Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New Shit Has Come to Light #1

Alright, so it's been tough to find time to do some thorough reviewing lately, even the scaled-back thoroughness of the In Brief segments so here is a new non-thorough segment where I'm just gonna talk quickly about stuff coming through the door with the expectation that I will be able to go into in more detail later.

I Want to Kill Every Human - I Want to Kill Every Human [Bill Murray Tapes]
I Want to Kill Every Human - Newfoundland [Bill Murray Tapes]
When I got this package I thought, man, Bill Murray is really makin' it in the underground (wasn't there an LP by a dude going by Bill Murray earlier this year or last year?) Turns out this Bill Murray Tapes operation was started 4 or so years ago, so I can't call the name a recent trend. So far it seems like a vanity label for I Want to Kill Every Human as all releases have been by that artist. In the package was a new "cassingle" and an older 7 inch.
I Want to Kill Every Human is neither as violent nor as sardonic as a name like that would lead you to believe. I'd definitely categorize it as noise but the 7 inch is much more vibrant than one typically thinks of noise being. The tape, while not extremely abrasive, is more of a roughnecker with a dramatic staccato stutter mutilating the signal. It reminds me vaguely of Scuba Death's Demon Seed without the polish. The track is too basic to totally knock my socks off but I have to say I really dig and appreciate the approach. The track is weirdly hypnotic, and the fact that it repeats on the next side makes the spell that much harder to escape.
Bill Murray is selling these together as a combo for 4 dollars postpaid to the 50 states. That's right, 400 pennies of American currency will get you a pretty damn decent tape and 7 inch, plus a bribe to US gov't to drop it at your doorstep. This stuff is worth taking a flyer on.

Pride of Lowell - Pride of Lowell [Dirty Pillows]
Bearing no relation to Dicky Eklund that I can ascertain, Pride of Lowell is a jazz duo comprised of  Patrick Breiner (tenor sax) and Max Goldman (drums/percussion.) There was a word in the accompanying press release that was actually spot-on: "finesse." Good job marketing department! This tape was kind of refreshing when I first listened because I knew I was getting sax/drums "experimental free jazz" but these guys can really play. I'm all for abrasive, electro-acoustic improv, anti-establishment free jazz that you usually hear on a free jazz tape, but it was kinda cool to hear unrehearsed melodies and tight control of instruments. This hearkens back a little to the "free" of another era. This is much more Ornette or Trane than it is, say, Graveyards or Owl Xounds. Now as I've mentioned many times on this blog I'm no jazz expert, and I'm probably not the best guy to be reviewing jazz but I do know what I like and I like this. I don't want to make it sound like it's too class because there's certainly a significant dose of abstraction to some of the pieces--these guys aren't doing old jazz standards after all. Goldman and Breiner play like a kaleidoscope, constantly changing yet always pleasing to the eye (or ear as it were.)
Dirty Pillows is sending me mixed signals, the presser says it's based in Georgia but the tape showed up from Minnesota, no matter, the internet voided the importance of geography a long time ago. Dirty Pillows is selling these for a reasonable price considering this is a shrink-wrapped, pro-dubbed affair. I recommend checking out the band's origin story after the link too.

Jorge Arana Trio - Mapache [No Label]
Another jazz cassette that has come across my desk recently is by the Jorge Arana Trio out of Kansas City. The trio's style is sort of a scaled back Naked City injected with OCD math rock genes. Some of the coolest moments aren't jazzy in the least such as the relentless arpeggio and Gregorian-esque backing vox on the breakdown of "Snake in the Grass." Or the big, skronky Twin Peaks-esque guitar chords that hit two minutes into "Short & Evil."
As you would assume, the trio is lead by Arana who does double duty on keys and guitar, while Joshua Enyart and Jason Nash form the rhythm section on bass and drums, respectively.
The tape is brimming with nervous energy yet still comes off as pretty buttoned down to me overall; my taste is a little more on the "cut loose" end of things but this stuff is well done.
Side note: I received a couple tapes over the past few months that are emblazoned with the "Dolby" logo, I have yet to confirm or disconfirm that this is an act of irony. The tape does sound good so maybe Mr. Arana is sincere.
You can grab the tape from the band's website

Bastian Void - Fluorescent Bells [Field Hymns]
So my initial response to this project was something like this:

"Wow, it's been a long time since I've heard anything from this project, I have a tape back from 2007 I think that I remember being a pretty good and grimy noise outing but I didn't even realize the project was still active. This sounds really synth-y and way different. This is the same guy that was in People Who Do Noise, right?" 

Turns out I was wrong-o. I was thinking of Portland's Honed Bastion, and I'm going to blame the fact that the Field Hymns label is based in Portland as the source of my confusion. But really, Bastian and Bastion aren't the same word (great close reading, English major.) To be more precise, "bastion" is a word and "bastian" isn't; it's possibly a nickname for Sebastian (I guess...)
Anyhow, that's all a bunch of hooey when it comes down to it. This thing is all synthesizer and drum machines, it sounds like the cover looks (good job Dylan, or whoever designed it) so you probably have an idea of what this sounds like--unless you're blind and someone is reading this aloud to you. It sounds really nice, maybe not the most unique or particularly memorable take on the modern synth-o-sphere but that's becoming increasingly hard to do. I've listened to this a couple times and it just feels so nice to have the one stereo, very lush and atmospheric.
You can find the tape here along with many, many other delicious Field Hymns morsels.

Daring Ear - Ideal Sound [A Giant Fern]
The latest installment from Portugal's A Giant Fern label caught me off-guard. Having dropped blistered psych-rock, mellow drones and a totally out-there tape that I love love love, I wasn't expecting to hear a one-man synth-pop effort from the Bay Area. The dude played in The Impossible Shapes and John Wilkes Booze at that.
Surrounding himself with old drum machines and mellow synths, Aaron Deer spins 11 tracks on Ideal Sound. One band that this tape reminded me of instantly is Xiu Xiu, however Daring Ear is a mild-mannered, slightly glossy and a far more palatable Xiu Xiu (far more palatable to normal types, at least.) A song like "The Peach" (edit: it's "The Reach," blame the too fancy font not me!) I could imagine being a Xiu Xiu cover; Deer's songwriting shares a number of basic tenets with Jamie Stewart's, they each tend to construct minimal arrangements with scattered, abstract drum machines and keyboards, among other sounds, and place plaintive vocals in the center of the mix. The biggest difference is Stewart goes balls-to-wall in every single aspect of Xiu Xiu (which I personally love) whereas Deer is extremely even-keeled, maybe to a fault. Still there are some lovely moments on the tape such as the chorus on "All Swords." I'll have to give this a few more plays and see how it sinks in.
Hit up A Giant Fern if interested

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Kirtan Choir - The Unquestioned Answer [Skrot Up]

This cassette by Kirtan Choir was a little bit unexpected coming from Skrot Up which has made a name on a lot of nasty sounding stuff from the gothic nether regions. I'm talking bands like Grave Babies and FNU Ronnies and noise mongers like AG Davis. Unlike the previous names mentioned, Kirtan Choirs music is much more orchestral in nature.
The trio, consisting of Barbara Arriaga (cello, voice), C.J. Boyd (bass guitar, harmonica, cymbals, voice) and Jim Edwards (sampling), reminded me immediately of Godspeed You! Black Emperor when I first listened. They obviously have a significantly pared down lineup (it's unclear but I don't believe Edwards performed with the others on the first and third pieces but was solely responsible for re-working the second piece from pre-recorded material.) The other major difference from the aformentioned Canadian post-rock symphony is the duo of Boyd and Arriaga improvise their material.
You wouldn't automatically think "Beast with Two Backs" is improvised considering how lovely and wistful it is. Arriaga's work on the cello is fantastic and Boyd works simple little melodies around her long bowed strokes. It sounds like there is some multi-tracked embellishing, but Arriaga and Boyd clearly have chemistry together, creating the illusion of more than two people playing and seeming able to guess each others next move at any given moment. This is a really wonderful performance, particularly near the end when Boyd delivers measured chords and Arriaga alternates between intricate, chugging melodies and lonesome howls
"The AIDS Industry" sounds like material was recorded by Boyd and Arriaga and then handed over to Edwards to refashion. I'm unable to tell if he's working with material featured in the other two pieces but he's at least using material that appears in the third piece--or perhaps it's the third piece that's using his material. Edwards's hand certainly pushes the Kirtan Choir into another direction. Often shrouded in digital crackle, he samples and splices various melodies together creating a much more propulsive, rhythmically-driven version of the band. It's an interesting experiment though the unadulterated improvisations are more to my taste.
As alluded to earlier, the beginning of "Life After Near Death" overlaps with "The AIDS Industry." After a few minutes though a glistening harmonica drone fades in and Arriaga's cello is as melancholy as ever. This section eventually segues into an array of voices before reintroducing the cello and harmonica producing a gloriously enveloping blanket of sound. I have a hard time believing this was improvised, but either way, this is good stuff regardless.
Unfortunately, only 60 tapes were made and they appear to be long gone. It looks like the album was also released on CD from Canadian label Jeunesse Cosmique though. It's well worth a little research to track it down though.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

April in the Orange - In the Mirror Under the Moon [Cae-sur-a]

While Cory Card's output as head of the Cae-sur-a label has been fairly varied, I was pleasantly surprised when I heard this April in the Orange cassette. Not only does it mark yet another new direction for the label, it's also really good.
Opener "Of the Night Hymn Ikue" is a great little folk ditty with bouyant acoustic strums and a spacey electric guitar (and possibly a keyboard) blanketing the piece and providing occasional counterpoints. This introduces the blueprint that the duo of Andrew Barrett and Samantha Linn use throughout the course of the tape. Acoustic guitar, drowsy vocals, heavily effected electric guitar and keyboard.
There are a lot of great songs on the tape but the best is "Same Old Mystery." It's reminiscent of Warm Climate's Stunned tapes minus the strange soundscaping and rock & roll panache. It's seriously catchy and the electric guitar accompaniment kills it again with an equally catchy riff and nice little solo. Can't get enough of this tune. "Xerxes Folding Roses" ups the ante even more with a positively gorgeous acoustic guitar melody that appears halfway through. "Love All the Same" feels like some of the sleepier MV+EE stuff, very nice.
Barrett and Linn throw a bit of a curve on "Outsideinsideeverywherenowhere" at first, with some reggae-like guitar stabs before they start rolling with acoustic guitar again and somebody starts shredding on his/her axe. One of the more rambunctious tunes included here, making for a great climax before the brief, soft "Under This Wave" leads you into the tape flip.
"Amethyst & Azure" waltzes along, drifting like a cloud with excellent slide accompaniment and hazily effected keyboards. Linn takes over on vocals for "To a Lost Family," and her vocals add a different dimension to the band. Her vocals are recorded much cleaner and their a bit stronger (though still soft) than Barrett's whose vocals tend to blend in with the instruments. Barrett's style probably fits the overall aesthetic a bit better but it was nice to hear Linn for a change of pace.
The final track "Morning Never Came" clocks in at nearly 13 minutes. It's at once one of the stronger and weaker tracks. It features some of the most beautiful songwriting on the tape though It segues into a long "drone" section that feels a little tacked on. I admire the adventurousness but the duo is much better at arranging songs than drones. The main misstep is that the section just sort of goes on and on without being particularly dynamic. Had they shortened it to a minute or two before wrapping things up I might have have applauded them for the left turn but as is I think they veered a little too far off course. Still, I am mostly just complaining at this point, the song is still a good one and you can press stop at any point in the drone and start the tape over.
Druggy, hippy folk can go either way for me, a lot of it is none too great but based on this cassette alone April in the Orange has to be one of the best groups practicing the genre.
In the Mirror Under the Moon is fantastic. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous atmosphere and brilliantly bare little songs. Nimble and pretty addicting, check this baby out!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Long Distance Poison - Ideological State Apparatus [Constellation Tatsu]

Despite having dropped tapes on Digitalis LTD. and Ecstatic Peace!, I somehow missed the memo on this analog synthesizer trio(!) Thankfully brand new label Constellation Tatsu is here to save the day and fill me in with Ideological State Apparatus.
Casey Block, Erica Bradbury and Nathan Cearley do their trucking with an array of seven synthesizers and you can tell cause this thing sounds dense. This isn't some kind of fluffy, soaring-on-a-cloud synth affair; this is the dark side.
The first side, titled "The Three Voices of Tawuse Melek," gives you a good ol' gut punch at the get-go and somehow increases the bass over the course of the track. This isn't pure drone, the trio indulges in sequenced thumps and other synth flutter which is nestled in along side the deep one-finger jamming. When the sequencer kicks in you get instant dystopian crime-drama atmosphere. Too grooving to be militant, the pulse is relentless and easy to succumb to--whether you're a getaway driver, escaping from New York or just a dude on his couch like me, you can't help but feel fucking cool when listening to this. Top-notch shit.
"The Government Spawn Seek the Tomb of Her Stars" begins in a similar fashion with a sole bass drone. After a few minutes of shuttle-launch jettisoning, a member of the trio starts to punctuate every ten seconds or so with a stab as the other synths whimper and whine. While the flip has a groove, this track is dank and damp with a rhythm that's akin to pounding your head repeatedly against a brick wall. This is the sound of things going from bad to worse over a single tape. Crushing stuff.
I now must ask: "why aren't there more synth 'bands?'" They're awesome! I'm all about one mind realizing its vision but there's also something special that a crew brings to this kind of party. Three people all zoning, throbbing, screeching in unison, it's a rare added dimension. It can't be hard synth aficionados, get on it. Pretty soon there will be quartets and with a little luck we'll find The Beatles of the synth-drone genre. A revolution is brewing...
In a short few months, Constellation Tatsu has already dropped 12 tapes! We'll see how long they can keep up the stamina for that pace, but in the mean time this tape is still available at their site.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Kanukanakina - A - Arrival B - Departure [A Giant Fern]

I don't know much about this Kanukanakina project other than Portuguese artist Miguel Pipa is the brains behind the operation. Well, that, and I know this tape rules.
There is a laundry list of materials in Portuguese that I plugged into the ol' internet for a translation and this is what it came up with: "born from crossing experiments, the logical connections and little probable, Funding outer races for bentados collection of pedals, a vast collection of hardware, box-bent, changed radios, tv, sampletrack-bent keyboards, video games, tapes, vinyl, glitch box." There are probably more than a few inaccuracies there but you get the idea.
All this is beside the point however, who needs words when you have sounds?
While Pipa sets a wide array of interesting sounds in motion, the key to the tape is the space he leaves. Pipa never overplays his hand, instead he takes his time traveling through the aural space, suitcase in hand, brimming with sounds. As the title A - Arrival B - Departure suggests, the tape does feel like a journey.
The sounds range from quiet crackle to strange, frantic circuit emanations to mechanical/percussive clanks to (I think) treated field recordings/samples. Pipa does a splendid job imbuing his palette with vibrant energy yet keeping so it so tightly coiled there is a heightened sense of anticipation throughout the tape. There is a tactile quality to the sounds which I love, you can feel Pipa's hands creating this. The tape continually develops organic little rhythms, often juxtaposing frequencies each with its own opposing rhythm.
One of the most fascinating aspects to the tape is the tension between chance and control. The type of sounds that Pipa works with suggest an element of randomness or unpredictability but the feel of the tape is so confident and focused, it's hard to believe that this was not composed down to each nanosecond. Truth be told, I have no idea where Arrival lies on the spectrum between complete composition and complete improvisation. Considering how meticulous the construction is, I would not at all be surprised if Pipa had somehow created sheet music for the entire album despite there being very few musical notes over the course of the tape (there is a very lovely lullaby that opens the second side however.)
The process of the tape is a single fluid motion through a series of vignettes, each created on its own terms yet a seamless extension of those that precede it. Pipa is precise in his layering of the audio: he uses the stereo spectrum to his advantage, creating the illusion of three-dimensional space between the two headphones and he only chooses a few sounds at a time, arranging them to all have impact without causing distraction.
I don't know how long this guy has been doing this, but he sounds like a master to me.
With the culmination of the tape Pipa breaks out of the intense subtlety. He lets circuits squeal and freakout leading to a brief clip of an author at a book reading then onto a heavily processed reconstruction of a female-fronted pop song. Then the curtain falls.
Comparisons that come to mind are Peter Taylor's excellent Mortuus Auris & the Black Hand project or the Foton tape on Field Hymns that I recently reviewed. Pipa is traveling in his own channel though and its a good idea to come along for the ride. Putting the headphones on and pressing play is simply a treat.
The cassette is still available from Portugal's A Giant Fern label and I definitely recommend you take a look.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In Brief #2: Hymns of the Field

For the second, and long-awaited I'm sure, installment of "In Brief" I'm shining a bit of a spotlight on a great little label out of Portland, OR (one of the few places I call home.) Headed by founder and CEO Dylan McConnell, Field Hymns always seems to exude fun and exuberance for the music it releases. While fizzy electro-pop seems to be Field Hymns's forte, some of my favorite releases from the label have been from when it went a little off-script and, thus, Foton, Mattress, Susurrus and White Glove are our subjects today.

Foton - Omega [Field Hymns]
I don't know who this Foton is, but I'd like to. My only possible guess would be that this is another offshoot of Dylan's, although the titles look like Russian (?) but perhaps that's a red herring.
Omega is a pretty great piece of work. Lacking a better term, I started just calling it "something-concrete." It doesn't quite fit into the typical notion of sound-collage/musique-concrete, the vast majority of the material if not all appears to be inorganically (that is electronically) created rather than working with found sounds. That said, it doesn't fit into the "academic synthesizer electronic workshop" field too neatly either--it's a little too vibrant, or energetic shall we say. There are elements of those modes, along with a touch of avant-percussive pitter-patter. There are various fragments of synth--some beautiful, some more in line with 50s sci-fi sound effects--strange filtered guitar passages, synthesized whistling etc. all patched together into a well-paced though decidedly not seamless trip. It's a bizarre world of sound. Often you don't get much more than a glimmer but that's usually enough for these capsules to be absorbed, particularly when Omega morphs into more "symphonic" phrases. A strange synthesized circus number and another grand, almost funereal, piece at the end of the first side are highlights.
While the first side is ostensibly divided into 5 tracks (I can't discern where one ends and one begins--the side seems to be a continuous series of vignettes) the second side is billed as a single piece. It's still similar to the first but there's a noticeable shift in pace, it unfurls much slower and more quietly. It perhaps promises more but maintains it's scaled-back minimalism throughout. One of the more interesting elements of the track is its indulgence into "free" territory, sounding like a sparse jazz ensemble reproduced on synthesizer. In comparison to the first side, it's at once more epic and smaller in scale. My preference veers toward the oddities littering the first side but the extended transience of the second is commendable as well. This is a great little tape and an unsung gem from the year so far.

Mattress - Lonely Souls [Field Hymns]
If you don't know Rex Marshall's music track down his Low Blows LP pronto. Dude's shit is awesome simple as that. The reductive Rolling Stone capsule review would read "Mattress is Nick Cave-meets-Suicide" and while that is true in a number of ways Rex's style is uniquely his own and, plainly said, the guy's one of the best songwriters we have right now.
Lonely Souls marks the second time I've had the pleasure of hearing Rex on cassette, well third if I count his work with his R&B group, The Reservations. Marshall channels his frequent muse Suicide in the fantastic opener "Done All My Time" but does so with a decidedly cosmic bent. A propulsive drum machine hisses while Marshall opens interstellar portals with deep synth throbs. "I am not a member of these times" he croons, how true. "Forget My Name" features live drums by Ethan Jayne (even so they still sound filtered/blasted to hell) but they imbue the track with a certain looseness that keeps the repetition fresh and organic. Also, Rex duets with himself on this track, sweet! "Lied Again" reminds me a little of Blank Dogs, albeit at a lethargic pace, before Mike Sniper stopped caring. Totally unnerving, this has slowly become one of my favorites; the mix sounds inherently unstable, I half expect the floor to drop out at any moment and the drum machine to die, if not Rex himself.
Guitar and bass rear their heads among the the synth-buzz on "Dead Ends" allowing Marshall to work in little keyboard counter-melodies here and there. It's one of the relatively cleaner sounding tracks and still Rex sounds like he's singing from across the room. "Shake Me" edges into some weird, nearly dubstep territory. Incongruous drum machines wobble and trip over each in asynchronous fashion. It catches you off-guard at first but makes perfect sense given Mattress's style.
The quasi-title track "Only Lonely Souls" enters the pantheon of 100% Solid Gold Mattress Hits, joining "Roll Roll Roll," "Church That Shit," "Remember" and "Bad Times" among many others. Rex gets down, unleashing the most grooving piece of work he's ever composed. Mattress has always been catchy in its own special way but Rex seems to be courting pop vibes a little more than usual on this one. It's a good look for him.
I could tell you that all the songs are top notch, but that kinda goes without saying every time the spine reads "Mattress."
This is the darkest, heaviest, nastiest and flat out bassiest release I've heard from Rex. Much of the time, Marshall employs pretty sparse arrangements. And in a way the arrangements on this tape are still minimal: the elements are voice, drum machine, synth, occasionally guitar and guest drums by Ethan Jayne on two tracks. Yet these Mattress songs sound much more immense than any previous ones--Rex's booming voice sounds claustrophobic wedged between mountains of thick synth signals.
The inside of the j-card reads "Low Fidelity... A Mono Recording" so maybe that's the secret to whipping up this monolithic mash.

Susurrus - Susurrus [Field Hymns]
Speaking of monoliths, Dylan McConnell stealthily slipped out a release by his drone alter-ego Susurrus a few months back. This was a left-field smack in the face of the highest order. This is legit DRONE. I was used to bobbing along to McConnell's various playful synth-pop tapes under the Oxykitten and Adderall Canyonly monikers, so learning that this tape was executed by Dylan was a shock. Headphones are recommended if not essential (I suppose a fancy surround-sound system would do nicely as well) as there is a lot of play along the stereo spectrum. And plus, this thing sounds heavy. Not "heavy metal" kind of heavy, I'm talking fat, thick, sounds-like-it-weighs-a-ton heavy.
Organized into two movements (one on each side naturally) this album is orchestrated seamlessly. At its bass, (bad pun, deal with it) there's always some sort of deep tone or throb. The movement's expansion is nearly imperceptible at first. What's particularly great about this is there's a heavy dose of microtonal aesthetics but rather than boring the shit out of you for better or worse, McConnell massages various "musical" features out of his tones without betraying that deep, immovable-object aesthetic.
The second movement has a higher degree of sine wave pitter patter in the midst of subtle but deep tone tunneling. McConnell whips out waves of every form and it's great.
Honestly, I can pick out the minutiae of the different moments and try to give you an idea of what it's like but I'm not getting you any closer to actually hearing it. There's not a ton I can say about this other than this is some really good fucking drone. And I feel it's been some time since I've heard some really good fucking drone (the recent Dull Knife LP is also quite good.) It just feels good to be enveloped again.

White Glove - White Glove [Field Hymns]
White Glove is a bedroom project of Tim Wenzel; consisting of acoustic guitar and muted snare drum, Wenzel weaves snarky tales of trust fund kids, skateboarding, getting beat up by skinheads, having pink eye and also just what Heaven is like.
The tape is chock full of great songs from the start. The opener "Trust Fund Kids" implies that trust fund kids are just like pod people ("they look like me and you/but they got us fooled") Furthering the pod people implication, the previously skeptical Wenzel quickly succumbs to wishing he was a trust fund kid--he'd buy all his friends pizza, build a super-tight spine ramp, buy beer and a bunch of tapes and ultimately "make financial mistakes."
"High Bike" is a soft ballad about  the silly high bikes some people ride around Portland. "Jesse" is a sort of re-imagining of "Jesse's Girl"--it's not a cover, and musically doesn't share any ground with Rick Springfield's "classic"--but it is about Jesse's girl who "swings both ways." "Too Young" is a sardonic ode to young love, and a possible sequel to "Jesse" (?)
My hands down favorite is "Skate Heaven," Wenzel's detailed description of the new skate park that was just built in Heaven. Wenzel notes that it "sounds like a super heck-a fun" and "You don't have to wear full pads/You don't have go with mom and dad/You don't have to pay any money" although he notes the one rule: "If you wanna go you gotta die... and go to heaven." However, Heaven is not all sunshine and skate ramps, Wenzel admits "the one thing that kinda sucks is it's always cloudy"
To those cynics out there who might ask: even if there is a "Heaven," why would there be a skate park there? Well, the answer my friends is simple: "They're trying to get more people in heaven/that's why they built a skate park and a 7-Eleven"
 The track perfectly culminates in a hallelujah chorus by the "skateboarding angels" who "ride the sky." It's a great song; one that has earned many repeated listens.
"Sober" whips out the electric guitar and it's actually a pretty good fit for White Glove shenanigans--I wouldn't mind seeing Wenzel play these songs with a sloppy, blown out punk band.
The bottom line is the tape is a lot of fun. You like fun right?

You can hit up Field Hymns to grab these suckers. And you probably should.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In Old Chicago (Almost)

UPDATE: I am finally in Chicago please check the updated Contact section for the new address.

Hello dear readers,
Auxiliary Out is in the process of relocating its "headquarters" from Seattle to Chicago so the site is going on a temporary break. I'm not exactly sure how long it will last but I'm guessing anywhere from 3-6 weeks.

Meanwhile, please refrain from sending anything to the soon-to-be out-of-date Seattle address (don't want anyone's packages getting lost) and I will make an announcement with the new Chicago address once the transition is complete and AO is open for business again.

In the absence of reviews, I will leave you all with a (long) list of things I have been especially enjoying recently during the endless packing and whatnot ("recently" meaning my enjoyment has been recent, the records may have been released years ago)

In no particular order, of course:

Nmperign with Jake Meginsky Selected Occasions of Handsome Deceit [Rel] (one-sided LP)

Foton Omega [Field Hymns] (CS)

Susurrus Susurrus [Field Hymns] (CS)

Horaflora/Bromp Treb Split [Yeay!] (7")

Slasher Risk Vole [Abandon Ship] (CS)

Gonzalez & Steenkiste Gonzalez & Steenkiste [Eiderdown] (CS)

Alex Barnett Push [DRAFT] (CS)

Dull Knife Dull Knife [Debacle] (LP)

Eli Keszler Cold Pin [PAN] (LP)

Golden Retriever Light Cones [Root Strata] (LP)

Eli Keszler Oxtirn [ESP Disk] (LP)

Kanukanakina A - Arrival B - Departure [A Giant Fern] (CS)

Sheer Agony Sheer Agony [Fixture] (7")

Femminielli/Araignee Split [Fixture] (7")

Long Distance Poison Ideological State Apparatus [Constellation Tatsu] (CS)

Bill Nace Too Dead for Dreaming [8mm] (one-sided LP)

Charlie Mcalister Country Creme/Victorian Fog [Feeding Tube] (LP)

Caethua/Shep and Me Split [Lighten Up Sounds] (LP)

Lab Coast Pictures on the Wall [Eggy] (CS)

Lab Coast Editioned Houses [Night People] (CS)

Son of Salami Deli Days [Night People] (CS)

Miami Angels in America A Public Ranking [Night People] (CS)

Angels in America Allergic to Latex [Digitalis LTD.] (CS)

Running Running [Permanent] (LP)

Running/Loose Dudes Split [Catholic Male] (7")

Running Asshole Savant [Captcha] (one-sided LP + soundsheet)

Hering und seine sieben Sachen Nautical Twilight [Cae-sur-a] (CS)

Voder Deth Squad Voder Deth Squad [Stunned] (CS)

M. Geddes Gengras This Could be the Last Time [Stunned] (CS)

Scuba Death Demon Seed [Semata Productions] (LP)

Evan Parker & John Wiese C-Section [PAN] (LP)

Drowner Yellow Swans Drowner Yellow Swans [Tape Room] (CS)

Social Drag Social Drag [Stunned] (CS)

Nite Lite Marlene [Stunned] (CS)

Stefan Tcherepnin & Christopher DeLaurenti Bleed the Capacitors: Heavy Analog Electronics Vols. 2 and 3 [DRAFT] (CS)

Kirtan Choir The Unquestioned Answer [Skrot Up] (CS)

Andrew Scott Young Slophaus Diver [Catholic Tapes] (CS)

Super Minerals Contacteer [Stunned] (CS)

AG Davis/Kommissar Hjuler und Frau Rodez/Kanzlerjahre [Skrot Up] (CS)

Matt Carlson/Jason E. Anderson Synthesator Vol. Three: Dissociative Synthesis [UFO Mongo/Borft] (LP)

x04 Lost Signals [Ultra Eczema] (LP)

Vapor Gourds Dagger Magic [Yeay!] (CS)

The Bugs The o... The Bugs [Hovercraft] (LP)

Expressway Yo-Yo Dieting Bubblethug [Weird Forest] (2xLP)

Cyndi Lauper She's So Unusual [Portrait] (LP)

Navel All About the Moon [Cosmic Winnetou] (CS)

Pulse Emitter Spiritual Vistas [Cylindrical Habitat Modules/Expansive] (LP)

Basil Poledouris Robocop [That's Entertainment] (LP)

Sewer Election Bristning [Release the Bats] (LP)

The Smiths The Queen is Dead [Sire] (CS)

Brian Ruryk & Fletcher Pratt Canadian Guitar Sounds [Midori] (CS)

Frieder Butzmann I'm a 7inch Single [Ultra Eczema] (7")

Tiger Hatchery Tiger Hatchery [Pizza Night] (one-sided LP)

New Order Substance 1987 [Michael] (CS)

Purling Hiss Hissteria [Richie] (LP)

Purling Hiss Public Service Announcement [Woodsist] (LP)

Yellow Swans/The Goslings Split [Not Not Fun] (7")

Roy Orbison The All-Time Greatest Hits [Monument] (2xLP)

German Army Cattle Border [Clan Destine] (one-sided CS)

Tuluum Shimmering Flowers of the Honey Tree [House of Sun] (CS)

Flandrew Fleisenberg/Flunk Flunk 'n Ice [YDLMIER] (CS)

Various Artists 002 [Hare Akedod] (CS)

Ajilvsga From the Muddy Banks of the Arkansas [Near Passerine Devotionals] (LP)

Vales/Minutiae Split [905 Tapes] (CS)

Klondike & York The Holy Book [Weird Forest] (LP)

Prince & the Revolution Purple Rain [Warner] (CS)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Horaflora/Bromp Treb - Split [Yeay!]/Jason Martin - Harmonic Time Cycles & Scary Guitar Man [Yeay!]

Yeay! Cassettes seems to have officially re-christened itself as the more general, but at least more accurate, Yeay! Plastics. They don't drop things all that often but when they do you can expect only the best in sheer madness technology. It's not about quantity, it's all about bizarro-quality.
This split single from Bromp Treb and Horaflora is a straight up West Mass/Bay Area bonk 'n blurt banger! These are some serious jams!
I nabbed this because of how much I dig Bromp Treb's prior 7" outing on Yeay! Twins and this thing's been burning up the turntable ever since.
This record is my first experience with Raub Roy's Horaflora project (which also struts around town as the Horaflora Sound System at times.) There's no info on the record besides artist, title, label and suggested turntable speed so I don't have a good idea of what Roy is actually doing to create his Horaflorin' sounds. "Glibbertone" sounds like modular synthesizer to me. Roy spews a constant stream of synthetic, generally percussive tones and molds them into something far more groovy than should be allowed with a sound source this abstract. I'm not talking block-rockin' beats or anything but there's enough to get your head noddin'. It's sort of like a drunken stumble put on repeat, while having a barrage of electronic pebbles lobbed at you. The second half of the track takes its foot off the gas a bit and airs things out for a gentle come down from what was a pretty gentle climax in the first place. It's an odd little track, I'm intrigued to hear more from this project.
When Neil "I'm not that Neil Young" Young isn't creating the future of rock & roll with Fat Worm of Error, he's dicking around with his Bromp Treb project. Melding/mutating/mutilating percussion, tape, samples etc. in the name of good fun, always coming up with the wiggiest of jams to show for it. And this wiggy jam, in particular, "Readinessmaxx" may be the most succinct, defining and, well, just the goddam best statement of Bromp Treb's career so far. 
Young crams a 12" side's worth of material into 3 minutes or so. Hand drum samples, boops and beeps, unavoidably groovy drum machine rhythms, record scratch/tape squeal histrionics, odd vocal samples, a gorgeous synthesized sitar part, I'm just scatching the surface. The thing, however, as I alluded to earlier, is not about the quantity--sure, Young is working with a variety of different sounds but it's the im-fuckin'-peccable execution that makes the thing such a wonder and a treat to listen to. The Bromp Treb scalpel is so tastefully precise that all this is synthesized perfectly into a focused, coherent dance floor headscratcher. 
The interplay between the "musical" samples and the sonic anarchy is unwittingly divine and infinitely jammable. This has to be one of the finest pieces of musical composition I've heard all year. Neil, how do you do it man?
Between the two sides, the B-side is for sure my favorite but these artists are so in sync that the two sides complement each other perfectly giving the vague illusion the record was produced with a collective brain.
The single comes in die-cut covers with a slot to slide in images of your favorite expressionist painter, quarterback, exotic locale or supermodel. I've already customized mine a few times!
This hour-long bamboozling from Jason Martin (Location Ensemble) is one half radio-play and one half something or other dedicated to Captain Beefheart. It's an ornately composed mess to say the least.
The first side contains "Harmonic Time Cycles or How the Romans Sent a Disruptive Time Piece to Psychotronically Entrap Us Within Our Own Minds" which is described as a "radio play for guitar, shortwave, tape player, bass, drums, percussion, function generator & organ." Martin cuts up what is ostensibly a "sermon" by a radio preacher discussing, in (pseudo-)scientific terms, time. He discusses the various calendars used through the centuries, including the one imposed by Julius Caesar and the terrible Romans. Around the lunacy, Martin constructs a kinetic mishmash of drums, bass and guitar which ping-pong around the room smashing the pictures off the walls. Periodically, Martin cuts to minimal electronic tones, probably to give his listeners a break from the forceful fits of energy (and, once again, lunacy) that erupt throughout the piece, this thing is a half hour long after all.
In what may just be my favorite moment of the radio play, Martin breaks in with acoustic guitar in hand, and sings over the preacher's nonsensical lecture, doubling the ridiculous words and delivering them as a sing-songy ditty. Martin gets a little more abstract directly after that, manipulating his sample in a spaced out canyon of organ and electronics. This vibe continues for a while with some added tape abuse and the occasional splash of spastic guitar-drum crash. Martin comes up with some nicely mussed guitar/drum/bass/tape improvisation that certainly doesn't sound like it was overdubbed. At one point, Martin gets into pointed Beefheart-styled junkyard scrap (which we'll revisit on the next side.)
Martin actually gets close to a pop song a little bit later, featuring some cool rhythmic interplay between drums and a choral sample. After the moneyshot of "the Romans sent a disruptive time piece to psychotronically entrap us within our own minds," the thing wraps up in a brushfire of electronics. Martin takes another pretty good stab at a pop tune, crooning "Caesar" over and over before splintering into more abstract moves and calling it quits. Pretty damn cool and involved/involving side--never heard anything quite like it before.
The second side, titled "Scary Guitar Man," is a half-hour of excerpts culled from three hours of improvised material. Ranging from lo-fi Matt Bower-style noise to angular Beefheart on Radar shenanigans, Martin serves up 30 minutes of filtered velcro fuzz, tape fuckery, blues guitar strut 'n skronk, percussive pitch-bend string mash and weird spoken word too. There's some cool material, but the length and randomness of the side pales a bit in comparison to the wild but well-thought-out madness of the charming first side. Although, I think it's pretty clear the A-side is the main attraction, and side B is the second feature at the drive-in.
The 7" is a must have and the tape ain't too shabby either. Procure them shits via Yeay! right now!

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Collection of the Late Howell Bend - Beasts for While [Ownness]/Rory Hinchey/The Collection of the Late Howell Bend - Shape is Nature/Long Fields [Ownness]

Pair of long players from Canadian label Ownness displaying two sides of Irene Moon's The Collection of the Late Howell Bend the project, as well as some of Rory Hinchey's work.
One of the first things one notices about Beasts for While is it's an 11" record. Have to say this is the first and only time I've encountered such a thing and I'm not entirely sure what the motivation behind its creation would be. Maybe there was a recession special on 11"s at the plant, or maybe its just in the spirit of the weirdness contained in the grooves
I'm not sure what to call this. I guess you could call it "psych-folk" but this is bad trip psychedelic folk. It feels weird calling it "folk" as the thing sounds like it was recorded almost exclusively with Casios--typically on the "harpischord" setting--but the songs have this sort of shambling vibe that I would undoubtedly label as "folk" if it had been rproduced with more acoustic instrumentation. 
This is seriously loopy stuff, but not in the typical, outrageous way. The performers present themselves in rather stately fashion, it just happens that the instrumentation chosen, production values and in certain cases the performance itself are less than pristine. All those bits of grit and deviation amount to an odd piece of work.
Irene Moon is joined by Krysten Davis and Chantelle Dorsey on Beasts for While but no clues are given as to who's playing what, or what's being played. "Ruby in the Dust" has a procession-like quality to it. Two keyboards march forward in step with each other while an oscillator goes haywire. At least two of the performers chant the lyrics in unison, with each taking a different approach to "singing." One chooses a soft, melodic coo and other, with a deeper and huskier voice is practically speaking. A drum machine springs to life haphazardly in the second half of the track inspiring a speedy, crusty Casio solo.
"Dominated by Splendor" features a cyclical piano line via Moon and one of the other performers providing some Casio counterpoints. The lyrics, once again doubled, are sung in semi-ghoulish fashion with eerie bits of electronics hammering the message home. The folkloric lyrics about the autumn harvest end with the rather ominous passage of "The dark of night is passing away/But what is found in the blackness will stay/For autumn leaves fall from the greenest of trees/In the end finding only what you want to believe."
On the second side, "Haha" bounces along on a springy Casio tone, with the rhythm of a ticking clock. The Collection fill the track with impenetrable, cryptic lyrics like "Time well spent is time not lost/Time well spent is time forgot" and "Time in halves is time times two" which ultimately end in uproarious laughter and a wigged out oscillator. Whether they're laughing at themselves or at you remains unclear. "Neenawwww" follows the absurdity with a mellow instrumental. Sonically, its of the same ilk as the preceding songs but has a different feel minus the vocals. It's a little unexpected to end on an instrumental but it actually works well as transportation from the world of the Late Howell Bend back to reality. 
The Collection of the Late Howell Bend split this Shape is Nature/Long Fields LP with Rory Hinchey, head honcho of Ownness. To say the music contained on this full-sized LP to the 11" is a departure is an understatement. Putting it generally, this LP is 11 tracks of gorgeous chamber music. That said Irene Moon's signature chunky, piano-driven style is present on this record just as much if not moreso than Beasts for While but the dynamic and whole mentality behind the compositions is vastly different.
Hinchey's side is first and it's a pretty minimalist affair working with organ, wine glasses, electronics and tones. The first of six pieces, "Shape is Nature," unfolds over the quiet coo of wine glasses, Hinchey's reedy organ makes measured shifts between notes, making a gradual ascent. Not until the end of the track does a second organ (or Hinchey's second hand as the case may be) enter the picture to elaborate on the basic melody. Hinchey is joined by Alison Corbett on violin for "By Means of the Third" and "Objective (mk II)." "By Means of the Third" is incredibly exquisite. For being purely organ and violin the opening seconds are surprisingly lush. Both Hinchey and Corbett suspend long, lingering notes that play off each other just beautifully. The composition and arrangement is so simple yet it's lovely and rather stunning with a gentle, melancholic sensation; it may be the high point of the entire record.
The evil twin of "By Means of the Third," "Objective (mk II)" is much more atonal than its predecessor but its approach is otherwise very similar. Hinchey and Corbett sustain notes that just can't seem to get along, recalling the work of various 20th century composers, creating a field of agitation on the precipice of something dire. "All is as Nothing" lightens the mood a tad with a sprightly yet still lilting organ melody.
Hinchey delves back into uneasy territory with "The Listener." The piece juxtaposes two organ lines with electronic whine and splatter. Hinchey keeps the electronics on a short leash, preventing them from wreaking any havoc, but he still allows them to muss up the organ's hair a bit. The composition is pretty interesting, it'd be neat to see it arranged for a large ensemble. The finale "Thank You, Ahead of Time" uses the "tones" section of Hinchey's palette. He creates a slow procession of sustained electronic tones that take you to the end of the side.   
The Collection of the Late Howell Bend is in another trio format here, with Irene Moon on piano and Hinchey and Corbett joining her on organ and violin, respectively. The pieces were all composed for piano by Moon and Hinchey arranged them for the recording.
The brief opener "Flight of the Unsuspecting Lark" was an instant favorite. Based around a waltzing, gently dizzying melody the track is utterly beautiful. Making it all the more gorgeous is Corbett's multi-tracked violin work. "Dominated by Splendor" is starkly structured as well with a simple nearly percussive piano melody while the organ and violin provide subtle, supportive counterpoints. Hinchey uses Corbett wisely in his arrangements throughout the side and here she keeps a relatively low profile until the final minute or so when she's allowed to cut loose a little with more florid melodies.
"Hand in Question" is perhaps even more austere, moving at a slower tempo as well. The piano and violin double each other the majority of the time but diverge at significant moments, slowing growing apart through the duration of the piece.
"Pheasants be Forewarned" may top the opener as the centerpiece of the side. Moon's piano provides a propulsive, repetitive melody for Corbett's violin to play off of with syncopated, staccato notes--some of the finest moments of the record. Hinchey's organ all the while acts like a wallflower lingering in the background, laying the groundwork for the other two instruments' dance. 
"Long Fields" was originally released on a compilation via Pineapple Tapes, the defunct cassette division of Swill Radio, and is given a new lease on life with its inclusion here. Hinchey's organ is front and center here, while Moon's piano hammers bass notes on the far left side of her keyboard. The emphasis on the trudging piano and humming organ makes for a more stolid affair than the previous tracks that showcased the winding violin lines. This is such great stuff; somewhere between neo-classical chamber music and mood music for films a la the work of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
The Beasts for While 11" is on red vinyl and comes in a full-size jacket with some wild/grotesque artwork. The split LP looks much more stately and austere, with a no-nonsense sleeve and heavy black vinyl. Unfortunately the split is out of print (repress! repress!) but Beasts for While is still in print and available from Ownness.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lonberg-Holm, Zarzutzki Duo - Feminization of the Tassel [Peira]

Feminization of the Tassel is an absolutely stellar disc of free-improv from cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and no-output turntablist Aaron Zarzutzki. Released on Chicago's fascinating Peira label which appears predominantly focused on documenting local improvisational activity. What's most interesting to me about Peira, aside from the sounds themselves, is it's released only 13 records since 2007, practically unheard of for a CDr label. The label seems intent to exercise curatorial discretion which is the reason, at least in part, that they yield such great results like Feminization of the Tassel.
Lonberg-Holm's cello is predominantly in the left channel while Zarzutzki's turntable resides mainly in the right--at least I think that's the case. Even with this ostensible knowledge, I lose track at times which instrument is creating what sounds. Those staccato bowed notes? They must be coming from a cello, except they aren't.
Zarzutzki's turntable, which I was first introduced to via his sweet Psychophagi LP with Nick Hoffman, is an entity I still probably won't completely understand until I see it in action live (I have poked around youtube for clues) but my understanding/guess is that no vinyl records are used, I don't think there's a stylus either, but instead Zarzutzki generates sound through friction between the spinning plate and various objects. Pretty wild stuff. Perhaps even wilder, is Lonberg-Holm's cello, which I'm pretty sure is just a regular old cello--though at moments I think he's working with delay and may be using a pickup in addition to an external microphone. Either way, the spectrum of sounds he's able to pull out of the thing is pretty ridiculous.
Anyone who loves sounds (and the physics of sound) will find lots to love here. For this record just being a no-output turntable and cello, Lonberg-Holm and Zarzutzki come up with a hell of a lot of sounds. All manners of percussion, a stuck transmission, reeds and brass, woodshop class, tape-mulch, construction site, an oscillator and, oh yeah, occasionally a cello.
It's a pretty futile endeavor to try to capture music like this with language; I've wrestled with the task for a while and I'm still at a loss. Lonberg-Holm applies jazz vernacular occasionally and every so often you might get a brief baroque cello lick out of him while Zarzutzki's often working in a more "noise" context, grinding out abrasive, mechanical textures. The intersection on the ven diagram for the two is that each gets into free-percussion zones at various points. What's great about their collaboration is that you get a range of approaches to "free music" exchanged, well, freely and, more importantly, seamlessly.
In what is perhaps the centerpiece of the disc, the nearly 15 minute "The Spikelet Pair Meristem" the duo get almost into drone territory. A lengthy section of long, sustained tones and quiet crackle lull you into a surprisingly relaxing stasis before pulling the chair out from under you with fractured cello notes and klang. The control over their instruments exhibited by the duo is impressive and representative of the whole disc. What may sound random on first listen reveals itself to be anything but. Lonberg-Holm and Zarzutzki never sound short of ideas or of ways to execute them.
Totally great and definitely recommended. Hit up Peira for copies.

The shortest track is uploaded so you can get an idea of what the thing's like.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Electric Jellyfish - Trouble Coming Down [Twin Lakes]

It's always nice to receive a legit (pro-dubbed!) cassingle and this one's by the Melbourne, Australia trio Electric Jellyfish. This is my first time hearing the band although it looks like they dropped a tape on Ecstatic Yod back in 2008 so they've been in operation for a while.
I'll start this thing off by saying this if Touch & Go and Dischord had met halfway (where is that, eastern PA?) and fused back in the 90s, there's a pretty good shot Electric Jellyfish would have been on that label. Containing the minimalist, rhythm-section-focused viewpoint of, say, Shellac or mellow Jesus Lizard, as well as some of the spindly riffs (and also focus on the rhythm-section) and agitated shouts of various Dischord alums--they would have been the perfect signing.
"Trouble Coming Down" starts out with militant drumming and semi-loose guitar melodies. The track really gets moving once they start bashing their instruments a bit as the vocalist gives away to strong shouts full of fury and bluster, somewhere between Ian Mackaye and David Yow when he wasn't frothing at the mouth. Straight-up, no-nonsense power trio rock. No overdubs as far as I can hear. It sounds like being in the basement with the band.
While "Trouble Coming Down" is billed as the A-side, I think "Nothing" might be my preferred track. It's bass-driven, with some alternating guitar grappling and one-chord slashing. After the thumping of the first half, the second half of the track is a long come down of atmospheric guitar ruminations and the vocalist muttering "Nothing on the edge of town" over and over. Nice. The track reminds me a bit of Circus Lupus who always sounded like they were a few threads away from completely snapping. I like that in a band.
This tape is kinda cool cause these guys sound so much out of their time; if I had just bought this randomly in a record store not knowing anything about it I would have guessed this thing was like 15 years old.
Apparently the tape was recorded between dates during Electric Jellyfish's Australian tour last year and sold on their US tour this past spring but Twin Lakes alotted a limited percentage to be available post-tour. Tape can be grabbed here

Friday, July 13, 2012

German Army - Cattle Border [Clan Destine]

I am down with this German Army band. Still don't know anything about these guys other than they're from Southern California (I think) and that their music is awesome.
In a previous review I noted their similarity to Excepter on their Night People tape Papua Mass (one of my early favs of the year) while making the claim that these guys are doing it a little better than Excepter did/do. Well, the frontlines of the German Army continue to advance sounding a little like their last tape while also delving into the worlds of plunderphonics and hip-hop.
Cattle Border, a 5 song, double-A-side affair, kicks off with a banger. "Translate Person" sounds like a dub track slowed down so much that it becomes a nightmarish throb. A bass stomp and rim shot, both steeped in delay, trade hits giving their loping 1-2 rhythm some serious thump. Elsewhere, the vocalist feeds off the lethargy and the Army weave bits of ephemeral, practically evaporated keyboard flutters throughout the joint.
The next track, "Thorax Journalism" rolls on what's nearly a boom-bap loop, samples a really catchy "It's a Small World After All"-esque track that they must have jacked from the local Merry-Go-Round, then gets into some legit MF Doom-style "interlude" material. Nice!! Sick beats, a couple minor-chord strikes to cast an eerie glow, scatterbrained speech samples: I'm sold! "North Small Map" is a jam. It doubles the tempo of the previous tracks so much so one could almost describe it as pumpin'. There's some more sloshed samples, but the track's focus is more on the processed bits of percussion, keyboard webs and grooving drum machine.
The vocalist returns from his break backstage for "Bored Heart Strings." The track is the closest to an actual dub track on the tape but it still ain't all that close. German Army lets everything run a bit more loose here. The vocalist is even more unintelligible than usual. The drum loop grooves reliably but its overrun with lots of samples, keyboard parts and other echoing muck. The brief "Albanian Self-Portrait" closes up shop. Beginning with a slowed-down vocal sample that's rhythmic enough to practically work as a drum track. Then they introduce a sweet hip-hop sample (which I suspect may be the super slow one played at normal speed) and proceed to fuck around with it before pressing "stop."
The Night People tape is still my favorite from these guys but there's some really cool stuff on this one and the appear to be exploring new avenues while maintaining the same identity which is great to hear. Plus, it's always exciting to see some hip-hop collage stuff happening in the cassette underground. UK label Clan Destine dropped this so this is a perfect chance for those across the pond to get acquainted with the sounds of the German Army. If you can handle the grotesque artwork, that is. Hit up Clan Destine for copies.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sheer Agony - Sheer Agony [Fixture]/Femminielli/Araignee - Split [Fixture]

Received a pair of pretty stellar 7inches from Montreal's Fixture Records, the day before our nation's birthday--incidentally my birthday--and I've listened countless times since. It's always a treat to get a couple 7inches in the mail, particularly when they're as good as these guys.
With a name and a cover like that I don't blame you for thinking Sheer Agony is a hardcore band, the truth is though, they act tougher than they really are.
Delivering four songs in nine minutes, this is a damn fine pop record through and through. The touchstones for each song are easy to pinpoint; yet Sheer Agony subvert their reference points just enough to sound like themselves and not their predecessors.
I'm pretty confident that if the average listener heard "Pet Crow" on the radio, he or she would think it was The Shins. The bouncy bassline and acoustic guitar jangle, even a bit of shaker action, and guitarist/vocalist Jackson MacIntosh's uncanny resemblance to James Mercer's voice on the track. And while it often sounds like the best of The Shins' material, Sheer Agony throw a wrench in the machine at the bridge. The unnerving breakdown at the end of every verse and chorus undermines the sunshine incarnate of the rest of the track. Then they break into a really nice, proper bridge of minor key guitar psychedelia. One of the best things about this record is it's packed with great melodies without actually drawing attention to the fact that it's packed with great melodies.
While hints of (early) Of Montreal's modern psych-pop shenanigans are present in "Pet Crow" they become more clear in "She's an Artist." The vibrato-laden guitar leads the charge with some pretty wild psychedelic bubblegum backing vocals making an appearance at the chorus. The vibe I'm getting is a bit of a 90s college rock feel applied to the bedroom psych palette--or maybe it's the opposite. Either way, the rhythm section thumps to a close, while MacIntosh multi-tracks a tangle of equally catchy guitar lines before the endgroove.
My favorite track shows up on the second side: "Good Cats Go to Heaven" a Ramones-aping power pop number a la Nobunny and other like minded folks. Straight-up ear crack. I can't figure out what the song's about, animals figure in as you'd imagine but so does "Szechuan" (?) Szechuan what, I cannot say. True to form, the band flips the script with an awesome bombastic bridge that must have been yanked from abandoned space rock tune they were working on.
The closer "Claptrap" sounds like a compressed Television tune i.e. no guitar solos. Angular guitar cuts, bass-provided melodic flourishes, snare rim rattle, jangling arpeggios, a little subtle guitar feedback are all present elements making for a solid track, though probably the least spectacular of the four.
The fact the band recorded this record themselves and mixed it (along with Peter Woodford) is pretty crazy to me because this thing sounds perfect. There's so much going on at any given moment and it all sounds clear as day while maintaining that unmistakable home-recorded vibe. Really a hell of a job.
Now when I used the word "stellar" in the intro I really meant it talking about this spaced-out faux-split 7inch. I'm still not totally clear on the difference between Femminielli and Araignee, maybe the confusion is supposed to add to the trippy effect. Both are projects of Bernardino Femminielli, both make their bread on synths and drum machines, and both indulge in galactic vibes.
There are a lot of words one could use to describe this record: lush, cosmic, hypnotic etc. But none of those will give you a complete picture of what it sounds like.
The Femminielli side contains the track "Chauffeur" and it's simple but potent. It's more or less a power ballad when you get down to it, built upon the ever-reliable chug of a drum machine, ethereal synth chords and a spine-tingling synth-melody reminiscent of Halloween that establishes itself a 1/3 of the way in. Add in Femminielli's whispery, non-English vocals and the whole thing has a vibe of an unearthed European private press single from the early 80s. Not only does Femminielli limit the amount of elements in his track, after he's finished introducing them within the first minute, they stay constant. The track works like a piece of mood music, sustaining a single atmosphere over its duration. What that mood is is a little trickier to pin down. A bed of synths, a repetitive drum track, this stuff is trance-inducing but not necessarily in the euphoric sense; there's an underlying tone of creepiness like someone might have spiked your drink. This sounds like being up at 3:00am in unfamiliar surroundings. Seriously perplexing for what's ultimately a pop song at its core.
On the second side is where Araignee's track "Silvia" resides. This track has a similar sound to the previous side if a little more spacious. Where it departs, is the overall vibe which is rather romantic actually. This sounds kinda like Air but with the underground's obsession with vintage synth-ephemera. There's a pretty little keyboard solo and everything. Femminielli's arrangement is more varied here, moving between the minimal verses and the lustrous veneer of the chorus while peppering a few flourishes throughout the track. However, despite the lovey dovey stuff in the preceding minutes, the unsettling climax lets you know that Araignee resides in the world of Femminielli and not the other way around.
Both of these have been getting a lot of airplay here at the AuxOut HQ since their arrival, with Sheer Agony getting the edge. That could be because the sun is out here in Seattle for the first time since, I don't know, last September. It comes down to Sheer Agony's nervous energy versus Femminielli's and Araignee's sedation and depends on if I'm in the mood for uppers or downers. In either case, I'm in good hands.
Visit Fixture for copies.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Story of Rats - Thought Forms [Eiderdown]

Eiderdown Records debuted, this, its first LP last year and did a damn fine job at that. The label was started by Adam Svenson (who plays in Dull Knife, Little Claw and solo as Karnak Temples)--who previously ran a tape label out of Iowa City in the 90s called Squirrel Energy Now! which put out cassettes by Charlie McAlister among others--in order to realize his lifelong dream of putting out vinyl records. The LP is a perfect encapsulation of the "heavy mellow" sound that Svenson and Garek Druss a.k.a. A Story of Rats have been peddling around Seattle for several years now.
If you thought Svenson was active, take a gander at Druss's resume. He's played in Dull Knife, Ear Venom, Tecumseh, Pussygutt, Wolvserpent, Du Hexen Hase, This Blinding Light and another band with Teeth in the name that escapes me now (Heavy Teeth?) And those are just the ones off the top of my head. Dude gets around. But a constant through all those is Druss's A Story of Rats project which typically captures the sounds of him playing in his psychedelic teepee all by himself. On this, A Story of Rats's vinyl debut, Druss gets by with a little help from friends handling voice, electronics, synthesizers and bass himself with additional help on voice, guitar and auxiliary synth between the two sides.
Thought Forms features two sidelong pieces, unsurprisingly, one titled "Thought" and the other "Forms." And the two titles actually mean something too. The highly minimalist endeavor of "Thought" indeed sounds like a cavernous cranial cavity. The piece is a series of abstract gestures happening in a dank existence. It's amorphous but present; its emptiness is vast and dense. The flickering of lights in a deep, dark place. Yet, it doesn't feel oppressive, only barren; the void on wax. You're hearing more than you probably realize.
While "Thought" is practically a work of anti-form, true to its name, "Forms" is just the opposite. Without departing the atmosphere birthed so thoroughly on the previous side, Druss establishes an absolutely wonderful if often subtle keyboard melody that moves through the piece, revealing itself at different depths. Density continues, but "Forms's" foundation is based upon mythic beauty rather than the big empty. The elements are somewhat discernible: voices ring with hollow tones, modest invocations of guitar and electronics are all around you if you listen. The hypnotic keyboard melody is the center of the universe. You could break down each sound but why undermine this smoked-out world that Druss creates. This is the ascendence to heaven from the purgatory of the first side. Fantastically engaging, terribly mysterious but never completely outside the realm of danger.
"Thought" sets the mood, but it's "Forms" that seals the deal.
The record looks awesome, featuring black and gold screenprinting on the covers and insert of Druss's "pen/paper" work. The vinyl itself is this smokey, bluish marble grey color and looks top of the line. Svenson pulled no punches on his first outing, and with a pair of sweet-looking tapes just released, he's showing no signs of slowing either. Drone hounds take note. The LP can be nabbed from Eiderdown or here

Saturday, June 30, 2012

In Brief #1: Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself

I'm starting a new thing here on AuxOut where I'll write "brief-er" reviews of a group of releases. This is basically coming out of necessity due to (free) time constraints. There's so much great music on my shelf waiting to be reviewed and it seems silly to not write about it just because I don't have the time to write pages about it. I have a hard time keeping reviews short (as any faithful reader knows) but perhaps outside circumstances will provide some motivation in that area.
Something being included here doesn't mean I view it differently than something that I write a regular ol' long-ass review about. I may end up writing about shorter releases here because they ostensibly don't provide as much "material" to review, I may end up reviewing all the c90s I get here because I definitely don't have time to do a minute by minute breakdown of one of those beasts and a shorter "here's the jist"-style review may work better, I may end up doing "themed" groupings, I may end up writing about things that I got forever ago and for one reason or another never finished a review. I'm not making rules (nor promises) so I really don't know.
I don't know how often I'll write these things either. Could be in waves, could be quarterly--once again I'm making no rules.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I have some fine releases to espouse upon:
Bret Schneider - Model of a Garden Scene With Watering Can [Avant Archive]
Totally balls out computer music tape from Milwaukee's Avant Archive label. I admit I can be a little apprehensive when I hear that something's made on a computer, lots of great music has been made with computers, sure, but enough of the time computer-made music ends up sounding flat and soulless causing me to be wary. That is not the case with Bret Schneider's tape Model of a Garden Scene With Watering Can; this shit is fucking bonkers. Bustling through 11 tracks in almost an hour this thing is filled to the brim with stereo-panning madness, swooshes, beeps, pricks, bonks, hums, whirs, squelches, bumps, thumps, scrapes, clangs and crackles--I know I'm forgetting a least a few more.
Schneider's tenacity with his 1's and 0's is akin to the worlds of blustering percussive, electric and breath-fueled free improvisation as well as modular synthesizer brain splatter, as well as, the more "out" noise and tape-mulch crews. As a matter of fact, this is the kind of synthetic madness I could see coming from the local Gift Tapes/DRAFT Records axis.
Totally and continually unpredictable; once again, allow me to stress that this shit IS FUCKING BONKERS!
This is one of my favorite tapes yet from Avant Archive and it's still readily available so check the mofo out

Bad Trip - Beat is Murder [House of Alchemy]
I love it when House of Alchemy dips into the avant-free-improv realms. This Beat is Murder cassette, along with a sweet solo-percussion tape by Chris Dadge (which I will finally get reviewed one of these days,) are probably my favorites I've heard from the label. (That Amber Lions 3" from forever ago is pretty sweet too.) Bad Trip is the duo of Pascal Nichols (Part Wild Horses Mane on Both Sides) and Julien Dupont (who may or may not be this guy.)
The first track "Sharpennec" is still my favorite. No instruments are listed but it sounds to me like percussion and oboe (or perhaps more likely clarinet.) There's also a degree of electronic and/or tape manipulation of the instruments as well. More dance than a duel. The two instruments have a ball wiggin' out with each other in an unusually groovy slab of musical freedom. The two instruments also tangle in echoey amplification, more minimally and in extended fashion, on "Xuaett." Is that a violin and guitar I hear as well?
Other tracks feature various configuration of percussion, reeds, whistle/recorder and guitar. Bad Trip mostly explores dank textures rather than the free-jazz-inspired rave-ups/blow-outs you might expect from a percussion/reed duo. They develop a moist atmosphere without relinquishing the loose live-jam feel, a difficult feat.
My girlfriend even said this is a "cool tape!" Nab it if you can find it.
Sold out naturally but you can still grab that Dadge tape at House of Alchemy. Hit the distros if yr in search of a Bad Trip. Sweet art by Faye Coral Johnson too.

Napoleon Blownaparte - November and March [Green Tape]
Another crew (sounds like a duo to me) peddling lo-fi junk-prov is Napoleon Blownaparte, who I hadn't heard until this disc. Transmitted by the reliably mysterious entity of Green Tape. The Blownapartes seem to have everything but the kitchen sink at their disposal--scratch that, the kitchen sink too. Primitive percussion rhythms are often the feature but there's wobbly guitar, asthmatic reeds, organ/keyboard/electronics/something-that's-plugged-into-the-wall that all make appearances. The packaging has practically no info but the artist and title (and that it was recorded in '06 and '07) so I'm just spitballing here. Unlike a lot of these processions Napoleon is relentlessly mellow. No ear-burning bleats and crashes, actually the sounds aren't even that "free." There's pretty much always a melodic and/or rhymthic base in each track from which the players deviate and carve their own paths for expedient travel. If a beat seems to be getting too militant they stop the tape and start anew. The sixth track wiggles to an infectious little melody from a keyboard (or possibly a whistle of some kind)--hit single, these boys are going places. Ditto on the grooving wheeze of the eighth track.
A little amorphous as a whole but it's a fun listen for those of us into junk-grooves.
The CD-r is still available from the source

Dementia and Hope Trails - Ethereal Hurt [Dynamo! Sound]
Dementia and Hope Trails is Justin Marc Lloyd (Pregnant Spore, et. al.; the Rainbow Bridge label) doin' his thing on guitar. The most prolific and noisiest dudes gotta drop a pretty 20-minute tape of guitar glistening once in a while or risk losing their cred and, this sir or madam, is Lloyd's.
Ethereal Hurt is as much an apt description as it is an album title. The cassette gives off gently melancholy, head-in-the-cloud vibes sounding probably a lot more like a neo-new age synth tape than most solo-guitar tapes. The texture is ultra-lush, not a trace of a string being hit the entire 20 minutes. I know the six-string is probably heavily processed (this is a noise dude we're talking about here) but Lloyd has to be pulling some major e-bow shenigans because the smoothness of the tones is pretty unreal. The second side has a slight edge but really sounds no more like a guitar than its preceding side. If Lloyd had cranked it up to 11 he'd have had some Hototogisu (am I the only one who misses those guys?) scorched-earth guitar-led manslaughter/euphoria on his hands. Nice.
Hit up Dynamo! Sound Collective for a copy

Talk West - To Hope is to Hanker [Avant Archive]
It seems as good a way as any to bookend this post with another tape from Avant Archive.
Talk West is Dylan Golden Aycock and his weapon of choice is pedal steel guitar. This particular tape, To Hope is to Hanker, was apparently recorded in an abandoned warehouse--where are all these "abandoned" warehouses and factories that everyone gets to record in? I've never seen one! (ignore my jealousy.)
There's not a whole lot of pedal steel players out there so it's always fun to get one on tape. Aycock builds his compositions based on loops of pedal steel; although his compositions range from the shimmer of "Boxcar Billow" to the agitated signal manipulation of "Unseen Weights." "Grace the Humble Stumble" is the strongest piece on the first side as Aycock creates cascading pedal steel phrases and layers them into a lilting, cyclical piece.
However, the second side is really where it's at. "Buddha TV" is pretty beautiful, providing an array of chiming clusters of notes. "Soften" is a little looser in concept, Aycock allows it to stretch its limbs a bit. Aycock comes up with a wider spectrum of sounds to work with than some of the previous tracks, intermingling recognizable "pedal steel" tones with some that are perhaps a little less recognizable. He treats you to all these disparate strands, coexisting but not quite connecting, and then, boom, all of a sudden, things coalesce and make total sense. Really, really great track, certainly the finest of the album. "Holed Honey Shade Tree" is a perfect closer, a simple, elegant piece of mild melancholia.
There's a lot to like here and the tape looks excellent as is always the case with AA.
You can grab this from Avant Archive