all I know, and I don't intend to project these ideas as her motivations for the release; I'm sure they were different, but either way Cats Kils was an unexpected surprise. It's hard to explain, I feel strange because I'm confident that this is something that is not simply a fleeting point of interest in my personal history as a listener, but I'm pretty sure that I'm going to return to this thing in 5 years, regardless of my personal sound palette is at this time, although only time will tell if the spray paint hasn't eroded the disc by then!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Charlie McAlister - Country Creme/Victorian Fog [Feeding Tube]

Last year Feeding Tube records out in Massachusetts dropped what was unequivocally the best, most essential reissue/archival release of the year, and maybe even the best release of 2010 period. That record is Pimania. I cannot stress strongly enough how essential that record is, the less you know the better, but it is worth every penny.
Feeding Tube is not folk that like to waste time so on 1/1/11 (as you can see this review is quite tardy, sorry!) they entered this year's competitor for best archival release and it once again has blown me clean away.
Charlie McAlister was a mysterious figure I'd heard a lot about yet never actually heard. I have a friend who put out tapes by him in the 90s from whom I've heard a few stories and I've read plenty of web-ink on the guy as well. When I first heard this record I was not disappointed in the least, in fact I instantly understood why people talk so much about him. His songwriting is immediately compelling; it's at once pleasantly classic and ardently strange.
The recordings on this Country Creme/Victorian Fog LP were recorded between 1998 and 1999 but they seem to feel older like a rustic old curio no one knows about but you. All of the tape warble and manipulation certainly situates the music within a certain era, but the sound McAlister conjures transcends any era and it ultimately sounds timeless. Steeped in hissy, fizzy, buzzy fidelity, his nimble arrangements, generally consisting of acoustic guitar and voice plus a melody by a violin or harmonica or additional banjo plucks, are skuffed up revealing the diamond-hard hooks at the center of his songs. But for what most would probably categorize as a folk record, this thing is noisy. Kevin Taylor is credited with "noise machine" in the outro of "Depths of Confusion" and "Desperate Plea" features a feedback-ridden harmonica and various tape snags throughout. McAllister occasionally drops into demented passages of found tape samples, which get their own track in the form of "Fried Sandwich Play" which, I'll be honest, I skip sometimes when I'm not in the mood for such befuddlement. It's inclusion is enlightening, showing an example of the range of McAllister's work but it's somewhat ill-fitting in the context of this particular record.
McAlister is quite a spectacular lyricist as well. Kicking off with "I am Staying Here" McAlister delivers a timeless phrase I'm sure many can relate to: "Because of my friends and the beer/I am staying here." "Vision/Rage/Irish Girl" sounds like McAlister might even be making up the story as he goes over jaunty guitar and seething tin can clatter.
"Fake Country Music" is a weirdly lucid self-reflection on McAlister's music:
"Fake country music is what I like to play/Fake country music, okay/I'm playing the fiddle with a rusty key/I make country music for you and me/I'm shrieking and screaming and knocking down the walls/I'm the hideous creature in the [Fall? fog?]"
McAllister delivers a killer fiddle solo/skree to finish it off.
There's a ton of classic shit on Country Creme but the Victorian Fog side is even stronger. Starting with what is now gonna be my go-to when college football comes back in September, "Hair/Wind/Football." McAlister paints a picture of the school band playing in a fog while the players play a rough game of football over a jaunty rhythm while laying into waxy violin drones. It's a modest, mellow intro which belies the intensity of its subject matter. The instrumental "March #16" is paired perfectly with it, lead by an enterprising young glockenspiel. From there McAlister ambles down to the "Plantation of Pain," McAlister's response to confederate songs. It's another entirely infectious little ditty--McAlister is just unstoppable on this record.
The absolute pinnacle of the LP (and one of the greatest songs I've come across in a while) is "Bog Man." First of all, it's about a bog man, which I am fortunate to have seen two of in Dublin, so that's pretty badass to me. Furthermore though, McAlister re-envisions the bog man as a 1930s Universal monster movie. A man's body is thrown in a bog and 10,000 years later he is discovered, put on display and comes back to life, wreaking havoc on the townspeople in the process. In my eyes, this is quintessential McAlister; he's never better lyrically or as a songwriter and arranger on the record. I really could gush for pages and pages about this single song and at the end of the day my words would be woefully inadequate in expressing the magic of this tune; so I'll spare you on the condition that you buy this record or do whatever you have to experience the song for yourself.
Following is a wild and untitled instrumental, full of militant snare drum, tangled webs of chimes and whirring organ-tape-machine-whathaveyou--my guess is this is the "parade." Probably my second favorite song on the record is "After the Parade" as it features McAlister's most affecting vocal delivery. The gentle quiver in his voice is strangely gripping and imbues his portrait of the carcass of a parade with a strangely undefinable sensation. How do we take his couplet "It's time to go for a ride/I can't remember what we did last night"? Is it nostalgia? Is it panic? Something else entirely? Ultimately, the song closes with McAlister sawing out his most lovely melody on his fiddle. The song is so brief yet it features so much depth and rich ambiguity.
"Sinking Ship" details just that. Though McAlister's account of such terrors is met with an upbeat cyclical melody. "Song X" is another instrumental from a similar cloth of the prior instrumentals on the side.
A spate of short songs conclude the record. "Go to Hell" matches a whimsical chiming melody with garbled tape manipulation and feisty lyrics, "Pale Light" plonks along on a detuned six-string and squealing slide guitar lead and "The Big 'Parade'" oddly enough details society circa-World War 1 .
Reaching for some kind of phrase to capture the feel of this record, I'd offer up "This is old timey music for the weirdo underground." But really it's much more than that. What you need to know is this: Charlie McAlister's voice, as an artist not just a singer, is honest and inimitable. Whether you ultimately like his music or not, McAlister is someone you must hear for yourself and Feeding Tube, having done a beautiful job curating this LP, has done all the legwork for you. All you need to do is listen.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Dead Neanderthals - The V-Shaped Position [No Label]

The Dutch duo Dead Neanderthals are back with another 3" disc of destruction. Their last was some intense grindcore jazzin' and they are back with more effects on the sax, more reverb on the drums, a few slower tempos and some probably even faster if you can believe it.
"Asterisk" sets the tone of relentless grindcore drumming and distorted baritone sax. Dude can wail like a banshee, dude can smack the skins like a bastard. The 35 second "The Bleaching" one-ups the previous track in intensity. "Drinking Mercury" develops itself past the minute mark with clattering drumming and boisterous sax. Parts of it actually sound like it could be covering another "Dead" band, the Kennedys that is. It sounds like fierce loopy punk transcribed for sax and drums. Out of nowhere a heavily effected sax dirge takes over "Hemisphere" providing a bit of a breather between the two assaults bookending the piece. "Rabbit" similarly, slows things down in the back half with a cymbal wash outro. "Rotten Teeth/Tooth Decay" despite a brief almost 8-bit sounding NES-soundtrack breakdown, brings the raw and nasty stuff. As does the shortest track on the disc, "Speed of the Cobra."
The default epic at 5 and a half minutes, nearly half the album's runtime, the title track builds tension with a long intro of measured, pounding drums and looped sax drones. When the duo finally reveals their cards halfway through there's a legit melody (surprise!) Though the melody is quite tense and spectacular, the Neanderthals don't rest on such laurels. They slide into a long (in their world) breakdown/sax solo before coming to a halt. With less than 90 seconds to go, they pounce back with a fury, delivering inescapable, Wasteland Jazz Unit-levels of carnage. Yee-ikes!
The disc comes with a sticker and a mini-poster of a gynecological illustration, not sure if that was necessary. You can get the disc from the crew directly.

In Rotation #6

Has it ever happened to you where you buy some records or tapes that you're excited about and then grab another out of sheer curiosity and the curio ends up being the one you listen to all the time?? I feel that happens to me pretty often.
Last time I was in Exiled Records (best record store on the West Coast, at least!) I grabbed new tapes from Golden Retriever and Indignant Senility and then for the hell of it I grabbed the new Terror Bird Human Culture LP on Night People because I liked a song I heard on Free Form Freakout. [...time lapse...] Hot damn! I've been playing the shit out of this Terror Bird LP. Gothwave piano pop from Vancouver, B.C. and this shit is tops. At first, even though I liked the record from the get-go, I was worried the gothy piano-pop sound might wear thin at some point, after repeated listens; I mean, Zola Jesus didn't go wrong until she started putting out records that lasted more than 7 minutes (Terror Bird doesn't really sound like Zola Jesus but they have similar influences.) Well anyway, that worry was stupid. This thing just gets better and better; I've owned it for 5 days now and already lost count of how many times I've listened to it. It really is a case where if you put on any one of the 13 songs I will be equally happy. Some might stick in my head a little more but then others offer a modestly symphonic quality to them that I love. The songs don't all hit you in the same way but they each hit you hard; they all sound good and they all sound good together. The record sounds lo-fi (I'm guessing it was made on a 4-track with a couple keyboards, drum machine and microphone) but it doesn't sound scuzzy. It sounds clean but thin which sustains an atmosphere over the course of the record.
When it really comes down to it though, the sound is not why the record is so addictive. It's because every fucking song is fucking great! High fucking art when it comes to pop craftsmanship. Fuck.
The other tapes I got are cool but have been a little neglected in light of all of the brainwashing the Terror Bird has been doing to me. The analog synth/clarinet duo of Golden Retriever dropped a nice tape for NNA Tapes called Emergent Layer. I can't compare this to other releases since I've only heard a comp track but Matt Carlson, the synth, works some heavy disorientation via hyperactivity in the stereo spectrum. Jonathan Sielaff, the bass clarinet, humanizes the whole ordeal with his organic though copiously effected reeds, providing thoughtful melodic counterpoints to Carlson's wild-man-on-campus vibe. Synth/clarinet is definitely an odd combo (can you name others?) but these guys manage to not only subvert expectations but also effortlessly create a natural chemistry between their instruments. Very cool band.
Indignant Senility is one of many projects by Glamorous Pat Yo-Yo Dieting and considering how much I've been loving his work on Bubblethug and a DJ Yo-Yo Dieting c-90 I picked up, I wanted to see what his classical music plunderphonic project was like. Apparently he did a record of all Wagner which I haven't heard and this j-card offers no guess as to what source material is used. No matter, Blemished Breasts (pictured) on Cherried-Out Merch is definitely dense and at 100 minutes, it's a certified behemoth. I really haven't spent enough time with it to give any insight, but the source material here is much more obscured than with Yo-Yo Dieting. There's the occasional, fleeting instant where a lovely melody materializes and evaporates just as quickly, but mostly Pat just produces this stoic, oppressive force that keeps you under its thumb. I'll keep listening to this one.