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Meanwhile, please refrain from sending anything to the soon-to-be out-of-date Seattle address (don't want anyone's packages getting lost) and I will make an announcement with the new Chicago address once the transition is complete and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