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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

David Lackner/John Swana - Struttin' Around with... [Galtta]

While I still have yet to discuss David Lackner's awesome solo tape, it's high time I get to this split he did with John Swana which is also pretty awesome in its own right. Galtta Media is an interesting label as it's got at least one foot planted pretty firmly in the jazz-world, and another planted in a place a little more mysterious. (Not to mention the fact that it's a jazz tape label, that's pretty dang unique) What's most interesting to me is, while I call it an experimental jazz label, I'd say no one would ever classify this as a free jazz label--at least not based on the material it has released so far. Often "experimental" and "free" go hand in hand, not the case here. Both Lackner's and Swana's work here tend to be pretty highly structured and melodically driven with an improvisational component. While working from a jazz framework, both Lackner and Swana create interesting and sometimes, in Lackner's case, ridiculously catchy compositions.
With "Layers, Layers" Lackner's side opens with seconds of friendly industrial music, what I mean by "friendly" is that the music is bright and in no way abrasive despite it's mechanized movement. Then Lackner launches into a series of lovely melodies via either horns and synths doubling each or synthesized horns. Victor North contributes a really great tenor sax solo that quotes, dare I say, The Sound of Music at one point or is he quoting Coltrane quoting The Sound of Music(?) Hell of a way to start a show. Another standout for me is "Thirteen" which features a pretty complex mix of interlocking synth melodies and a gorgeous twinge of a countermelody from a downcast saxophone.
Let me preface the next statement I'm about to make by saying I am paying a high compliment, "Study in Clutter" reminds me of some of the music in Disney's Mulan and it's pretty damn great. (Tangent: if you have not seen Mulan, do so it's one of the few modern Disney classics) Anyhow, getting off that tangent, the central melody in the track is this infectious, circular Asian-inspired arpeggio. Can't get enough of it! I do have to say I'm a bit ambivalent about the vocals present in the track though; give me the bouncing percussion, the catchy-as-all-hell Eastern melody and the crazy stereo-panned sax solo at the end and I am good to go--no vox required.
The hits keep coming with the also excellent "Fourteen" featuring synthesizers zipping around, darting between sax licks. Probably the closest the thing I can think of for a reference is Sean McCann's Phylum Sigh but that's far from putting my finger on it. (Maybe Golden Retriever if they thought they were a pop band???? Sheesh, I give up...) Elsewhere, Lackner plays Robert Schumann's composition "Im Wunderschonen Monat Mai" (!) replete with a nice sax solo and vocoder (!!) and closes up shop with the hyper "Fifteen." Pretty stellar side through and through.
Check this Lackner guy out if you haven't, he's doing some great work and in a little different way than pretty much everyone else I've heard in the tape scene.
While Lackner's side features many collaborators, John Swana does every little thing himself on his side from composing and performing to engineering. "3, 2, 1....Lift Off!" features an overload of twinkling and prickly tones before he starts tearing it up on his EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument; more or less a synthetic trumpet.) The more mellow and subtle "Thyme" features a tabla machine (or something) along with a series of idiophones garnished with almost smokey EVI exhalations. Pretty nice piece of work.
Although Lackner has a bit of a pop genius edge to him, Swana fits a little better into the "soundtracking" world; I can hear some inspiration from film and TV scores, and even forward thinking video game scores (on "Dark and Clammy.") It's not out of the realm of possibilty some of his stuff here could work as a (non-traditional) score, though Swana's work is far from the works of Max Steiner and Franz Waxman.
However, on "Major Man," the jazz influence is literal and readily apparent. Other than the facts that this is all composed from overdubs and sounds as if it was created entirely synthetically, this could be something you'd hear from a modern jazz quintet. The finale "Scene" is stranger. There's rustling field recordings and a synth drone creating a sticky little bed while Swana's EVI emulates all sorts of bird calls which are panned every which way. Weird track but I'm certainly feeling the vibe.
This is an interesting tape all around and has good bang for your buck value, with each player essentially contributing a half hour album. I'm more of a Lackner guy, if we're picking sides, but others may prefer Swana; either way both guys are doing some intriguing things.
You can purchase the tape from Galtta

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cloudland Ballroom - Infinite Mind [Sonic Meditations]

Infinite Mind is a nice tape of synthesizer, drum machine and shruti box on Justin Wright's (Expo 70) Sonic Meditations imprint, which is also responsible for dropping a sweet J.D. Emmanuel reissue recently. I don't really know anything about this Cloudland Ballroom, or if it's related to that Cloudland Canyon band or if the names are just a coincidence. Either way, you can keep the Canyon, I'll take the Ballroom.
I guess James R. Moore is the fellow behind the project and he sure as hell knows what he's doing. The first side covers "Part 1," and spacey signals are the introductory sounds. Oscillations, cosmic sweeps and woozy tones extend across the stereo spectrum. Some actual electric-piano-ish tones appear altering the concept and sharpening the focus. One of the great elements of the piece is how amorphous and expansive it feels but when the matter begins to gather around a few gravitational points--namely the aforementioned keyboard notes and lush synth-strings--Cloudland Ballroom hits it's stride. They hit upon an area that features significant float but never relinquishes its weight. The piece settles somewhat toward the end, landing on a slowly LFO'd bass note. With a subtle boom, a slippery sequenced melody fades in and out, notes drip down bathing the circuitry and we're struck with a forceful drone, unflinching and unfazed. A little drum machine sizzle at the end pumps things up, burning away another layer of ozone. Though even in it's climactic conclusion, Moore's composition never leaves the world it began in.
This a really deep bit of cosmic drones, so much going on. Totally transportive. And that's not even the end of the tape! The thing's got a whole 'nother side!
The spools on "Part 2" get rollin' with a muted jet flying between the two channels. A low percussion loop materializes quietly along with a few phantom synth notes. All that is washed away in favor of a few bold drones. Moore rides the drones for a long while before bringing up a drum machine bumping halfway between a chug and a swing. A few keyboard arpeggios are sprinkled around, but mainly Moore keeps the groove solid. This one's an easy-going jammer.
Still in print at Sonic Meditations, peep it

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Baldruin - Nachtfalter [Brave Mysteries]

Wisconsin's Brave Mysteries was very kind in sending over a couple recent tapes including a sweet tape by Eolomea (a collaboration of Andre Foisy from Locrian and David Reed a.k.a. Envenomist) but the subject of today's review is by Baldruin.
I believe Nachtfalter is the second full-length tape from Germany's Johannes Schebler (also the proprietor of SicSic Tapes) after the very nice Schatten & Lichter on Cae-sur-a. Nachtfalter is my favorite of the two as Schatten & Lichter features liberal use of reverb (not necessarily a bad thing) and has a dronier vibe. I think Schebler's work benefits from a little more clarity on the production end because his compositions already innately possess such potent atmospheres.
Nachtfaulter reminds me a bit of song cycles of the likes of Schubert and others, known as lieder if my memory serves. I don't know a whole lot about lieder so I may be talking out of my ass--knowledgeable minds please dismiss me. Anyhow, I love how each short piece exudes the tape's collective vibe while taking you a little further down the path.
Schebler's album is comprised of 12 tracks, ranging from 30-40 seconds to a few minutes. The listener is treated to a series of vignettes that produce an eerie, dream-like quality over their course.
"Irrweg" begins like a lullaby, an echoing chiming melody, with drones soaring and descending and a few clinks and clanks for atmosphere. It's little more than an introduction but performs its deed perfectly. "Wildwuchs" jars you initially with sharp flute bleats and discordant zither. Schebler builds around those sounds adding rather pretty reversed samples and subtle lo-end rumble. By the piece's end, it's become a fantastically complex composition in a short span of time. Really great stuff.
"Undine" invites you into a thicket of muted strings, chimes and tambourine. They form a percussive bed of sorts in which Schebler can lay his drones via violin and another instrument I can't quite pinpoint. On "Hohlraum," Schebler strips away a lot of layers leaving only a couple bowed drones. It's a really nice passage and stands out on a tape full of more ornate arrangements.
"Am Hang" prominently features a chorus of ghouls. The lead ghoul starts speaking in tongues--German, probably, but it's all tongues to me. The words echo and fold over each other against a short chiming loop. Not sure what its saying but it sounds a little creepy by my estimation. Voices continue into "Sackgasse" with a whistle(?) solo and sporadic clatter. A low-rumble rears its head periodically making the whole affair more unsettling. Looking for a realistic, subtle soundtrack to your nightmares? This may be the one.
On the second side, "Siebente Reise" creates a dense little environment with a series of drones, field recordings, sprinkles of percussion and the repeating thump of a guitar chord.
"Spiegelung" begins with a really lovely melody. Voices join in consonant harmony. Things must be looking up; the beauty is fleeting but powerful. Not only can Schebler creep you out, he can enchant with the best of them.
"Weit drauben" takes you right back into chilly chimes but there seems to be some birds calling and crickets chirping. I can't quite tell if they're field recordings or if Schebler came up with a synthetic way to emulate to said creatures. They don't sound entirely real. A dank, detuned acoustic guitar leads "Schurfwunde." Seemingly recorded in a dungeon somewhere, a tambourine rattle echoes every so often. Prison blues, period-gothic-style.
"Die Purpurinsel" changes things up a little, it's heavy on the percussive layers and they're actually relaying some fairly grooving rhythms. Schebler fades those gradually into a wonderful composition of synth, chimes and voice pads. It's an almost intoxicating concoction; one my favorite moments on the tape. The brief finale "Xerooomus" has a little edge to its fidelity. It's rougher; trafficking in (what I think is) reversed/manipulated radio static. 
All in all, this is a really cool tape. While Schebler provides suggestions of darkness, the music itself, as far as timbres go, is fairly bright. He generally avoids the more conventional creep-out routes which I appreciate. The tape seems, to me anyway, to be about altering the environment its played in. And it certainly does one hell of a job at that.
The thing comes pro-dubbed, shrink-wrapped, the works--along with Schebler's Silence of the Lambs-ish artwork, what more could you ask for?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Adderall Canyonly - It was a Dark and Stoney Night [Field Hymns]

Is it a stretch to call Adderall Canyonly a successful pun on Cannonball Adderly? Probably. But I admire the ambition.
This (predominantly) analog synth tape is not new-agey or kosmiche; it's not a modular experiment. Canyonly's music is strongly rooted in popular forms: hip hop, pop music, modern movie soundtracks; but cannot be pegged as a particular one at any given point.
"March of the Lemmings, Right Out of the Documentary" bursts forth with a pumping drum machine and wiggy filtered synth lines. Electric guitar provides a little moral support halfway through, making it sound quite a lot like a home-made Summer blockbuster soundtrack. "Retardtenders, Rectumheads" is a little spooky like Gravediggaz or Kool Keith in creep-out mode. A fat synth groove throbs against faux-theremin and chilling organ chords. The last minute rules especially hard! The first part of "Kerpoodle" sounds exactly like a beat I made in high school--kind of freaks me out. This is lightyears ahead of what I came up with though.
"Magnum P.U." is a highlight and, in short, it's Sonic the Hedgehog in the Mediterranean. Straight up legit Sega Genesis genre music here. "667" works as a good counterpart continuing a similar feel but with a much more chilled out vibe. It's like the soundtrack to the following "night level" with some surprisingly heavy guitar crunch at the end.
"Driving Parker Posey to the Mall" is fucking perfect. It's absolutely infectious. It seems to encapsulate bits and pieces of lots of songs without sounding like any. I definitely hear a little "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" at 1:35 or so but I wouldn't actually compare the songs whatsoever. Canyonly really brings out the goods in the final 90 seconds with a positively lovely shimmering synth bridge. If you've been longing to post a 80s teen movie tribute video on Youtube but haven't found the right song, here you go.
"Hipster Cred" sounds like Timmy Taylor lived through the car crash and Brainiac were born during the dance-punk explosion of the early 00s, with 4-on-the-floor hi-hat bluster and all. Based on some the ghastly puns present in half the titles I'm not so sure Canyonly isn't shouting "Hipstercrite! Hipstercrite!" in the chorus. The lyrics are pretty hilarious: "We read the Pitchfork/Why don't you like our band?" A Six Finger Satellite-style synth-punk freakout was totally unexpected but I sure do love it.
The tape has a very nostalgic feel but not in the literal/referential/ironic way that James Ferraro and his cronies have made popular. This tape is full of things that seem familiar but you can't quite put your finger on. Or in the instances in which you can, you realize there's only a memory or tangential link connecting the two. The connections made might say more about the listener than the tape itself.
For instance, "Krautaquatsi" feels 1990s to me. It isn't on its face; it's not a throwback--and obviously the dates of the references punned in the title predate that period--but there's just something in the melody and atmosphere of the track that takes me back there. Perhaps someone who grew up in a different decade would have an alternate take.
Once it gets moving, "Ponytailed Apes" grooves like nobody's business. There's a bit of minimal techno influence to me but that doesn't stop Canyonly from delivering a big, florid synth wash in the second half. "Now Underwormen"almost goes into music concrete territory with overdubbed guitar improvisations mingling with spurts of static and overlapping speech samples of a hypnosis instructor or something. Another curveball on an album with more than a few. The first minute of "Ty as Wrung from Burns the Cry" is a pretty three-note organ melody that eventually unfolds into a echoing drum track and a lonesome synth-clav solo ending the tape on a somber but tender note. It's actually a rather gorgeous piece.
This is a cool tape, it drives you all over the map in 40 minutes. Definitely worth checking out for anyone interested in playful electronic music. This is still in print, hit up Field Hymns for a copy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

David Kenneth Nance - Let's Argue [Unread]

I don't generally hear much stuff that's coming out of Nebraska so Unread Records's relocation to Omaha is a damn good thing for me. If it weren't for the move I might have never heard this killer tape by David Kenneth Nance that features, among other things, one of the best songs of the year.
Let's Argue appears to be a total bedroom/basement concoction--Nance plays all the instruments ("various synths, guitars, drums and other broken shit,") writes and sings the songs etc.--but what I really love is this tape sounds like it was made by a band. It often sounds like some friends cranking it up and going to town in one of their subterranean dwellings.
"Letters 1&2" begins with a sample of Dolly Parton reading letters she sent to her parents over guitar drones and harmonica exhalations until launching into a 50s rock & roll throwback ditty imbued with the nihilistic vibe of 80s punk. Sets the tone for sure. A messy synth interlude bridges the gap into the lonesome "Joanie." Slowly cycling guitar arpeggios ease the track forward eventually leading to the waltzing chorus of "Joanie hold on/It won't be long/Before you can finally rest your head/Joanie stay strong/The church is wrong/Confession is giving in." Despite the acoustic jangle, the track sounds surprisingly raw and aggressive due to Nance's scaled-back snarl and fizzy production values.
"Who Eats Who Now?" is a jagged, rudimentary punk track featuring a percussive three-chord slash and a seriously great dueling guitar riff that makes its appearance halfway through. Nance's occasionally lethargic, low drawl provides an interesting counterpoint to the insect-swarm guitar and cymbal sizzle. The mostly acoustic ballad "Nebraska Plains" is backed with a swirling synth and features a weird auto-wah guitar solo as well. It's a gentle, sardonic pro-Nebraska ballad ("When nuclear war first starts in NYC and when San Francisco lies in the sea/You'll know you never should have laughed at me") in which Nance takes shots at the Rockie mountains, tall buildings, subway trains and the ocean while professing his preference for Nebraska's plains. If he didn't say "shit" in the song the Nebraska tourism office would snap it right up.
The intertwined guitar melodies that introduce "In Her Kingdom" are reminiscent of 60s jangle-pop via 90s college rock and it's a pretty nice piece of work. The track shifts into a sort of Velvets-style rev up before hitting the chorus once more and then launching into a memorable closing refrain of "In my kingdom of shit."
The tape slips into a fantastic, spacey keyboard interlude that, in turn, slips into a killer bass riff that just screams "shit is about to go down." "Leather in the Box" is one of the best songs I've heard all year, simply love the motherfucker. The aforementioned bass provides a chunky line that's alternately ominous and catchy but, even more importantly, the guitar provides a simple but thoroughly unnerving melody that wormed its way deep into my skull on first impact. They form the perfect backing track for Nance's portrait of the life of a gimp. He sings: "Yeah, I'm sick of these games where my ass is the prize/Yeah, I'm naked on the floor and they beat me til I die/Well, no safety words for me, at least not tonight." You can smell the leather. Sealed by the rollicking chorus of "I'm just a gimp at night/Locked up so tight/No need to fight/I'm just a gimp at night" Nance has penned one of the great S&M-themed rock & roll songs in history. Overall its sound fits somewhere between The Country Teasers and The Velvet Underground--and not just because of "Venus in Furs."
"The Manger," which closes the tape, is another great track. Nance, sounding like a midwestern Leonard Cohen, tells his version of the life of Christ; beginning with the teenage years. While maybe not the "loudest" song, it is the most bombastic and pushes the meter further into the red than any other song on the cassette.
Unread is doing its thing providing great lo-fi pop, rock and folk gems and there's a bit of all that on this tape. Nance is a really good songwriter and this album has grown on me with each successive listen. He navigates a variety of styles, which never seem out of place next to each other, culminating in a particularly cohesive set of songs. On top of that, Nance knows how to record and produce his shit perfectly--there's exactly the right dose of scuzz on each track. Dude's the total package. Definitely lend an ear to this. Available from Unread

Friday, June 8, 2012

Kevin Corcoran - Haptic Music [Weird Forest]

This is one of my favorite tapes from last year. I gave it the blurb treatment but I've been putting off writing an actual review because I don't know what the hell I can say about this. I mean I could gush and gush about my love for this cassette (which will most likely happen, just you wait) but that hardly makes for great reading. I don't think there are any great insights I can provide you with, dear readers, I just really want you to hear this tape.
Kevin Corcoran is the same dude on my Kevin & Chad and DMPH 7"s and also played in Antennas Erupt! but this is his first time ever releasing solo material. My initial reaction is "WHY DID THIS TAKE SO LONG?!???" The shit on this tape is simply incredible, dude's been playing for a while so why the hell have we been deprived of this? Mr. Corcoran, you have some explaining to do.
Corcoran was not s-ing around when he named this thing Haptic Music. The tape is all about evoking friction and resonance through the human touch. This is physical music.
Using percussion and some sort of electro-magnetic amplification on "Like a Thought Hangs," Corcoran concocts these strange clipped emissions. The attack and decay of each sound is totally weird and garbled. Certain sounds create the illusion of stuttering or skipping, others provide brief but violent scrapes, some pitter-patter harmlessly. I'm not sure if there was any live-processing or how Corcoran went about achieving his timbres but the sounds collide in such a measured yet still caustic manner that he imbues a great tension in the track that's sustained over its duration.
Throughout the piece, Corcoran juxtaposes these sounds with silence or near-silence. A quiet tone may feedback gently and hang in the air, or a barely-present thump may whisper and sigh or sometimes there's simply nothing at all. Or you get a loud thwack or a serrated slash of bowed metal, the rattle of a bell, a sustaining cymbal, the creak (or squeak) of surface friction. At it's brief but furious climax, "Like a Thought Hangs" even approaches harsh noise.
Corcoran employs the vernacular of jazz and free-improvisation but ultimately Haptic Music feels a lot like avant-garde composition. I know far too little about 20th century composers to draw adequate comparisons, but Corcoran's work here is very principled and disciplined in its approach to such raw sounds.
I'm still not sure whether this is mind expanding or mind imploding but either way this is one of the best ways to spend 20 minutes that I've encountered in a while; I recommend listening, with headphones, late at night while lying on the floor in a darkened room.
On the next side, the title track continues the vibe of "Like a Thought Hangs" but it's shorter and more compressed. Silence still plays an important, but much less pronounced, role. Corcoran bends the pitches of drum heads, working largely with rounder tones like chiming bells and the smooth reverberations of a floor tom.
"A Drift of Dim Light" for all intents and purposes is a drone piece. I figure that there must be a bow in play somewhere on the track but predominantly I think Corcoran is working with soft, rapid hits (of cymbals most likely) that are amplified into drones. It's a very nice piece and, of the three, probably the one the average listener would be most likely to respond to. And while it is quite nice, I prefer the direct tactile action of the first two tracks to its smoother, obscured resonance.
The tape is austere and it's mesmerizing. There's a certain type of person (such as moi) who will go apeshit over this sort of thing and, damn, if it doesn't feel great to be that type of person. As far as I am concerned there is not near enough avant-garde solo percussion music out there (there can never be enough)--particularly kinds such as this that detonate the common role associated with percussionists, that of a rhythm-generator (which is not to take anything away from that role.) With that said, Haptic Music is a great reminder that rhythm isn't only beats but also the spaces between beats, the interplay between sound and it's absence. Corcoran's parsing and dismantling of rhythm proves to be as dynamic and engaging as anything I've heard.
Long sold out at Weird Forest but try here or here

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Black Leather Jesus - Even Deeper [Robert & Leopold]

Feeling low? But not quite low enough? Do you want to be splattered on the pavement? You're not alone. Black Leather Jesus can help. With their support you can sink even deeper.
Pretty spiffy pitch, right? Well that's my hard sell on this steamroller of a c20 by Richard Ramirez's Black Leather Jesus project. BLJ is described as Ramirez's "band," with a revolving door of collaborators over the past 20+ years. However, there's no line-up listed and this is a far cry from that newfangled "rock & roll" the kids are listening to nowadays.
This thing is pure roughhousing. Thickass, relentless bass rumble, there's plenty of feedback, oscillations, maybe a little tape manipulation trying to battle (unsuccessfully) to the surface against the bass crushers. The recording is actually pretty layered like there are multiple people doing multiple things (maybe they weren't blowing smoke with this "harsh noise band" idea) but loud volume is necessary to grasp all the elements that are going on (headphones help as well)
The first side is called "I Like Him to Worry and Still Have to Do it" and it blasts you in the face right out the gate. Hefty slabs of feedback-loop generated rumble pound each other like linemen and plenty of hi-pitched feedback manipulation helsp to propagate the all-out cacophony. Multiple listens reveal a steady percussive thump through certain sections, which must be why I always end up nodding my head so forcefully during such esoteric sonic mayhem.
The next side is similar but I like it better. Things come at you from multiple directions on "Damaged by the Act." The track's in the red from the get-go but the LED on the meter had to have burst no later than a couple minutes in. This is sort of like the climactic car pile-up at the end of The Blues Brothers where there's simply no end to the destruction; whenever you think it's reached its limit someone new crashes in. If you're listening closely there's even a sub-bass groove underneath the forty fucking tons of distortion. Black Leather Jesus traffics in static but none of it is particularly static if you catch my drift. Part of me is even wondering if someone's actually playing drums through a hundred DOD Death Metal pedals or something. There's a heavy, though buried, percussive feel--a relentlessly breakneck, skull crushing throb. Trekking in uncharted havoc, shit's off the fuckin' grid.
My ears are literally ringing. These guys would probably be fun to see play live.
The perfect soundtrack for burning your house down has finally arrived, check it out.

Monday, June 4, 2012

AG Davis & Jamison Williams - Auto De Fe (1481) [Gilgongo]

More crazy, fucked up shit from AG Davis and Jamison Williams but there's a twist this time, shit's even crazier and more fucked up. For those unfamiliar with these guys, it's a duo of a saxophonist who sounds like a rabid animal (Williams) and an actual rabid animal (Davis.)
Following up their May 6, 1937 7" on Skrot Up, they continue naming their records for great moments in human history with Auto De Fe (1481). The first record featured a side of sax and electronics and another side of sax and vocals. This platter eschews the electronics, for two sides of raw grunts and sax bleats.
The first side begins with Davis and Williams trading all manners of chirps and squeals back and forth. The vocals fit somewhere on the spectrum between a macaw and split second chopped & screwed samples of Ol' Dirty Bastard, Busta Rhymes and that dude from Korn. Basically, this record sounds like patients took over a mental hospital and turned it into a jazz conservatory. The flip side covers the same territory but uses space a little more which I think is beneficial considering the severe obnoxiousness of the recording.
The most attractive element of this 7" is Williams. I really love his style, he can freak with the best of them but at one or two times on this record he's very controlled providing a subtle drone underneath Davis's vocal histrionics. My favorite move of his is when he squeezes out slippery little phrases that sound somewhat akin to an analog oscillator. His playing here is very disciplined and tight considering the amount of madness being perpetrated. It may just be my bias against against listening to dry heaves, but I'd like to hear Williams paired up with something other than vocals. My favorite moments on the 7" tend to be the fleeting instances when Williams rolls solo. Davis's contributions on vocals don't do a whole a lot for me and seem to be stifling if anything; the record leaves me kinda wishing Jamison was flying solo or multi-tracking himself.
Of the material I've heard from these guys, the side when Davis manned electronics was their finest. It seems like Williams always has his shit on lock down but I feel like being paired with something more dynamic, and with a more exciting timbre, could really send things into the stratosphere. Williams's playing is a great cornerstone to build around so I'd love to see more imaginative and developed accompaniment.
The record succeeds as a provocation, the thing is in your face and will smack you in the mouth each time you put it on, that will be enough for some people, but each time I listen I long for a few special moments that will stick in my head, and nothing's stuck so far.
Gilgongo's website is being rebuilt but for the time being all available Gilgongo titles can be purchased here

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Troller - Troller [Holodeck]

This is one bad ass little tape right here, one that's been hogging a lot of decktime since I first received it. Looking at the cover of this cassette, I don't blame you for thinking that this sounds like some weirdo Finnish metal band. That's what I would have thought if I hadn't read the press release. However, Troller is a trio from Austin, TX and the sound of the album is somewhere between mainstream synth-scores of the 70s and 80s from the likes of Pino Donaggio, Giorgio Moroder, Jack Nitzche etc. and the recent wave of icy disco acts like Chromatics or Glass Candy and that sort of ilk. Though Troller has just a slightly darker viewpoint.
Just about every sound on this tape sounds like it could be (should be? will be? is?) in a movie. I don't just mean the instrumental or ambient passages; the songs themselves sound like they should be soundtracking montages of important shit unfolding. As a huge cinema fan, I mean this as a great compliment.
One wise choice that achieves this result is that the vocals are directed to become part of the ether. They stake out their territory and certainly have their impact but they aren't necessarily the focal point as is usually the case in song-based material. This makes for a hellishly heady listening experience.
The opener "Milk" isn't the strongest composition on the tape, but it's the right choice to start things off. It establishes the mood of the tape instantly. That mood is seductive dread; this is some enticing black widow shit that can be none too good for your soul. A sinister synth bass line anchors the track which somehow manages to be slinky and looming. They unleash synthetic ghouls and ghosts in a disconcerting cacophony and sprinkle in a little trip hop seasoning for flavor.
Talk about attention grabbers, when "Tiger" entranced my speakers for the first time, I dropped everything--I was literally spellbound. Blogging is a quite egotistical endeavor, there's no discussion, no average user rating, no academic distance, not even a arbitrary grading scale to share with and compare to other writers. I think something's great simply because I think something's great. And I think this song is great. The song does everything I want it to do and goes everywhere I want it to go. From the nostalgic and chilling introductory synth line to the propulsive drum programming at the chorus to the extended bridge/synth solo near the end; every move "Tiger" makes satisfies my needs and desires to the tee. It's impeccably composed with an incredibly evocative emotional heft; the portal into a transcendent new world. Utterly perfect. I can't get enough. (Feel free to disagree with me, the song is embedded below, but I dare you to not be captivated. Good luck with your new addiction.)
Troller generates ambient interludes between the six songs on the tape and the interlude after "Tiger" is surprisingly friendly, foggy electronic burble. The interludes were a great choice because you are never permitted to exit the world of the cassette. Each song is only a movement in a grander piece.
"Best" is another great one. The track sort of twists and winds, writhing with tendrils tensed. It's structure and melodies are hard to put your thumb on it, it seems to continually worm its way just out of your grasp but you continue to follow anyway. It's a strange but potent composition. And oh man, "Thirst" is so bad ass. Deep fuzzy bass, eerily woozy synthetic chimes/voices and the relentless ratatat of a programmed hi-hat. It's reminiscent of earlier John Carpenter scores but significantly more lush. So great yet so unsettling. You can't take your ears off it.
On "Winter," Troller edges just slightly more into pop territory, mainly because they lift the fog a bit and create a less foreboding environment. More notably, the vocalist unleashes her pipes, making for a few moments of lovely catharsis that arrive at the precise point the album calls for it. It's a glorious and beautiful track. The following interlude takes you back down into the dank, swampy depths prepping you for the closer "Peace Dream." Coming full circle, the finale features a similar vibe to the opener "Milk," this track is more propulsive though. An uneasy bass-synth riff churns and churns until a beautiful bridge floods the track with a little light. Man, the vocalist really earns her keep on this one as well, she nails a series of perfect melodic counterpoints, playing off her heavily synthetic surroundings and imbuing the track with so many emotions. It's a great note to go out on.
This record is phenomenal; as far as I can tell this is their first/only release which is ridiculous because everything is so well-executed from the production to the performance to the composition of the material. There are very few flaws which is staggering. It's mind-boggling to think how good their next record could be. This is simply one of the best tapes I've heard this year and I think "Tiger" has to be my favorite song so far, I can't think of something that surpasses it right now.
Holodeck has also slated Troller to drop on vinyl sometime in the future, which is a good thing as there's no way a hundred copies will satiate everyone's appetite. For the time being though, the cassettes are available now and I see no reason why anyone should sleep on this.