Monday, April 25, 2011

In Rotation #2

Man, I have to tell you about this Demons cassette (pictured) that Green Tape sent over recently. I posted the picture so you can judge for yourself, does that not look like something that would contain some vile harsh noise or black metal? I mean the fuckin' thing's called Beheading and isn't Demons also the name of a Zac Davis-related (or was it Nate Young?) noise thang? Not in this case, it's the duo of Chicagoans Sam Cholke and Paul Kim. Anyhow, so I popped this thing in the first time and it turns out it's basically a DJ tape. And it's awesome! This is the funkiest thing I've heard in ages and it's only like 12 minutes so I'm infinitely flipping it over in my Walkman when I'm at work. I think probably a good portion of it is sample-based; if you're into Endtroducing...-era DJ Shadow then I'm sure you'd be vibin' to this in no time. I suggest grabbing a copy from Green Tape while they're still available. It'd make a great double date with that Tad cassingle on DNT; coincidentally they both share their names with other, less cool bands.
I saw Caldera Lakes play a couple weeks ago and it was AMAZING. They gave me a copy of what was apparently their first tape from way back in '08 on Bill Hutson's Accidie label and I also picked up their tour CD-r. Man, there's really great shit on it (I am really loving "Up with the Birds.") It's not the most abrasive or loudest of their releases but it seems the "noisiest." There's usually a good amount of static in play thanks to Eva and I continue to be impressed with Brittany's voice (it's just as fantastic live too.) The duo have such great chemistry together (they seemed almost telepathically linked during their set) and they pretty much carved out their own unique niche from day one. Not many bands you can say that about. Make sure to see 'em if they roll through your town.
Galtta Media out in Philadelphia has sent over their first 6 releases and there's quite an interesting array of material on display. The most striking thing to me about the label was that everything is jazz, and not necessarily free jazz either. The brand new tape En Nuestros Viajes by the guitar/Rhodes duo of Matt Davis and Javier Resendiz is incredibly pleasant (perhaps a little too pleasant for it's own good at times.) Rewind collects some of the work of bassist Mike Boone and it's a super solid record but pretty traditional jazz quartet stuff. Not what I initially expect to hear on a limited-run cassette but I will take it! Cassette is such a fantastic medium I'm always happy to hear it spreading back into the more "normal" music realms. That said, Galtta isn't exactly Blue Note. Symbiosis Syndicate regularly use EVI and synths alongside their trumpet/piano/percussion line-up taking jazz into a pretty interesting direction on their self-titled tape (a track is named after Silver Apples FYI.) Labelhead David Lackner (along with frequent collaborator John Swana) probably delivers the most interesting stuff to my ears. Jazz is definitely at the core of what he's doing but it's often cross-polinated with a range of other genres or may serve as the seed of what grows into a much different tree. Lackner's music is texturally complex but always finds a place for melody. His split with Swana and his new tape My Leader, the Baby is Dead (which also comes with a cool little handbound artbook by Gabrielle Muller) are both recommended.
Barcelona's Circuit Torcat label just put out a tape by Toronto/Barcelona by-mail duo Kamtchtka. The tape is super minimal, not something that you'd expect to be a product of more than one person let alone a by-mail collaboration. As is the case with pretty much all Circuit Torcat releases, I found the tape to be a rather pleasant experience but it's definitely not for diehard fans of volume, both spacial and aural.
I continue to listen Jours Avec Jennie by Zach Phillips (under the guise of GDC) as it is possibly the best tape of last year. Midwestern label Alchemist Records wisely took my advice and reissued this instant-classic so there are (thankfully) a 100 more copies of it in existence. The new pro-dubbed tapes sound good and they're yellow so A+ on that front. If you do not have a copy, I highly recommend you remedy the situation. Alchemist has also put out a couple other fine tapes this year by Local Winds and BAnanas Symphony. The Local Winds cassette is another example of Alchemist's bread and butter: easy, breezy feelin'-nice-right-now vibes and BAnanas Symphony, while the tape is perhaps a touch uneven as a whole, delivers many bangin' pop tunes vaguely 60s-inspired but realized in a variety of different ways--looking forward to listening to it some more.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Radiant Husk - Points and Lines [Bezoar Formations]/Sogol - Miniature Orbits [Bezoar Formations]

I really love Matthew Erickson's projects, dude's gotta be one of the more under-appreciated guys going today in my opinion, and this pair of tapes from Radiant Husk (Erickson's solo mainstay) and Sogol which I'm guessing is a one-off project by Erickson as well are two more entries that will continue to spread the gospel of Matthew. Erickson's Bezoar Formations imprint dropped these sometime last year and it looks like the label is gearing up to drop another batch soon.
Side A is christened as "Thermal Beings." It starts with waves of Erickson's signature reeds, which are accompanied by tapes, keys and wave machine on this recording. Erickson also jams it in the killer guitar/sax duo Sudden Oak, but where SO has a rough, evershifting sound, Radiant Husk slowly puts together these gorgeous little miniatures. The project doesn't generally work in the long form but develops a series of episodes through course of a side. Erickson's work here is so deliberate and in tune; he gradually builds these little hills before letting the sea in to erode them away. Then a solitary saxophone will often take the lead once more. Radiant Husk features one of the more unique saxophone voices out there, it's not really jazz and it's not your average basement reedage either. Erickson creates a complex field of sound with it; you could almost dive in. One of my favorite moments happens later on the side where Erickson tries to squeal through the lively swamp of loops he created. The other element at work here that has to be mentioned is the place of rhythm in the project. Rather than just looping sustained blasts of sax over and over (nothing wrong with that FYI) Erickson often creates these gentle, rhythmically complex and highly contagious tapestries.
The second side "Lines 1-7" begins with a single echoing saxophone grunting away in the silence. From the single sax it mushrooms into a sheet of sound before getting stomped out by a deep ominous reed growl. Over a cyclical set of loops Erickson delivers a brief solo before promptly moving into the next section, an almost tribal amalgam. This passage is shortlived as well and segues into a beautiful bit of filtered sax. The tape keeps moving, rapidly hopping from section to section. Quiet nudges of sound shift to cavernous reed squeaks and that's all folks.
I'm pretty sure this Sogol tape is Erickson as well. It's focused on keyboards but it still bears his stamp. Miniature Orbits is a perfect title for this tape as it's a pastiche of beautiful, stand alone miniatures. It's difficult to properly describe but the sections range from a minute or so to seconds long. They tend to be very minimal, some only featuring a few notes. There's some pause button stitchwork in here too, so if you're down with other keyboard/cassette combos out I'm sure you'd climb aboard here with no trouble. Some sections could be the sound track of a UFO hovering over San Francisco, others are more full, new agey and soothing. It's wonderful little tape, each nutshelled idea contributing to the whole.
The second side is much like the first moving between floaters and more grounded minimal bee-boop experiments. There's a rather long passage on the B-side that stumbles through echoing single key plonks, pitter-pattering around, dodging trebly pitch swells.
Pretty much everything with the Bezoar tag will be ace but these two both come highly recommended. It looks like there are still a couple copies of the Rad Husk tape kicking around Bezoar Formations but you'll have to seek the Sogol tape at the distros.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Arklight/Dead Gum - Split [Phase]

Dang, Greeks love Arklight. The country is reliably pumping out Arklight releases even after the whole bottoming out of the economy. Thank you for your continued service Greece.
This one (from the Phase label) is special because a) it’s a tape and b) Dead Gum is on the other side. I’d never heard Dead Gum before this and I can’t say the name lead to high expectations but they were a pleasant surprise. The tape is wound on their side right now so I’ll start the review there.
“Knock Your Head on the Tablet” starts things off with lots of distorted echoing guitars. I don’t know what the band line-up is or if it’s just one person but I’m pretty sure everyone who is actually in the band is playing guitar. The track amounts to a rough, glistening wall of shimmer; shoegaze with balls. “Let Me Show You Around” features rigid marching guitar strums courtesy of a delay pedal. From there the track gets gradually messier as the delays fold back on themselves. This one has a lot more space in it leading me to think Dead Gum is probably the result of a single pair of hands. Unintelligible vocals near the end are a welcome addition as it sort of feels like a bonafide song in its closing minutes. As one chapter ends another begins, Dead Gum segues into the track’s finale edging toward psychedelic territory with a slightly more upbeat and groovy feel. This shifts directly to the stark, jangling strings of “Secret Love.” “Rat of Tide” changes the vibe considerably as it’s a very loose, jangly guitar and voice song. It’s got plenty of prickly points all over but stands apartment from the layers of distortion at the outset of the side. The finale, “Six Packs of Everything,” inadvertently caused me to wonder how many things do really come in six packs, beer/soda, abs, crayons, I don’t think that many things do. Anyway, that tangent has nothing whatsoever to do with the music. The side’s finale is even looser, with some zonked vocals and rustling guitar strings.
This tape sounds awesome with the volume knob up. Not necessarily anything new I guess, but its tried and true cascading guitar fuzz and loner six-stringin’ that never gets old. I’d like to see where Dead Gum goes from here; maybe they’ll imbue their sound with a little more form next time around?
Arklight’s side opens with “Radonitsa.” A garbled weather report on the radio, needling guitars, a thunderous loop of bass feedback or something or other. I think there’s a live hi-hat in here too. Typical of Arklight, it’s an atypical arrangement. The jam stays locked into it’s groove, builds tension until distortion starts spreading like a virus through the track slowly eclipsing everything in static. I always enjoy it when Arklight brings the grooves, and “Russian Ark” flirts with that very idea. A spaced guitar melody slowly loops against unspecified percussive bumps, clicks, steps, scratches, whathaveyous. The piece is relatively unchanging; it almost feels like a Buddha box or something. “Like Light Night” jams on a single guitar a little like parts of the Dead Gum side. Much like some of the Dead Gum side as well, it lapses into a blurry, fuzzed out mess. The closer “Captain General” hits hard and heavy right off the bat with big distorted thumping toms. A guitar that sounds like it’s being molested by a violin bow is panned back forth as the rhythm section thrusts and rumbles on. The drums drop out for a fantastic breakdown, atmospheric guitar touches and especially a clutch bassline totally nail it, making it the stand out moment of the track before the drums return. The track as a whole has an elusive vibe I’m really digging. My favorite jam on the tape, hands down.
Phase did a nice job with screen-printed artwork. 65 copies, still in print. Hit up the label.

In Rotation #1

I'd been wanting to check out Chicago's Catholic Tapes imprint for a quite a while so last November I took the plunge and ordered a chunk of new releases. Through a big ol' nasty fiasco (or perhaps a series of them) I didn't get my order until a couple days ago. That was lame but the contents of the package have certainly made the wait worth it. There's a pair of gnarly ass synth tapes, Section 1 from Alex Barnett's ever growing Section series and The Pylori Program by Elon Katz, a name I was previously unfamiliar with. Barnett's cassette is as solid as ever and features the first "epic" I've heard from him, the side-long "Soldier" which even gets a reprise on side B. I don't know if the tape was recorded before sections 2-4 or how the chronology matches up to the numerology but they're all great tapes so I just plan to keep collecting each Section. The Katz ain't too shabby either and features the totally rippin' hit single "Ode to John Connor." I don't even like The Terminator (I will eat my shoe the day James Cameron makes a good movie--fuck that hack) but this shit is bangin' in every aspect. For Terminator and non-Terminator fans alike.
Also in the package was a very drone-ish tape from Michael Vallera, Don't Call This Home. The first side "Leaving at Night" is a moody piece of what sounds like piano and guitar. There's enough fog to obscure pretty much everything but it's beautiful none the same. "Safe" on B-side is more percussive and pretty cool as well. Solid.
My two favorites though, are vastly different but each totally bitchin'. Andrew Scott Young (of Tiger Hatchery) delivers a gnarled as all fuck cassette called Slophaus Diver, full of upright bass scrape and clatter--totally up my alley. Tactile, dark, claustrophobic, just killer really. I can't wait to listen to it more. Severely cool. The other stand-out is the 45rpm 7 inch split between Running and Loose Dudes, released by Catholic Male (Catholic Tapes + Priority Male). Running's full-length from earlier in the year was getting hyped (shit, I need to pick that up now that I've heard this single) and this track "Right Lane Leaning" makes good on the hype. Total neo-Jesus Lizard/Big Black savagery, very fucking awesome and very fucking Chicago. After being wrecked by the first side, I was totally blind-sided by the Loose Dudes side which is even better. They're less feral and more melodic than Running but, man, just as good. "Black Preacher" shot to the top of my singles chart within the first 20 seconds. Motherfucker, it is just the most goddam catchy thing I've heard in a while. Killer riffs, killer solo and killer chorus (I've been singing "Black preacher, you have my devotion" all week). The singer might be slightly tone-deaf but dude makes up for it infinitely with his showmanship. "Father's Day" their other song is another good one too. Fast and ragin' just how I like 'em. This record rules, can't recommend it highly enough. I gotta hear more of both these bands.
Also in today's rotation is a really bizarre thing I've been wanting to get a few words up about. It comes from Lighten Up Sounds and it's called Hands by Mole (pictured). It's a VHS release of "Live improvisation for 16mm, 8mm/Super 8mm, magnetic tape, AM radio, adapted machines, electric guitar, amplifier and electronics. Documented directly to VHS." Mole dropped this simultaneously with a mammoth c90 (also on Lighten Up Sounds) so this mysterious drifter has a ton weird shit up his/her sleeve. The majority of this runtime is dedicated to three overlapping frames, one is a white frame that continuously flickers, there's an out of focused video of something (sometimes it seems like it could be a western, a battlefield or people launching their canoes) and another frame that's very dark and there appears to be something crawling around in it. Needless to say I'm very perplexed watching it. The video has a cool feel, very lo-fi and the aural accompaniment is surprisingly melodic. There's some garbled speech in there and it seems like the majority of the sound sources are manipulated loops of samples. It sort of feels a little like a MF Doom or Wu-Tang Clan interlude minus all traces of hip-hop and zonked beyond recognition. A weird (even in this day and age) but enjoyable experience. Edition of 25.

MOLE "Hands" VHS (excerpt) from M.H.H. on Vimeo.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Garrincha & the Stolen Elk - We Were Wyoming [Stunned]/Garrincha & the Stolen Elk - Black Sambo/White Mamba [905 Tapes]

I picked up the oddly named Garrincha & the Stolen Elk's 905 tape a while back. It was a lo-fi trip into outer space guitar/sax/synth jams (which I'll get to in a bit.) I definitely wasn't prepped for what came on the new Stunned tape though. The duo of Davy Bui and Matt Kretzmann are joined by the stellar rhythm section of Karlos Ayala (bass) and Kevin Corcoran (drums.) Don't know if the expansion is gonna be permanent or not but I wouldn't mind it.
We Were Wyoming certainly starts on the right foot, "I Can Only Paint with One Emotional Tone/Acqueduct Flux." A solid, repetitive bass riff anchors the piece along with rumbling, almost funky, drums. Bui and Kretzmann deliver vocals back and forth over the stoic rhythm section before erupting into a mountainous spasm of sax, guitar and moog. The duo is really drawing on no wave and the entirety of Dischord's output (Fugazi through Black Eyes.) The "Aqueduct Flux" portion goes through an extended mellow bridge of guitar and drums before ramping up the energy with an angular riff. It's Bui's sax passage that really solidifies the piece though. "Tut" adds a little more Touch & Go to the mix, David Yow-meets-Guy Piccioto vocal delivery over an alternately loosey-goosey and heavy rhythm section. The moog and sax strategically push the track off the edge at key moments.
The instrumental "Crushed (Once)" delivers a great guitar riff from the get-go with a jumpy rhythm section pumping behind. That particular riff absolutely towers over everything that goes on in the rest of the track so it's return midway through is like a shot of adrenaline to the heart. "Staccato Lights" is structured around repeated jabs of sax, synth and guitar and raspy vocals but settles into a nice swing by the end. Ultimately though, the crew just jams it into submission. "II" is just an outro of sorts--a heavily effected, stream of generally unintelligible insults.
I totally lived on this kind of shit when I was in high school and it's great hear someone go at it with fresh energy. And it's nice to hear it on tape! Totally unexpected but entirely welcome. More please.
Black Sambo/White Mamba starts out with "Black Sambo" and an intergalactic lurchfest. Electronic crunch, ray gun-style synth manipulation, cosmic sax bleats. Not too shabby. The noise just seems to hurtle through space on its own patient engine. This sounds way grimier than the Stunned tape. Even the "quieter" passages have plenty of grit in the atmosphere. "Octopussy" is a straight ahead guitar/sax duet. Kretzmann on the palm mutes and Bui on the sax runs. Oddly enough, it turns out to be a tender little piece.
The duo heads off side b with "Deserted" and I think they may both be on guitar. Heavily delayed strings move from loner blues into squalling shimmers. It's nice enough but I am feeling the other title track "White Mamba" much more. Someone's got their keyboard set to the "bossanova" setting and the whole thing swings with a killer tropical melody from the sax. The guitar is onto some radar jamming shit though, trying to cover up the whole affair in feedback. The jam devolves into a street brawl between Kretzmann's sledgehammer and Bui's blowtorch. A real cool killer.
Nice pair of tapes. I'm feeling the Stunned one more but that's no slag on the 905. The duo have a lot going for them so I'm looking to see where they'll take us next. These are probably gone from the labels (never hurts to ask though) so it's probably time to hit the distros if you're interested.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

J. Hanson - New Ruined Maps (Collected 2009-2010) [DRAFT]

Here is some top-shelf Northwest collaboration, which you know I am always behind. Seattle's DRAFT is a new synth-centric offshoot of Gift Tapes, and among their first few cassettes DRAFT has chosen to release this album by Portlandic synth master Josh Hanson and his Blacet Modular Synthesizer.
"Sawjig" opens. Meaty analog synth vibes with a hint of folksy (Celtic perhaps) influence underneath. It's a very patient and engaging piece for the first couple minutes, limiting itself to a few components. This changes when a percussive track turns up and the keys get more active indulging in that lightly Celtic feel I mentioned earlier. Hanson transitions quite nicely into "Summer Oscillations" and its minimal but definitely groovy, up-tempo opening. The first section is short lived; evaporating into bird calls from where the next portion takes over. The piece almost seems to be on pause, it stagnates in mellow tones, numbing you almost. And then Hanson drops a series of groovy pitter-pattering synth grooves jolt you out of your slumber. "Astoria" immediately catches your attention with puttering loops and slightly seasick melody. Hanson rightly doesn't stay far from this base. Washes of cymbal-like tones and caffeinated, chattering robots make their presences known, but that methodical, loping melody remains the center. "A Patch of Shade" is a little similar to "Astoria" but major key. It's lively and almost into "feelgood" territory. It makes you wanna nod your head, look brightly to future and all that positive stuff. Nice way to end the side.
Hanson flips the theme as we flip the tape. "Mountain by Lake" is gunnin' to unsettle the listener just a little bit. This recalls the Celtic influence again, although this time it amounts to more of an aliens-composing-for-bagpipes feel. It's a great, extended piece of work that continually expands in a number of directions while still keeping its foot planted in the origins of the piece. "Jets to How-Here" is literally about 15 or 20 seconds of Hanson emulating jets on his modular. "Traffic in the Mission" is another favorite of mine. Hanson really lets himself go in the melody department piling on a number of synth gestures on top of one another and I love it. Like a few of the other tracks on here, Hanson anchors the piece with a fantastic stuttering melodic progression. He doesn't cut it short either which I like; he just lets it flow. "2:35 AM" closes the tape. I can't tell if this has anything to do former Portlander Elliott Smith's "2:35" but no matter. Hanson smartly puts it at the end as it wraps the tape up perfectly. It's not too long and it encapsulates the work that came earlier but it also feels different. There's a longing, mournful feel to it which is something the tape hasn't exhibited until now. It's a little bewitching and, as I said, a perfect ending to this here story.
New Ruined Maps is an excellent half-hour of analog synth architecture. Hanson approaches the instrument more subtly than many of his contemporaries which is refreshing. DRAFT lovingly the produced this release and the pro-dubbed tape sounds warm and fantastic. It's a perfect pairing of artist and label. DRAFT also dropped 150 copies of this so you can actually get your hands on one! It's worth checking for sure.