Monday, May 21, 2012

Parashi - Zone of Alienation [Kendra Steiner Editions]

Zone of Alienation is a tasty 3" morsel of Mike Griffin's Parashi project. The title refers to the zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant--which is suddenly back in vogue--and it indeed does a good job of evoking (what I imagine to be) characteristics of such a place: namely isolation and decay.
No instrumentation is listed in the liners so I'm not sure what's in play but it sounds like at least one if not all three of Griffin's weapons of choice are present: electronics, synth and guitar. Griffin traffics heavily in blips, whirs and buzzes, turning the above-mentioned instruments into cranky mechanizations. The signature of the Parashi project is the controlled production of sound and the resulting aural negative space. After flickering to life, "Corrach" sounds practically like a sped-up field recording of soothing forest rains. Filtered electronic blips drip all over, dampening everything, making the feedback tones quite irritable. They groan, bicker and hack up a collective lung.
"Tauride" is much more subtle and ominous. It shudders and throbs along with the occasional feedback whine locking into a slo-mo groove. It feels like being a night watchmen in an empty factory slowly realizing all the rhythms around you, sitting in near silence but noticing the unheralded spectrum of sound currently in operation. All the drips, scurries and clanks amounting to a miniature symphony.
"Kameraden" has almost a vocal-like wail; injecting a degree of emotion in a barren landscape of electronics. The tones are foraging for survival. The track repeatedly chugs and resides, alternately--throbbing with tremors one moment and sighing with exhaustion the next. Griffin imbues the track with great forward motion which he eventually destroys by setting his signal chain on fire.  
Short, sweet, to the point: the beauty of the 3" CD-r is readily apparent and appreciated with this release.
Gone from the label but perhaps Griffin himself still has copies

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Apophallation - Verzameling Van Audio Om Kennis te Maken of Omdat je het op Cassette Wilt [Psychotronika]

Do you know what apophallation is? What kind of person would go by that moniker? A total weirdo from the Netherlands, that's who. I'm sure Jeroen de Graaf is a very nice person... actually I'm not so sure because this tape sounds like it was made by a deranged maniac.
Verzameling Van Audio Om Kennis te Maken of Omdat je het op Cassette Wilt (Google translation: "Collection Of Audio To discover or because you want to Cassette") collects six tracks from four different releases. And this stuff is nasty. Super loud, white-hot split-second tape-splice, trainwreck at 800bpm-style. That's probably a bit reductive to say as the tape is much more dynamic than that description makes it seem. Between the static squalls,  there's a couple beats here, a few pauses, maybe a lull or two, blown-out field recordings and a few seconds of room-mic'd sounds rather than all-levels-in-the-red direct current violence.
Honestly, I'm surprised this is a compilation and as it feels like one coherent piece of savagery. I'm assuming de Graaf went about refashioning the tracks a little to get this effect, just like he made sure the dub was loud and filthy--perhaps the most crucial element for this sort of thing. The sensations of speed and force this tape generates are just ridiculous. I feel like my ears are getting pinned back, maybe it's just the headphones but I'm not so sure...
The tape isn't that long and I think that's one of its strengths. You jump in, get battered to a pulp on this inherently unsafe roller coaster ride and de-train a little dizzy and exhausted but thoroughly exhilarated. Life's harsh and I'm lovin' it.
The flipside features some slightly warbly Dutch folk-pop dug up at a flea market. It's as good a way as any to decompress after the blistering rocket ride on the A-side.
Not sure how many copies of this there are or if it's even commercially available. Good luck I guess. Check the Apophallation website for clues.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ithi - Within [Land of Decay]

I literally knew nothing about this band or what the tape would sound like before I put it in. And the antelopes or whatever they are weren't giving me any clear intimations either. I generally try not to read reviews or label blurbs of something if I think I'll be reviewing it; still though, it's not often that I walk in with no expectations and the feeling is oh so sweet when the sounds I'm met with are really, really good. That's the case here with this Ithi cassette.
Ithi is a duo of Joshua Convey and Luke Kranker (Servile Sect) and their intoxicating concoction is hard to adequately explain. Their attack is mechanized but not industrial, it feels heavy but I wouldn't describe it as anything close to metal, it's absolutely smothered in thick blankets of feedback, and mesmerizing ones at that, yet I would not bring shoegaze into this conversation. Also, this is, if I may say so, even kind of catchy. And, oh yeah, this tape has a Nico cover.
The opener "Go Forth and Die" is awesome! It's a little eerie and fully hypnotic. With a 4-note organ melody grinding away, programmed bass and drum tracks providing all the necessary thumps and a hearty groove, add buried vocals and Ithi has established a potent nucleus right off the bat. They haven't even introduced my favorite parts, the counter melodies (via guitar and keyboard I think) that crop up in the second half of the track. Neither of these new melodies do anything to ease the unsettling vibes yet are strangely hum-able. Who'd of thought discomfort could be this inviting?
"Go Forth" segues seamlessly into "Roses in the Snow" which some of you may have heard on Nico's The Marble Index. Ithi attacks the song from the opposite direction Nico did. Calling it a cover, as I did above, is a little inaccurate as this is more of a re-imagining of the entire track. While the original version is unnervingly sparse, Kranker and Convey slowly build an enormously dense forest of sounds here, and this is way before they even introduce the signature organ line and vocals. This thing is so gloriously massive and looming, it broods in a way that probably would have blown poor Nico's mind. As the melodic elements take a firmer foothold, the track simultaneously grows louder, noisier, thicker. The depth of sound the duo create here is pretty staggering. Can't get enough.
The flipside is a single track "SomeWHere." With a heartbeat of a deep bass throb outlining the frame, Kranker and Convey coat the jam in snowy feedback, making for a smoggy and positively suffocating environment. When the track reaches it's pinnacle of volume (both in terms of loudness and density) I expect the tape to simply snap under the weight. There's somewhat of a respite near the end where a strummed bass is heard relatively clearly before another feedback avalanche is hailed. It's a nice piece, perfectly fine on its own terms, but I find Ithi's application of immense textures to melodically-impelled compositions present on the first side to be the most interesting.
I think this tape may already be sold out at Land of Decay--that didn't take long!--so let the great google search begin. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Caethua/Shep and Me - Wrecks & Rescues/Tube-Mind [Lighten Up Sounds]

This LP from Lighten Up Sounds is a reissue of a split tape originally released by the label back in 2008. I never heard the tape but apparently it didn't sound especially great and this thick ass slab of 180gram vinyl rectifies the situation. This thing does sound perfect, it even comes in one of those plastic, anti-static inner sleeves (come on people let's bring those back! I love those things...)
Clare Hubbard's Caethua project occupies the first side and after her excellent showing for Goaty Tapes a while back I always expect good things out of her. Her work here doesn't disappoint.
Hubbard's side is called "Wrecks & Rescues." She's not yet done with the titles as the side is laid out as two parts, "Part 1: In the wake of March Where we begin the ends" and "Part 2: In un-muscled land Where we and the sea begins," with each part containing two songs which also have their own titles.
"Burnt Out Snow on the Side of the Road" is a really great, nimble piece of home-recorded folk music. Field recordings of swamps and forests burble underneath as Hubbard spins an adept and quite catchy web of a melody with her voice and acoustic guitar. A simple descending melody is doubled on guitar and a mellow reed-instrument (sax I believe) amidst the clang of finger cymbals. The track is deceptively simple, the arrangement always seems more lush that it actually is because Hubbard's melodic stylings are doing the heavy lifting. When she hits the beautiful lilting bridge, I'm sold. The record's already a keeper.
The tracks never leave off in silence, the field recordings continue between songs and are sometimes joined by slowly unfolding instrumental passages and even a little oscillator and junk percussion. "The City, an Ancient Open Sore" rambles along on the strums of an acoustic guitar, slightly out of tune for added flavor. While the guitarwork is more shabby here than the previous track, Hubbard's vocals are crisp as can be and lead the charge admirably. Hubbard's intonations remind me a bit of Joanna Newsom's but significantly less eccentric; her voice is quite pleasant to these ears.
"Left Naked by the Tide" comes off like a much gentler Shadow Ring. Repetitive chunky guitar stomps along in semi-atonal stupor debating with Hubbard's soft vocals. Hubbard breaks out the old piano for the sparse and sullen closer, "Our Mutinous Minds" and it's a thoroughly gorgeous piece of music. With Hubbard's lovely voice and stark piano hits contrasting with the rustling and occasional chatter of the field recordings. It's a particularly elegant way to end such a great, overarching work.
This record was my first experience with Shep and Me, the duo of Matthew Himes and H. Caleb Gamble, and I had little idea of what to expect. When I saw the first song was titled "A Poem by Jim Thompson" and was adapted from South of Heaven, I was already hooked. A high-pitched, idiosyncratic drawl leaps from the grooves with subtle backing from a purring waveform oscillator and guitar jangling halfway between hangdog and jaunty. Of course, the lyrics are great as Thompson's a fantastic writer but Himes and Gamble do a great job bringing life to the words. After the mournful ballad, a pick-me-up is in store. Fitting the bill nicely is "Downbound" a sprightly instrumental (unless you count infectious whistling as vocals) featuring dual acoustic guitars (one nylon, one steel) and thumping percussion. Speaking of whistling, "Leaves on the Breeze" features a couple of charming whistle solos. "Breeze" is a really well-written song, very classic but not without a certain complexity and oddness to it. That statement is really true of Shep and Me's side as a whole--the duo's music is prototypical yet unmistakable. "Like a Dog" matches the Caethua side with tapes of barking dogs embedded deep in the song's canvas. It's a lonesome song and couched perfectly in the dog's incessant barking and desperate need for attention. The final track, "Over and Over," introduces a muted rhythm generator and distorted lap steel, shifting the dynamic a little more toward the primal and agitated. The blurry, buzzing lap steel feels really wonderful after a relatively quiet and tastefully unadorned record, both sides included. All in all, "Tube-Mind" is a particularly great and eccentric side of minor chord ballads.
Like the Century Plants/Locrian LP I recently reviewed, these two sides are perfect companions. Each side works beautifully as a stand-alone recording yet their presence on the same object complements one another superbly.
I've had this record for a while now and listened to it many, many times and it somehow continues to become more dear to me each time the needle drops. Lighten Up Sounds obviously has a lot of faith in this record, as it well should, considering they've put such a nice package together and pressed 500 copies. They're selling them for $15 postpaid in the US which sounds fair to me. Really great record, if you missed the tape then here's your second chance, don't let this pass you by again.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Day Creep - Death Bell Chimes [Snow Clone]

In case you don't know, Day Creep is Aaron Troyer out of Columbus, OH who also plays in Outer Spacist with fellow Columbus punks Night of Pleasure. When Troyer feels like day creepin', and isn't fronting his band Day Creeper, he heads down to his basement and morphs into Day Creep, Incredible Hulk-style. I don't have tons of knowledge about the project but my understanding is Troyer writes and records everything himself, plays all the instruments etc. This is noteworthy because the tape does not sound like a "bedroom" project. It actually sounds like a real-life rock band. Props.
Death Bell Chimes is a crisp set of pop tunes. Getting the blood pumping right off the bat, the guitars on "Dive into the Ground" are bright and fizzy with a hint of jangle drawing on all the great power poppers spanning the decades. Kinks, a little Big Star, maybe some New Zealander stuff, 70s punk, 90s lo-fi pop, you get the idea. This guy is well-read when it comes to pop song-structures and has an incredibly firm grasp on his own songs. Troyer weaves seamlessly between tempos, verses, choruses, pre-choruses, bridges, codas, you name it. "Virgin Desolation" rolls along on a bed of lush keyboards, adding a bit of drama, shooting for semi-power ballad mode. There's a great, sprightly power pop riff in the bridge that pops up a couple times... oh man, do I love that part.
"Mr. Baker" is the highlight in my mind. It has perhaps a little more muscle to go with a slew of catchy melodies. By the end of the song they've all wormed their way inside my brain. It pumps along like a well-oiled machine, tambourine and all, and a pair of dueling guitar leads rip it up in the middle. Nice.
"What You're Told" really goes for that early 90s college rock jangle with nostalgic lyrics about "skipping out of school" and not doing what you're told. "Ice-Nine" (Cat's Cradle in the house!) is a great little synth/drum machine interlude. Kinda wished it had been developed into a full fledged song; it's a catchy son of a bitch. "Do You Know What I Mean?" has a great strut about it--though it manages to strut while it lopes, a unique feat. That's one of the interesting characteristics of the tape; Troyer exhibits lots of patience, never rushing tempos, or anything else.
"Delusional at Best" is a wonderfully lilting ballad to go out on. There's a touch of James Taylor which I definitely didn't see some coming but I dig it. Acoustic guitar and voice right up front with some odd reversed drums and electronic washes framing the song. Really nice track even though it dumps you abruptly into silence at the end.
Not sure if the thing is still available or not but inquiring to the label is worth a shot.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Century Plants/Locrian - Dissolvers [Tape Drift]

I'm a real heel as I've been sitting on this stellar split LP for a while. But there's no better time than now to rectify past ills.
This record is such a perfect pairing. Tape Drift mainman Eric Hardiman performed his A&R role immaculately here. Century Plants, a guitar-based duo of Hardiman (Rambutan) and Ray Hare (Fossils from the Sun) and Chicago's Locrian, a duo of Andre Foisy and Terence Hannum joined here by Jeremy Lemos, don't sound the same; each side of the record has distinct features. Yet, Dissolvers almost feels like an album. It feels like two sets of minds providing their respective versions of a shared concept. That concept is dynamic, restrained and more than a little on the dark side.
Century Plants draw first blood. "Fading Out" lives its first minute in near silence with quiet humming tones making promises of solemn vibes to come. They move forward with one guitar exuding abstract hisses and crashes while another plays a surprisingly, dare I say it, normal part. Ray drops in a Suicide-esque vocal exhalation in the sea of whirring, occasionally scraping frequencies and sparse guitar notes. It happens subtly but near the end of the piece the mix is noticeably denser and a pretty little guitar part nestles in over top. By the end "Fading Out" achieves a well-earned stasis which is unusually calming with a darker palette such as this.
"Delirium's" long drones are met with warbly squelch and a few tastefully wahwah'd phrases. Ray and Eric keep things pretty close to the vest until the second half. A buzzing guitar carpets the track in static while a second guitar provides a perfect melodic counterpoint. Ray's sporadic grunts provide only fleeting release in the simmering substratum of guitar and electronics. This section is probably the highest point of the side as its full of activity, full of potential energy but comes off as tense yet utterly fastidious and ultimately penetrating.
Flipping the record over...
With "On a Calcified Shore" Locrian tickles you with a sine tone before slipping into some of that signature controlled feedback, unfurling a patient two-note melody. Lower frequencies bristle underneath while Andre Foisy's guitar delivers echoing squawks. The whole piece sounds as if it's teetering on the edge. I think it's Terence Hannum's organ that develops a simple, elegant melody in the second half, anchoring the careful layers of Foisy's guitar feedback. Mellow oscillations putter around amongst the tones leading to an elegiac snuffing of the candle.
The intro to "Omega Vapors" never fails to shiver my spine each time I hear it. There is something special about the consonant, stepping organ melody. The tones feel like their walking delicately down my back. It's the strangest sensation and incredibly captivating. Foisy brings forth skittering, delay-riddled guitar notes which provide as much of a rhythmic drive as a melodic one. Near the end of the piece Locrian is as close to catharsis as they get on their side with a mildly violent guitar tantrum. Ever so gradually "Omega Vapors" grinds to a halt on deep synth drones.
This is some vintage Locrian stuff and among their most controlled and spacious. They introduce only a handful of elements each track, but each is perfectly placed and deliciously potent. There for you to ingest.
Couple the sounds with well-thought out, classy packaging and you've got yourself a slowburner of the highest order. Currently still in print at the label but may not be for long.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Rale - Some Kissed Charms That Would Not Protect Them [Isounderscore]

I wrote a little bit about this thoroughly awesome and devastating Rale record when I got it last summer and then I sort of disappeared from the internet for awhile. Hopefully, I've learned some really heartwarming and enlightening life lessons since then which will allow me to elucidate the values of this LP in mindblowing fashion. Yeah... Well, I'll give it my best shot anyway.
From the opening moments, Some Kissed Charms That Would Not Protect Them feels epic. It feels big. Not expansive but created with diamond-hard focus.
The first movement of sorts features 30 seconds of what feels like pure sound. It feels like an object, something that is in physical existence. It's ominous and captivating and shortly recedes back into silence. After a period, Bill Hutson brings the sound back before it once again dissipates into silence, giving the LP its own breathing pattern. The next movement leads into a slightly more airy, if no less dread-inducing, environment. There's a gentle hum and whispers of acoustic sounds before a mammoth full-bodied drone rises and crests consuming everything around it like an aural black hole. It relinquishes control briefly before subsuming its surroundings once more. Some classic Rale crackle bubbles to the top fighting to survive the monolithic swells.
This record makes me think of space. Not the kitsch, retro-future, "let's see the laser light show at the planetarium" space. Actual fucking space. Endless lightyears of non-existence. An infinite vacuum of nothing.
This is mood-altering; this is oppressive.
The second side dives right in, pulling no punches. With the initial crescendo I feel like a spaceship entering a new, unkind atmosphere feeling sheet metal being peeled and ripped away layer by layer. The sounds exist in an area of uncertainty. Unsure when they may be grappled with, usurped or disappear completely. The second side provides more stability than the first, with Hutson choosing to expand and remold sounds rather than vanquish them to begin anew as he does throughout the first side. When the album reaches it's apex, he eloquently constructs a passage of subtle but desperately inviting beauty crowning it ultimately with the thorny crackle of dying circuits. 
The final moments of Some Kissed Charms That Would Not Protect Them capture the point when you've finally reached the sun, disintegrated, descended into hell with no option of redemption.
This is among the most complex works of drone I've ever heard and it's a true masterpiece. This record will reach deep inside and intoxicate you if you let it. If you commit yourself, listening to this can be a ravaging emotional experience.
The LP is housed in an absolutely gorgeous jacket (the image doesn't begin to do it justice) by Brandon Nickell; it's the total package. Only 30 copies left from the label. Don't sleep on this, the time is now my friends.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Brown Cloud - Sax by Candlelight [Debacle]/Zac Nelson - The Same Hypnotic Point [Debacle]

Debacle Fest came and went pretty awesomely last weekend and featured some surprisingly good weather as well as killer performances by Matt Carlson, Pulse Emitter, Karnak Temples and Brother Raven among many others. In the wake of said fest, I bring two members of the Debacle family who unfortunately did not play last weekend.
While the title and artwork gives the impression you're getting some kind of Sexy Sax Man soft-jazz goof-off, Brown Cloud is a trio of sax/synth, guitar and drums and they sound pretty serious. Sax by Candlelight is comprised of two 25ish minute improvisations, the first of which, "Hard Jack," is all drone baby. Well for a good while anyway. The track evolves slowly and about halfway through the drum kit comes to life whipping out some free drum solos against brooding guitar and keys. Things get pretty loud at the peak setting up for a slow wind down. The drummer's still goin' at it hardcore too while the other members are dropping in bent harmonics and controlled feedback until ultimately ending as quietly as the track began.
The second track, "Sewerface" is my favorite between the two. Beginning with lots of silence, scattered percussive hits, saxophonic whines here and there. About 5 or 6 minutes in, things start clanging. The sax and drums duke it out while the guitar provides the dramatic lighting. All the pent-up rage builds and builds, the guitar unleashes some brown thunderclouds and the drummer has another one of his awesome free jazz fits. It's a pretty epic noise-rock-jazz-styled piece of improv up to that point and then the drummer, who I might as well identify by name, Chris Icasiano,  sets the whole thing up to launch into the stratosphere. He pounds out the same regimented, decidedly unjazzy rhythm over and over by himself for a few minutes and then his bandmates slowly unfurl a poison cloud of drones and electronic squelch all the while Mr. Icasiano is crushing his kit. The dude doesn't stop. It's the presence of the militaristic drums that ignites the volatile mixture of guitar and electronics. The dude does not stop. Chris Icasiano you are a fucking champ. This is awesome.
I'd been wanting to hear this Zac Nelson guy for awhile. He's got a nice pedigree with a couple things on Weird Forest, Bathetic and Field Hymns.
The Same Hypnotic Point is a perfect title for this record as whether it's with the round, airy drones of "Grown Home" or the layered, circular clatter of "Love Me with a Body You Respect" Nelson commands your attention. The latter lasts nearly 18 minutes and may be the best track on the album. The first part is overwhelmingly constructed out of clattering percussive loops with occasional multi-tracked vocals. Near the midway point all the whizbang percussion theatrics are gradually usurped by waves of glistening keys. It's ethereal and dramatic and oh so fantastic. Even my girlfriend digs it. The other competitor for favorite track status is "Blue Jack.." Talk about flippin' the script, "Blue Jack" is an abstract dance floor throbber with uncredited female vocals. The track vacillates between steady groovin' and arrhymthic drum machine freakouts. Nelson shifts things up into a more placid, leisurely section before cranking the beat confounding back up again. Then he flips it back to more consonant vibes and then... Never sitting still, constantly evolving; the track never lets you settle in but manages to entice you to chase it. Wild track. "Ecaepekaf" ("fakepeace" backwards in case you didn't catch it) really mellows things out. Thick washes of synth and sparse acoustic plucks create quite a beautiful field of sound. "Holidaze" rattles vivaciously embedded in broad swaths of keyboards while the closer "Lumps of Leaves" layers stereo-panned acoustic guitars on each other while filling in the cracks with more keyboards and the gentle jangle of chimes. This is a neat little record with a great vibe; it's the perfect thing to put on and chill to. Zac Nelson has an LP on the way via Debacle so The Same Hypnotic Point is a perfect primer. 
Both discs are still available from Debacle and come in professional, full color fold-out CD wallets. Check 'em out!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Back Magic - Dream Lover [Pilgrim Talk]/Veyou - Carcass in the Mist [Pilgrim Talk]

You gotta love Chicago's Nick Hoffman. Dude's constantly droppin' knowledge in various audio, print and label-running forms. The subjects of this review are two very nice cassette releases from two of Hoffman's duos.
Back Magic is a lo-fi drums/guitar duo of Nick Hoffman and his brother, though they're billed on Dream Lover as Terror Trans and Hair Exp.
The first side starts off with "Garage Goons" after a bit of a drone intro the track jumps into a circular riff and vocal bit broken up every so often by guitar runs and snare hits. "Fever's on Me" is pretty awesome, mingling sprightly guitar riffs and humming vocals with sampled machine gun fire. "Haunted Lantern" bumps things down to a lower, muted register for a short interlude but it mostly features a creepy dude speaking unintelligibly, probably recorded at the Chicago Vincent Price Impersonator conference. A vaguely middle-eastern hammer-on riff anchors "Suns" and multi-tracked "dueling" guitars add a new dimension to the tape's lo-fi demeanor.
I think the second side is a little stronger and the opening track "Tomb Legions" sets the bar high. There's a "Turning Japanese"-esque faux-Asian riff, ghostly faraway coos with big power chords on the chorus and plenty of marching band-style drum fills. Way too short--I could have used a track a good five times longer. "Labor Day" is a slow loper with simple guitar melodies and thudding drums. "Summer Dive" features a spoo-oo-ooky ghost transmission and some silly guitar riffs with random echo-drenched exhalations into the microphone. "Summer Dive (Redux)" features the same riff but in a different key. And it features someone jamming on a keyboard on the "dog bark" setting. Another highlight, "Rainy Dog" is an upbeat number with a really nice guitar melody. It just feels good man. A warbly cover of "Paranoid" crops up at the end as a "Bonus!" track. True to Back Magic's sloshed mentality, the vocals sound more like current brain-fried Ozzy than 1970 Ozzy and there's even overdubbed guitar leads! The boys outdid themselves here.
Veyou is a duo of Hoffman and Stephen Holliger (who flies solo as Swim Ignorant Fire) and Carcass in the Mist is a very nice cassingle. Veyou dropped an amazing tape a couple years ago and while this one sounds a bit different it still keeps me salivating for more.
The material from this tape was recorded at Metal Shaker in Chicago, apparently Veyou's only show to date. The first side is the title track and it's pretty damn gorgeous, in a blurry lo-fi kinda way. It may just be as simple as guitar and delay pedals for all I can tell, but the hypnotic loops lull you into a place of such comfort. Everything feels so warm and so right; for only being a half of a cassingle you can get pretty lost in it. By the end of the track when they flip a few switches and start beaming you up you don't even notice. This is the kinda thing you could put on a 7inch. Lovely.
The B-side "Metal Shaker" is much more spacious featuring patient but squirrely electronics and is a little similar to Hoffman's work with Aaron Zarzutzki if you're familiar with that. It's a fun track that covers a fair amount of ground in a short amount of time but it feels a little too much like a snapshot of a much larger, more satisfying whole--I wanna see the big picture.
Both tapes feature fantastic artwork as is typical of Hoffman's releases, though my scanner did not do justice to the Carcass in the Mist cover. Hoffman's got one of the more visually and aurally interesting labels out there and there's lots of good stuff to be had, including these tapes. Get 'em here.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hobo Cubes - Timeless/Mindless [Debacle]/Summon Thrull - Spire Hell Heap [Debacle]

Well this year's Debacle Fest (here in lovely Seattle, WA) is set to tee off in less that 48 hours and it's looking like it'll be the best one yet. Check out that set list! The biggest names are Sean McCann, Mark McGuire, Brother Raven & Eternal Tapestry but that isn't to say they'll be the only sets worth seeing. Should be three days of killer sounds. Anyhow, I'm taking this opportunity to both promote the fest and review some releases from the Debacle label.
Watching Debacle grow over the last 5 years or so has been pretty incredible. Debacle CEO, Sam Melancon, started out pretty intensely focused on documenting the local Seattle scene (and that continues to be its lifeblood) but over the past couple years Melancon has diversified his "stable" to include artists from plenty of places outside Seattle. Montreal's Hobo Cubes is one example. This is actually my first time hearing these Hobo Cubes which I've heard people chatting up for a little while now. The first track "Reaching the Surface" has some of that Dolphins Into the Future-esque reverb-y Casio mist. "Enigmatic Fields" is much more upbeat and pulsing which I certainly dig. "The Seeking" plays it close to the vest for a while before unleashing some wild slo-mo keyboard runs. I'm pretty sure the dude's using that "mandolin" setting on his keyboard too making it weirdly jagged against airy drones. I dig "Afterbirth" which features a whole slew of keyboards stumbling all over, each with its own melody and direction it wants to take the song in. They all fall into an uneasy lockstep, repetition finally massaging the square peg into the round hole. "Pure Light Streams" is of a similar vein. Disoriented, wobbly keyboard phrases loop drunkenly. An agitated drone rises up intent to overtake them. That's kind of the feel of this record as a whole, it seems deceptively smooth and airy with all the keyboards but there's just a bit of a mean streak to this Hobo Cubes project. The one-minute closer, "Abstracted," feels like it found it's way on here from a Spare Death Icon tape. Deep, pulsing synth (sounding like those micro-recordings of grasshoppers) and a wonky almost vocal-like keyboard part. Perhaps it's a taste of sinister things to come. It's a really nice package overall, I love the collage-based cosmic beach art.
Moving to a local artist, Summon Thrull, who curiously isn't playing at the Debacle Fest this year. Dustin Kochel, the dude behind ST, also mastered the Hobo Cubes record above so there's some Seattle noise trivia to keep in your back pocket. Kochel dropped his first Summon Thrull CD-r back in 2009 and followed it up with last year's Debacle disc Spire Hell Heap (also released on cassette via Rainbow Bridge.) It's been a while since I've listened to Kochel's debut and I remember it being pretty good but I definitely think Spire Hell Heap is a more developed piece of work and it's pretty kickass to put it simply.
Kicking off with the introduction "Poison Arrow," it's a kind of audio molotov cocktail, 3 parts noise 1 part hip-hop. "Even the Horses are Cut in Half" never lets you settle for a second. Kochel tries to calm you down a little by spreading some keyboard plinks over of the top of arrhythmic thumps and dilapidated roars but a little keyboard shimmer only goes so far. I'm still feeling mighty uneasy. "Fang Venom Duct" cranks up the fuzz. There's a nice little hip-hop-style interlude before the thing just fuckin' erupts in nasty synths and crush 'em noise. The intro to "Illicium" sounds practically crunk, dude I love this shit! It's not as zonked as Yo-Yo Dieting and as far as I can tell Kochel isn't sampling rap songs but I sense a vague similarity. This is an icy club jam obliterated. "Skin Scrape" sounds like its title, creepy, rough and scabby. Some kind of hardware is being thrown around amongst spooky synth and whispers. The back half of the track gets scratchy as well with what sounds like layered field recordings of something trudging through the woods. "Rusted Pike Driver" brings back the beats while "Yellow Lab Blowjob" seethes and hisses with feedback. The title track is sort of a combination of those two, thudding beats but a shit ton of feedback caked on top. Kochel pulls the reigns just enough to momentarily reveal a song underneath before the electronic percussion starts pounding again. "Spider Mites" is much heavier on synths, they glide but, man, do they sting. There's no sort of aural relaxation going on here. The finale "Pregnant Leach Solution" (what is this pregnant leach problem?) begins with an aggressive chopper-blade synth and a bunch of bent bell tones. The kind of thing that might give you a concussion or a seizure or both. It fogs up your mind and not in that pleasant psychedelic way people speak about. People get institutionalized after listening to this kind of shit.
I think the disc could be trimmed down a little here or there, but in general I really love Kochel's vibe. He manages to be harsh without being "harsh," he does use distortion but he doesn't drown everything in it. It's more the volume, the mastering and the brute force of the sounds themselves and the off-kilter way Kochel attacks you with them. This isn't the kind of thing I like listening to everyday (or even every week) but every time I put this on I'm impressed by it's intensity and some of the unique pieces Kochel comes up with. I'm looking forward to seeing what Summon Thrull serves up next.
The Hobo Cubes disc is sold-out but the Summon Thrull jammer (the cooler of the two in my opinion) is still readily available from Debacle. Check 'em out! And also be sure to head out to Debacle Fest 2012 if you're in the Seattle-area this weekend.