Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hammer of Hathor - Vroom Psycho [Field Hymns]

Following up the last review of tapes on Field Studies, is another sterling young label, this time outta Portland OR, called Field Hymns. Hammer of Hathor, also from Portland, is the subject of this review, the duo of Mark Kaylor and Heather Vergotis doing their terse, veiny improvmpositons with electric guitars, drums, trombone, tenor sax, analog synths, 1/4" tape loops and live tape processing. The only other release I've heard from HoH was their tape on Stunned which had some good stuff, but they're sounding sharper and leaner (and maybe a little bit meaner) on Vroom Psycho.
"Mt. Tabor" kicks off with tapped cymbals and a repeated guitar phrase. The track seems to be stuck in first gear, building towards something. When the levy breaks, it's modest but still a little cathartic. The drums give in to the groove and guitar begins to lay into its riff a bit more. When all's said and done though, it comes out like an 8 minute intro. An exercise in hypnosis. A bit like that Ex Models' Chrome Panthers record minus the copious amounts of octave fuzz, ring mod and nervous energy. This stuff sounds way more strung out than hopped up. "Alice and John" (a tribute to the Coltranes?) is a strange piece of trombone and sax. Each moves in short bursts, sometimes they seem to align and at others they don't seem to notice the other horn in the room. It features a similar approach to "Mt. Tabor" where repetition is pretty key but HoH go in a different direction not making their playing painstakingly exact, instead letting it wander drunkenly. "Air Pain" features a loopy, atonal guitar. Two of them actually. After a skronky conversation they lock into a seasick melody, sliding back and forth, back and forth. It is interesting how HoH dismantle the idea of the brief, repetitive riff over the course of the side ultimately descending into dual free guitar gibberish. You know how much I love guitar duos, so you know I'm on board with this track. Lunging between detuned primitivism and what are more or less riffs, the track as a cool vibe. The band obviously has interests broader than just the guitar, but they have a really unique dynamic as a guitar duo that I wouldn't mind seeing explored and developed further.
Side B kicks off with "Invincible Armour" which in my opinion is the most smokin' track on the tape by far. I don't mean to disparage the rest of the tape at all but simply share the straight-up "killerness" of this bastard. A guitar leftover from the previous track skronks around for a bit and another six string shows up quietly playing a simple riff. It gets louder little by little until BOOM, the drums enter out of nowhere and blow the track wide open. It's so damn grooving and heavy and dead-eyed and tough as nails. The track's relentlessly minimal rock 'n roll stylings could beat the masters themselves, A Frames, into a coma. Gnarly genius at work here. "For Guylene" closes out the tape. Commencing with offset loops of stuttered hi-pitched melodies and continuing with them too, the prickly tones simmer for around 8 and a half minutes repeating in slight permutations. At that length it's not the most engaging jam on the tape, particularly after following up the fireworks of "Invincible Armour," but I guess once you get your fill you can always fast forward to the end and start over on the A side. Or am I violating the cassette code of ethics in suggesting that?
There's some great stuff here, it's not totally cohesive as an"album" but I'm not really sure Hammer of Hathor is too interested in that sort of idea anyway. They have their style and they'd rather explore it through a number of instrumental avenues on a piece by piece basis.
Excellent(!) artwork all over for the tape, totally Vertigo-era Saul Bass-gone-futuristic stuff. Much adulation to Field Hymns. The tape is pro-dubbed and comes with a download code. Still in print.

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